Houston gives Hope plenty of hope

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Houston gives Hope plenty of hope

When Illinois-bound point guard Jalen James made the startling decision
to transfer to La Lumiere Academy in LaPorte, Indiana, for the second
semester, nearly everybody wrote off Chicago's Hope Academy as the favorite
to win the Class 1A championship.

Everybody except coach Mike Edwards and his players. The Eagles are
17-2, including a victory over highly rated Marshall and losses to highly
rated Huntley and St. Ignatius. They defeated Lake Forest Academy 77-71 in
double overtime on Tuesday. They'll play at Ida Crown on Thursday and at St.
Benedict on Friday.

"It was disappointing that James left. In our view, it wasn't in his
best interest. All the tools were here for him to succeed with us. He just
needed to do extra work in class," Edwards said. "How good is he? He
definitely can play point guard in the Big 10.

"But we were deep to start with, nine or 10 deep. Against Class 1A
competition, we still have a big lineup. We still can win the state
championship if our kids do what they are supposed to do. We have an
unselfish, diverse and athletic team. And we play disciplined ball."

With James gone, Edwards predicts that some of his other talented
players will get their props, particularly 6-foot-5 senior Alex Houston, who
scored 36 points and grabbed 13 rebounds in a victory over Carver shortly
after James left for Indiana.

"He is starting to get college looks," Edwards said. "Most college
coaches came to see Jalen and now Alex is getting looks, mostly from
Division II and III schools. But I think he can play at the Division I
level. He is very athletic and active on the boards. And he is our leading
percentage shooter from three-point range."

But Edwards reminds that Hope Academy isn't a one-trick pony. Houston
averages 12 points per game. Colin Blaydes (10 ppg, 8 rpg), a 6-foot-5
senior, is a shot blocker and defensive energy. Torrance Johnson, a
6-foot-6, 225-pound senior, averages 14 points and eight rebounds. Tyrone
Smith, a 6-foot-1 senior, and Carson Hughes, a 5-foot-11 sophomore, each
average eight points.

In Tuesday's victory over Lake Forest Academy, Johnson scored 27 points
while Smith had 26.

The chief reserves are 5-foot-7 senior Andre Thomas and 5-foot-8 junior
Armando Sacluti, a pair of reliable defenders.

They remember how close they came a year ago. The Eagles were 20-11 and
lost to Newark in the sectional final. Newark went on to win the Class 1A
title.

"We hoped last year would be our year but we knew Newark was an amazing
team," Edwards said.

But this is this year and there is even more optimism, even without
James. "Everyone felt (the transfer) was coming. I've known him for eight
years. He's still like a brother. It was a decision for him. He did what was
best for him. It cut his ties with us but the show still goes on," Houston
said.

"Regardless of who is there, we have 12 guys who are willing to work
hard. Jalen was our floor leader but the seniors have done a good job of
keeping everything together. Thomas and Smith and Hughes have to take charge
on the floor now and they are doing it very well.

"When James left, our team was doing good. We felt it was time for
everybody to step up. We felt confident. We still feel we can win the Class
1A title. Our confidence never went away. Our senior leadership and our
senior guards have stepped up and taken it up a notch."

Houston enrolled at University of Chicago's charter school as a
freshman, then transferred to Hope Academy because most of his friends went
there. "I knew the players growing up and in AAU. I felt comfortable with
them. I liked what was going on at Hope," he said.

"I like the teachers. They always help the students. They go out of
their way. They even have Saturday school for kids as long as you are
willing to put the work in. It is a small and close atmosphere."

Like his coach, Houston feels he can play in Division I. He has had
overtures from Kishwaukee College, Benedictine University, Valparaiso and
Cleveland State. His dream school always has been Texas because of Kevin
Durant.

Most of all, however, he believes Hope Academy deserves more respect.
"It bothers me a lot that we aren't ranked because we are in Class 1A. We
have competed in all of our games. We've beaten some big schools that are
rated. Tell (the evaluators) to see us play. We have high fliers like me and
Blaydes. We play basketball as it should be played," he said.

In his previous four years, Edwards has guided Hope Academy to 16-13,
20-7 and 20-11 records. Jalen James isn't the only outstanding player he has
lost. Willie Conner transferred to Crane. But Edwards reminds that James was
an outstanding point guard but not a dominant offensive player. He averaged
13 points, five assists and three rebounds.

"When James left, I told the other kids that they had to make up 13
points," Edwards said. "I asked them: 'What other school in Class 1A is
quick enough to press us even without Jalen here?' There isn't. We have a
lot of balance. Seven different kids have scored over 18 points in a game
this year.

"Alex Houston has done a great job of stepping up with his leadership.
He has matured and taken on James' role. He knows what is at stake. They
have a chip on their shoulder. They want to be ranked. They should be
ranked. They beat Marshall and Rich South, who have been ranked. They led
Huntley by 16 points in the second quarter.

"We have athletes who can play with Public League teams and the
discipline and teamwork to play with suburban teams. We have blended them
both together."

Todd Frazier's late single lifts White Sox over Mariners

Todd Frazier's late single lifts White Sox over Mariners

The White Sox offense showed a bunch of late life on Thursday night.

Todd Frazier had two hits with runners in scoring position, including the game-winner, as the White Sox topped the Seattle Mariners 7-6 at U.S. Cellular Field. Frazier’s one-out single in the ninth inning off Nick Vincent scored Adam Eaton as the White Sox won for the fourth time in five games. Frazier’s game-winning hit was his first since June 2015 and the fifth of his career. It and a game-tying, two-out, two-run single in the seventh helped Frazier shake off a game in which he struck out three times in his first three at-bats.

“You learn something,” Frazier said. “You take the last at-bat and throw it away and just keep on going. Unfortunately, it took me three times to do that. To come up clutch today felt pretty good.”

Frazier leads the club in home runs and RBIs.

Similar to his teammates, however, Frazier has lefty plenty of chances for more damage on the table. He entered Thursday hitting .159 with runners in scoring position for a team that ranks 18th with runners in scoring position (.255).

While Frazier struck out with runners on the corners in the first inning, he succeeded in his next two tries. He picked up Jose Abreu in the seventh after the slugger struck out against Steve Cishek. Frazier sat on a slider and ripped a 2-0 pitch into left field to drive in Eaton and Tim Anderson, whose one-out RBI double made it a 6-4 game.

Then in the ninth, Frazier came through again. Eaton’s bloop single to center got things going before Anderson bunted him over. Vincent walked Abreu to get to Frazier, who singled to left again.

Frazier was previously 17-for-17 with five doubles, four homers and 42 RBIs with runners in scoring position.

“These are the best ones,” manager Robin Ventura said. “You can't rely just on the homer. There's more to his game than that. You have to be able to knock in runs when you're not hitting them over the fence. He can use the other side of the field. I think he can level it out somewhat and get some hits. Just put it in play more because you don't know know what's going to happen.”

[MORE: Rick Hahn denies rift in White Sox front office, holds off on plans for 2017]

David Robertson found that out in the top of the ninth inning when his outing was delayed for several minutes by a trio of fans who ran onto the field. Robertson worked around the delay and a one-out walk to keep the score tied at 6.

Down 2-0, the White Sox scored three times in the first inning to briefly take the lead.

Abreu and Avisail Garcia both singled in runs and Dioner Navarro had a bases-loaded sacrifice fly.

White Sox starter Anthony Ranaudo pitched well after a slow start and then ran into bad luck in the sixth inning. What looked to be a surefire double play ball kicked off Ranaudo’s glove and combined with an Anderson throwing error led to a three-run inning that put Seattle ahead 6-3.

[SHOP: Gear up, White Sox fans!]

Ranaudo allowed six earned runs in 5.1 innings.

The White Sox were 6-for-11 with runners in scoring position.

“That’s just part of it,” Robertson said. “I guess that happens some times.

“Everybody played hard. They didn’t give up at all tonight. We pitched well enough to win and had timely hitting. A few things went our way, a couple errors that really ended up giving us a few runs. A few things went our way and it was great to pick up a win.”

Jay Cutler, Dowell Loggains face deepest test yet in Bears' third preseason game

Jay Cutler, Dowell Loggains face deepest test yet in Bears' third preseason game

Third preseason games come with added significance simply because it is the one practice game in which the starters play the closest to a full game prior to the start of the regular season. But for the Bears, Saturday’s game against the Kansas City Chiefs is potentially far more important for another reason.

The Kansas City game looms as something of a new tipping point in the one relationship that must function above all others for immediate success of the franchise:

The working relationship/bond between offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains and quarterback Jay Cutler.

The two-plus quarters that Cutler is expected to play will be the longest yet trial by fire for his trust in Loggains. The latter has been a coordinator previously in his career, but with less time and success in the position that most of Cutler’s previous list of coordinators.

And few of those relationships survived, let alone flourished once Cutler lost faith or belief in their messages, whether under an avalanche of sacks, poor play selection or design, or whatever.

Cutler put up the best season of his eight-year career in 2015 with Loggains as his position coach. Adam Gase was the coordinator, Gase came in with credibility from having worked with Peyton Manning in Denver. The credibility traced to not necessarily what Gase might have taught Manning, but rather because of what Gase undoubtedly LEARNED from Manning.

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

Saturday’s test will be far short of the ones the regular season holds, when Loggains’ offense has been scouted and schemed for. But after a stretch of “quizzes” for Cutler-Loggains, this is a “test.”

Buy-in with Loggains?

Loggains has traction with Cutler – for now. Cutler was consistent in his compliments of Loggains last year, but it was Gase ultimately in his ear on game days. Indeed, the entire offense believed in Gase: “When I’m in the huddle…and we get a play call,” offensive lineman Kyle Long said at the time, “there’s never a time where we look at each other and think, ‘Oh [darn].’”

The NFL reality is that Loggains, who has stressed an even stronger commitment to running the football (Long and associates love that), has to earn, or re-earn that gut-level trust.

Most of all, from Cutler.

The lurching start to the preseason – the Bears’ 22-0 home loss to Denver, in which the offense with Cutler netted 13 yards in 10 plays, two of them ending in sacks of Cutler – was test No. 1. The Cutler-Loggains relationship appeared to emerge intact.

“We talked,” Cutler said. “We talked a lot about that game. I think the major point for us was, ‘Let’s not panic. Let’s not hit the fire alarm and put guys in a panic.’

“Because it was the first preseason game and we watched the film and a lot of the stuff that went wrong was because of mistakes… . So it was a matter of just kind of cleaning that stuff up and just going back to work. Which I thought we did a really good job of offensively [at New England]. Hopefully we can do that this week, too.”

Tough warm-ups

NFL schedule-makers did Loggains and the Bears no favors. Their first three preseason opponents – Denver, New England, Kansas City – were all top-10 run defenses. Meaning: The Bears are working to establish Loggains’ run-based offense right into the teeth of three of the NFL’s best at stopping that.

[RELATED: Rookie class making much-needed impact from Bears]

The Bears want to run. But just consider: What if they can’t run against a monster Chiefs front that includes Jaye Howard and Dontari Poe and which held the Bears to 3.3 yards per carry, tied for their second-lowest of 2015, in their meeting last season?

Which then tasks Loggains with getting the offense to the right solutions, and those traditionally have not been – and should not be – solely found in Cutler’s right arm. The Bears streamlined and simplified Cutler’s decision-making last year, by design, and it was the right strategy, minimizing a Cutler weakness.

But now Loggains is front-and-center in those decisions. And Cutler has never appeared to suffer from an excess of patience through his career, even the new, more mature Cutler.

And not only WHAT Loggains tells Cutler, but also HOW he tells him, will matter. Gase was generally quiet; that worked. Loggains is very expressive, which Cutler said he now appreciates.

“He sets the tone every day,” Cutler said. “There’s never a gray area. He sets the tone, sets the standard, and if you don’t live up to that, meet those expectations, he’s going to be vocal, he’s going to let you know.

“As a player, that’s all you can ask for: A coach telling you how to do it, and when you don’t do it, you expect him to push you and help you achieve those goals.”

Preseason game No. 3 will be the biggest test yet for the synchronicity that is there now but needs to stand up to inevitable failures.

Illinois lands Huntley DE Olalere Oladipo

Illinois lands Huntley DE Olalere Oladipo

Illinois added another important in-state piece as Huntley three-star ranked defensive end Olalere Oladipo (6-foot-4, 235 pounds) announced his college decision Thursday night to the Fighting Illini.

"Illinois has a great staff, is close to home," according to Oladipo. "Illinois felt like a nice fit for me."

Oladipo is also the second verbal commitment Illinois added Thursday as the Fighting Illini added a commitment from Miami (Fla.) Central four-star ranked wide receiver Carmoni Green (6-foot-1, 178 pounds).

Oladipo is now the sixth in-state verbal commitment for the Fighting Illini Class of 2017. Oladipo joins St. Rita OLB Marc Mondesir, Auburn OT Verderian Lowe, Marian Catholic QB Cameron Thomas, Chicago Brother Rice WR Ricky Smalling and Bolingbrook ATH Kendall Smith.

Illinois now has 11 known verbal commitments total in the Class of 2017.