Hicks is better than advertised

674510.png

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."

Why Jimmy Butler wanted Dwyane Wade to sign with Bulls

Why Jimmy Butler wanted Dwyane Wade to sign with Bulls

When Dwyane Wade’s re-signing with the Miami Heat went from a forgone conclusion to a question mark, the Chicago Bulls and Jimmy Butler got involved in a whirlwind courtship that resulted in Friday's all-smiles press conference.

The Bulls came with the tangibles, the respect in the form of $47 million. Butler came with the intangibles—and respect as the two had critical conversations that lead to Wade finally making the leap to trek back home to Chicago after 13 years on the beach.

It was why Wade was so comfortable at his own introductory news conference to cede the spotlight to Butler Friday afternoon, the savvy veteran understanding Butler was in attendance and giving Butler the affirmation he quietly craved in front of a national TV audience.

“Jimmy Butler, everybody! Jimmy, you gonna come out with your muscles out and everything, though? You got oil on...,” Wade said jokingly, motioning to Butler as Butler stood amongst many to the side, having just finished an on-court workout with his trainer.

Wade was reciprocating what Butler had initiated during free agency during those conversations, as the only question there is to be answered is how the two will mesh on the floor as opposed to the assumption of clashing personalities.

“Just what we can do if we were to play basketball together. I said look man, I’m okay with whatever role you want me to play,” said Butler to CSNChicago.com in an exclusive interview after Team USA beat Venezuela 80-45 Friday at the United Center, with Wade sitting next to Team USA’s bench. “But we can win games if you’re here with us. So that’s basically how it went.

“I was telling him, of all the things that have been said, I’m here to win. I don’t care what role I’m supposed to play, whose team it is, you come here, we’ll win games.”

[SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]

Free agent acquisitions Wade and Rajon Rondo have openly said Butler is the first name on the basketball masthead, but Butler has termed them “the three Alphas”. Regardless of what Butler has said before publicly about not being concerned with his standing in the locker room of the Chicago Bulls, he’s feeling more and more comfortable with the position of leadership—perhaps emboldened by the validation of the two.

“Outside of all of that, all anybody wants is to be wanted,” Butler said. “He wants me to step up and lead. He wants this to be my team. Just like I wanted him for my team. That mutual respect, us being honest with each other like that, that’s where it starts. That’s the foundation.”

Establishing a pecking order is easier when the players who see this version of Jimmy Butler only know this version of Butler. The player who has evolved into an All-Star and Olympian, not necessarily the 30th pick in the 2011 NBA Draft.

Both attributes are true, but there’s something to be said about initial impressions and how they stick.

“Moving forward, I’m gonna do my best, whatever it takes to help us win games,” Butler said. “I don’t think people understand how serious I am when I say I want to (freaking) win a championship. I’m not playing.”

Rondo and Wade have the championship receipts, so it’s unlikely they’ll allow Butler to go unchecked if his methods aren’t parallel with his words. Given the appointed title Butler gave the three, it doesn’t sound like they would let him slide regardless.

“That’s what I wanted him here, that’s why I wanted Rondo here,” Butler said. “Because they’ve done it, they know what it takes. I want them to show me. If I’m not listening, make me listen.”

When told he could be bullheaded and stubborn, Butler agreed.

“I agree, I can (be). Fine. It only makes me better,” Butler said. “If you’re on my tail all the time it only makes me better. I want that. I like that. If I’m (messing) around, you tell me, you let me know, you’re better than that. You’re right. I’m gonna respond in a positive manner and I’m gonna do what I’m supposed to be doing.”

[RELATED: Third time's a charm as Dwyane Wade embraces Bulls and Jimmy Butler as leader]

Butler used a lot of “my team” and “my guys” but one can surmise it’s less about ownership and possessiveness compared to investment—the sweat equity that earns his respect and admiration more than any single attribute.

“I respect a lot of things but I think your confidence comes from your work,” Butler said. “I’m a firm believer in that. I’m successful because of that. I just put in the time. I know these guys put in the time.”

“I respect that s**t. I’m going to war with you everyday when I know in my heart that your best interest is to help us win. I’m all about that.”

Whether Butler felt some of his old teammates were moving all tides in the same direction, he wouldn’t say—and the former Bulls probably wouldn’t on elaborate on their feelings, either.

“I think man, it was a lot of mixes of everything,” he said. “We weren’t winning games we wanted to win. We were in and out the lineup, so many guys.

“I don’t wanna use any excuses but that had something to do with it. We have a whole new team, we gotta move forward. I’m happy for those new guys, I want them to be successful on their new team.”

But he admits last season was one to learn from, and falls back on the work that he hopes will lead to others following willingly.

“You grow. You learn. You grow. I’m six years into this thing,” Butler said. “I’ve made a name for myself. I’ve done a lot with basketball since I started. I think I’m only gonna start to get better. I pray I only continue to get better because I do work. I really do work.”

Preview: Arrieta, Cubs look to stay hot vs. Mariners today on CSN

Preview: Arrieta, Cubs look to stay hot vs. Mariners today on CSN

Jake Arrieta and the Cubs look to stay hot against the Mariners today, and you can catch all the action on Comcast SportsNet. Coverage begins with Cubs Pregame Live at 12:30 p.m. Then catch first pitch with Len Kasper and Jim Deshaies. Be sure to stick around after the final out to get analysis and player reaction on Cubs Postgame Live.

Starting pitching matchup: Wade Miley (6-8, 5.23 ERA) vs. Jake Arrieta (12-4, 2.76 ERA)

Click here for a game preview to make sure you’re ready for the action.  

[SHOP CUBS: Get your Cubs gear right here]

— Channel finder: Make sure you know where to watch.

— Latest on the Cubs: All of the most recent news and notes.

— See what fans are talking about before, during and after the game with Cubs Pulse.

White Sox lose third straight, fall to Twins in 12 innings

White Sox lose third straight, fall to Twins in 12 innings

MINNEAPOLIS -- Now that he’s an All-Star, Jose Quintana feels more responsibility for the well-being of the White Sox, if that’s even possible.

Too bad his teammates haven’t held up their end.

On Friday night, Quintana continued a superb run since he returned from his first All-Star Game with nine strikeouts. But the White Sox couldn’t match their pitcher’s confidence as the offense produced six hits and the bullpen faltered late in a 2-1 loss to the Minnesota Twins in 12 innings in front of 23,983 at Target Field. Tommy Kahnle’s bases-loaded walk of Joe Mauer sent the White Sox, who were without Todd Frazier, to their third straight loss. Their record dropped to 50-53.

“After (the All-Star Game), I feel more confidence in me and more responsibility for my team, too,” Quintana said. “We have good players, a good rotation, everybody is throwing good and good hitters. But sometimes you see tough games like tonight.”

Quintana has been outstanding in three starts since he earned his first-ever All-Star nod earlier this month. He didn’t take long to establish that fact on Friday after the first two batters reached on a double and an error, striking out Minnesota’s 3-4-5 hitters to escape the jam. Starting with those strikeouts, Quintana retired 13 of 15 batters into the sixth inning.

[SHOP: Gear up, White Sox fans!]

While he allowed the Twins to tie it at 1 with a run in the sixth, Quintana escaped a potential game-changing jam. Adam Eaton offered assistance when he threw Miguel Sano out at home on Kennys Vargas’s game-tying RBI single. But Quintana stranded a pair in scoring position when he struck out Eduardo Escobar. He retired two more in the seventh before handing the game over to the bullpen.

Since the All-Star break, Quintana has a 0.93 ERA over 19 1/3 innings in three starts. He has allowed 16 hits and two runs with five walks and 20 strikeouts. Even so, Quintana often goes unrewarded for his effort as his 8-8 record would indicate.

“I stood in on a lot of his bullpens when I was coming back,” said veteran Jusin Morneau, who went 1-for-3 in his first regular season game at Target Field since 2013. “You could just stand there because you didn’t have to worry about him missing his spot too often. He can throw pretty hard and throw where he wants to. It’s unfortunate we don’t score more runs when he’s out there because he could easily be 14 and whatever the way he’s throwing the ball. He’s an important part of this team.”

Another key cog, Frazier was scratched with flu-like symptoms before first pitch. He was only available in an emergency, manager Robin Ventura said. Without Frazier, the White Sox looked listless against Ricky Nolasco, who completed eight innings for the first time since 2014.

Eaton -- who had two outfield assists and has 16 this season -- led off the game with a 451-foot solo homer off Nolasco. From there Nolasco settled down and retired 15 of 17 into the sixth inning. Morneau’s second-inning single just missed being a solo homer. But aside from that, the White Sox did little well.

[RELATED: Robin Ventura doesn't want to see Sale or Quintana traded]

They had a promising chance wiped out in the seventh inning after a leadoff double by Melky Cabrera as Nolasco struck out Jose Abreu and retired Morneau and Dioner Navarro.

Nolasco allowed a run and three hits with six strikeouts in eight innings.

The bullpen then shut the White Sox down for four more innings. Dan Jennings took over in the bottom of the 12th and hit one batter and walked another. Kahnle took over and walked Brian Dozier and Mauer to end the game.

“You feel like you gave it to ‘em,” Ventura said. “We’ve been struggling anyway. But I think with his breaking ball, (Nolasco) just had us fishing for strikes. … It seemed like we were chasing stuff all night.

“All (losses) hurt. But when you’re only chalking up one run and guys are going out and pitching pretty good, that’s the one that hurts.”