Hicks is better than advertised

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Hicks is better than advertised

OK, it's a foregone conclusion. Case closed. Everybody agrees. No debate whatsoever. All precincts have reported. Let the post-election party begin. No, this has nothing to do with the presidential race. It's all about Mr. Basketball and the winner is...Simeon's Jabari Parker.

Parker will be the first junior chosen since Illinois' player of the year award was introduced in 1981.

But what about Tony Hicks?

"Nobody in the state has had a better season than Tony Hicks, with the exception of Jabari Parker," St. Rita coach Gary DeCesare said. "He has meant so much to our team. He has kept our team together with all the injuries we had this year.

DeCesare may be biased, of course, but he might be right. Hicks is averaging 26 points per game against a bone-crusher schedule that includes four nationally ranked teams. He has had five 30-point games, eight 20-point games, is shooting 49-percent from the floor and 44.3 from beyond the three-point line.

In St. Rita's toughest games, the 6-foot-2 senior scored 26 points against New York's Christ the King, 31 and 17 in two victories over Catholic League rival De La Salle and 22 against St. Ignatius. On Saturday, the Mustangs (14-8) will test highly regarded New Trier.

Hicks is a good human-interest story, too. He has a 3.6 grade-point average on a 4.0 scale, scored 27 on his ACT, ranks No. 60 in a class of 165 and is committed to the University of Pennsylvania.

"I have had a lot of coaches from BCS conferences who have watched our games and said to me that they missed the boat on Hicks, that they should have recruited him," DeCesare said. "If he continues his growth, he'll have a great career in the Ivy League. He could play in the Big 10. But Penn did their homework and Tony has no regrets. He'll get a chance to play great basketball and get a great education, too."

DeCesare said Division I colleges aren't the only ones who "missed the boat" on Hicks. "Scouting services didn't do their homework, either. The system isn't right. People listen to people who don't know anything about the game. Tony still is vastly underrated. He hasn't got his props for this year," the coach said.

One scouting service doesn't rank Hicks among the top 20 seniors in Illinois. But the same service ranks Hicks' teammate, A.J. Avery, who hasn't played this season because of a broken wrist, at No. 18. Go figure.

Recruiting analysts Roy and Harv Schmidt of Illinois Prep Bulls-Eye rank Hicks among the top 15 players in the state in the class of 2012. "He is our choice as Player of the Year in the Catholic League. In our minds, he is an ideal mid-major recruit and a perfect fit for Penn. He has great scoring capability, is a tough-as-nails defender, a leader on the floor and a super young man to boot," they said.

Hicks was determined to rank among the best players in the state this season. He averaged 12 points per game as a sophomore and 16 as a junior. His goal was 20 as a senior. He didn't dream about averaging 26. But he was totally focused on basketball.

"He wanted to be one of the best players in the state this year--and he has done that," DeCesare said.

"I'm not surprised," Hicks said. "The coach preaches hard work and it is paying off. I never thought he would have as much faith in me to take as many shots as I take and get as many minutes as I have played.

"But I still think I am underrated. I try not to focus on it. But I feel if I am playing as I am, people will notice. I guess some people don't think I'm that good, until they see the statistics sheet.

"It is kind of funny to me. I know the local players real well and they give me respect. But the coaches and scouting services don't. I don't think about it. It is more important that the players think I am good and give me respect."

Hicks, who recently surpassed the 1,000-point milestone for his career, worked hard over the summer and accumulated 10 scholarship offers, including Penn, Loyola, South Florida, George Mason, Ohio and Wisconsin-Milwaukee. In October, he chose Penn.

"I knew that was where I wanted to go after my first visit to the campus," he said. "The atmosphere felt like St. Rita. There was a lot of support, history and a great education."

He had a choice because more than a few college recruiters recognized his talent. "I am a completely different player from last year. Some people took me out of my game real easy last year. Now I have a feeling that no one can stop me offensively," he said.

"I took the game more seriously over the summer, knowing what I had to do to be better. I went to the recreation gym around the corner from my house every day, for 3-4 hours every day, all by myself, shooting, working on my ball-handling, working on my moves.

"I didn't have a set routine. I just picked up the ball and started working out. I didn't make any changes in my shot, just more repetitions. Everything has gotten that much better, including my pull-up jumper from 15 feet. I never worked so hard. I have a lot more confidence than last year."

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Toews still out, Bulls pull out win over Spurs

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SportsTalk Live Podcast: Toews still out, Bulls pull out win over Spurs

In the latest SportsTalk Live Podcast, Mark Grote (670 The Score) and Mark Carman (WGN Radio) join Kap on the panel. Jonathan Toews is still not back at practice. Is it time to panic?

Meanwhile, the Bulls beat the Spurs. And Rajon Rondo compliments the coaches? Is all well in Bulls-town?

Plus, Dexter Fowler is Cardinal. Should Cubs fans be angry?

And finally, is it good idea for Jordan Howard to get the ball less for the rest of the season?

Check out the SportsTalk Live Podcast below: 

Lucas Giolito striving to contribute to White Sox 'as soon as possible'

Lucas Giolito striving to contribute to White Sox 'as soon as possible'

At one point, it was looking like Lucas Giolito could be headed to the White Sox in exchange for Chris Sale.

But when Sale was dealt to the Boston Red Sox, Giolito's name was in the clear of rumors — until 29 hours later, when the Nationals' top prospect would be headed to Chicago in a different trade, which sent outfielder Adam Eaton to Washington.

“It’s kind of like the world we live in now. Social media is always out there and everything is on Twitter,” Giolito said in a conference call Friday. “I saw my name being mentioned on Twitter for Chris Sale. I know with the winter meetings all sorts of stuff being thrown around. I was just trying to focus on what I’m doing in this offseason which is lifting and all my workouts. Kind of just whatever happens, happens. 

“It’s funny that Sale ended up going to the Red Sox and something else happens that I’m going to the White Sox now with a couple teammates. It’s really interesting stuff but I’m super excited.”

The move for Rick Hahn & Co. to acquire Giolito was the second major trade to begin the White Sox rebuilding process. But Giolito didn't come alone.

In addition, the White Sox received Reynaldo Lopez — who Giolito has played with since 2014 — and the Nationals' 2016 first-round pick Dane Dunning.

"I definitely think it’s amazing to be coming over to the White Sox with a bunch of young talent," Giolito said. "I think it’s a great opportunity for us to all develop and get better and hopefully put a really good team together in Chicago. Definitely excited to be coming over with a couple guys from my previous organization."

[MORE: Rick Hahn, White Sox prepared to make more 'painful decisions' if the price is right]

Giolito went 6-5 with a 2.97 ERA and 1.28 WHIP across three minor-league levels this past season. He admitted his mechanics weren't quite in sync and is looking to improve on that.

"Sometimes things get out of whack. I believe I let too much get out of whack last year," Giolito said. "So this year with my training program I have in this offseason — lifting and Pilates and everything — I’m just trying to make sure that I can stay as athletic as possible so I’m able to repeat the right delivery more often. Once I start playing catch and doing bullpens and everything these next few weeks, right before spring training, I’m going to make sure I put that all together so I can repeat my delivery as best as possible."

His struggles continued when he got to The Show.

In his major-league debut on June 28, Giolito held the New York Mets to just one hit over four scoreless innings before a rain delay cut his night short. That turned out to be his most effective outing of the season as he finished the year with an 0-1 record, 6.75 ERA and 1.78 WHIP in six games with the Nationals, four of them being starts.

"(My MLB debut) didn’t go as well as I would’ve liked it to go, obviously, as you look at the numbers and everything," he said, "but I feel that with the White Sox now (and) getting traded and everything, it’s kind of like a fresh opportunity and a new start to get up to the big leagues again and contribute and do everything I can to stay there as well."

[SHOP: Gear up, White Sox fans!]

Despite his low numbers, the 22-year-old Giolito believes he's ready to play on the White Sox main roster as soon as next season.

"I’ve had some experience in the big leagues last year," Giolito said. "Especially last year, I took a lot positives away because I did experience such a good amount of failure in a lot of I’d say like hardship when I made it up and didn’t perform up to what I believe is my best capabilities.

"I’ve pitched a good amount of innings in the minor leagues and I’ve had a little experience in the big leagues so I’m just really looking forward to making it up in the big leagues with the White Sox and contributing as soon as possible."