Jones defines the student-athlete term

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Jones defines the student-athlete term

John Chico, who lives on the East Side, and Deandre Taylor, who comes from the Englewood community, enrolled at Jones College Prep because they felt they could obtain a better education than at their neighborhood schools. As a bonus, they could also play basketball.

Chico's older brother and Taylor's sister were Jones graduates. They recommended the school, which ranks No. 9 academically among all public schools in the state. It features a selective enrollment for its 820 students. The average ACT score is 25.5.

"It's hard to get into this school," said basketball coach and athletic director Frank Griseto. "We take them as freshmen and teach them that the commitment level has to be there for athletics like it is in academics. They don't go to college to play basketball. They are students first. But that doesn't lessen their commitment to be competitive. They are driven and focused. They want to be successful."

Like every student at Jones, Chico and Taylor balance sports and books. Chico, who also is an outstanding baseball player, wants to be a sports trainer or sports psychologist. Taylor wants to major in mechanical engineering in college.

They have collaborated on a basketball team that is 18-3 going into the Public League playoff. Not bad for some kids who played on a sophomore team that won only three games. In its last two outings, the newly crowned CPS Blue Central champion edged Tilden 70-66 as Taylor had 25 points and 12 rebounds and Dyett 55-53 as Chico scored 15 points.

"This is the best team I've had," said Griseto, comparing it to his 23-5 team in 2005 that lost to eventual state champion Hales Franciscan in the regional. "They are relentless on defense. They really are a team in every essence. They hang out together and socialize. They pride themselves as being as competitive as possible, academically and in sports."

In his 11th season as head coach, Griseto knows what it takes to build a winning program. A St. Rita graduate of 1970, he couldn't play basketball in high school because his father died when he was a sophomore and he had to go to work. He got bit by the coaching bug while playing basketball on the Union League boys club traveling team.

He coached baseball at Westinghouse, then basketball at Notre Dame, then basketball and baseball at St. Ignatius, then returned to Westinghouse to coach basketball and baseball from 1986 to 1998. His 1996 team went 29-5 and finished third in the Class AA tournament.

After assisting old friend and former Westinghouse coach Roy Condotti for one year at Homewood-Flossmoor, he landed at Jones. It has been quite a change from the time he had five Division I players at Westinghouse, played in the Red-West and contended for a state championship. But he is enjoying the challenge and the experience.

"The opportunity to come into a brand new school that was focusing on academics, to start something from scratch, was a challenge that I was anxious to accept," Griseto said. "They hadn't had teams before when it was Jones Commercial. I also helped to build baseball and cross-country programs. We want to be as competitive as we can."

Jones, located at 606 S. State Street, plays its home games in basketball, soccer and baseball at old Near North High School near Clybourn and Larrabee. Last fall, the boys cross-country team finished seventh in the state meet. And the baseball team has qualified for the Elite Eight in Class 3A in three of the last four years.

Griseto thinks his basketball team has what it takes to be more than competitive in the Class 3A sectional at St. Ignatius, which also includes the highly rated host school.

"I thought we could be pretty good this season," Griseto said. "They want to win and go out as seniors playing the best they can play. This is their chance to make a name for themselves."

He knows it isn't easy for a Blue Division team to compete against Red Division or Catholic League or suburban schools. He has been there. The difference is mostly about depth and athleticism, not calculus and physics.

"Two years ago, we played Marshall in the first game of the city playoff and got pounded. They went on to win state. Last year, we beat Kenwood in the first game, then lost to Harper," Griseto said. "But those teams weren't as good as this team. I tell them they have to get better with every game--and they have. We have made a lot of strides."

Griseto describes Chico and Taylor as his two mainstays. Chico, a 5-foot-10 senior point guard and a three-year starter, averages 16 points and eight assists per game. He is the team leader and a defensive catalyst.

Taylor, a 6-foot-2 senior, also is a three-year starter. He averages 17.5 points, 10 rebounds and four blocks per game. "He is our rock on defense," the coach said.

Other starters are 6-foot senior Jauquis Frazier-Buckman (7 ppg), 6-foot-4 senior Max Puidak (6 ppg, 8 rpg) and 5-foot-10 senior Courtney Copeland (16 ppg). Puidak is in his first year of basketball after being recruited off the baseball team by Griseto. Another baseball player, 5-foot-11 junior Vincent Lindsey, is the first player off the bench.

"The addition of Puidak has helped by giving us more size," Griseto said. "Lack of size has the potential to hurt us. We have to play defense and keep our opponents off the offensive boards. Our objective is to get a clean layup off the fast break."

It isn't a neighborhood team. The players come from the East Side, Englewood and Jefferson Park. But they hang out together between class periods or after school or they gather to eat wings at Harold's Chicken, a block from the school on Wabash Ave.

"We thought we'd be better than the past few years," Chico said. "We're a bunch of seniors who play hard, with passion and poise, work together and never quit. We're looking forward to playing against Red Division teams in the playoff. We're proud that we can be successful and let the underclassmen play in the Red next year. We've seen Simeon and Whitney Young. I wish we could play them to see where we stand."

So does Taylor, whose brother played at Bogan. He acknowledges that the addition of Puidak takes up space in the paint and relieves the pressure on him and his 32-inch vertical leap to get rebounds. And he agrees that the chemistry that his senior class has built up since their freshman year has been a key factor in their success.

"We've been together for four years. We don't have distractions from other classes," Taylor said. "And, yes, I recommend the wings at Harold's."

Bears hope they found another Peanut Tillman with CB Deiondre’ Hall

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Bears hope they found another Peanut Tillman with CB Deiondre’ Hall

In the second round of the 2003 draft the Bears took a flyer on a tall cornerback out of a smaller school. Now they have gone a similar route, hoping to land another Charles Tillman.

At the very least they secured a tall cornerback from a smaller school who WANTS to be another Charles Tillman.

Deiondre’ Hall, 6-2, 190 pounds, became a Bear with the team’s third pick in the fourth round of the 2016 draft. Hall comes out of Northern Iowa with 13 career interceptions, six returned for touchdowns, with another 28 passes broken up.

In the Tillman tradition he also finished with four forced fumbles, three of those his senior season.

His role model, “for cornerback, me personally, I’ve always loved him, is Charles Tillman,” Hall said. “Just being a ballhawk and getting that ball. That’s something that’s been huge to me throughout my time at Northern Iowa… .

“I’ve always kind of tried to model my game after him. Like I said, just being a ballhawk and getting that ball out. That’s one of the key emphasis throughout my time at Northern Iowa. Not basically mimicking his game but taking bits and pieces and adding it to mine.”

The turnover bits and pieces of his game will be welcome additions for a team that totaled just 17 total turnovers last season and whose cornerbacks (Kyle Fuller, Tracy Porter) combined for just three interceptions.

But Hall has started at linebacker, is a physical defensive back, and is likely to get at least a look at safety as well. There his football template changes.

“For safety positions, I’ve always kind of saw myself as a ‘Honey Badger,’” Hall said, referencing Arizona Cardinals All-Pro defensive back Tyrann Mathieu. “Being able to play a little corner, coming down in the slot and guarding those quicker guys and being able to stay up top and cover ground. That’s huge in the game these days.”

Bears draft Miami safety Deon Bush, workout partner of Antrel Rolle

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Bears draft Miami safety Deon Bush, workout partner of Antrel Rolle

In one of those ironies of NFL life, Miami safety Deon Bush frequently worked with fellow Hurricane and NFL veteran Antrel Rolle. Now Bush is on a vector that puts him on a possible roster collision course with Rolle.

Rolle was hampered by injuries all year, starting just seven games before finishing the season on injured reserve.

“I grew up watching Antrel Rolle, and while he was down here in Miami I was working out with him, so he's kind of like a mentor to me,” Bush said. “He's been in the league for a long time and I want to be in the league for a long time, so there's a lot to learn from him. It's just great having another player from ‘The U,’ being like a family, like a brotherhood and it'll be great playing with him.”

Where Bush fits warrants watching, with Adrian Amos ensconced at free safety but the other position is very much shrouded in doubt.

That has become something of a Bears tradition at safety.

In 2014 the Bears selected Minnesota safety Brock Vereen in the fourth round. By the end of that season Vereen was starting alongside Ryan Mundy.

But the Bears signed Rolle early in free agency and Vereen lost the starting job almost at the outset of training camp, eventually released in late September. Mundy went on injured reserve with a hip injury and was done for the year.

Last year the Bears drafted Amos out of Penn State in the fifth round. He became a day one starter alongside Rolle.

Bush projects as an immediate fit for special teams but also has shown the speed (4.48 sec. in the 40) to work in coverage, a critical skill set for a position once viewed more in terms of run support. Bush collected 103 tackles and three interceptions over his junior and senior seasons, in addition to forcing five fumbles in the 2014 season.

“I take big pride in being a big hitter, that's how I grew up playing the game,” Bush said. “I've been trying to be the best hitter on my team (since my early days). I just take pride. That's how I like to play the game of football. I like to play tough, I like to put fear in my opponent and that's a big thing in my game.”

Bears increase LB competition with another trade, draft WVU ILB Nick Kwiatkoski

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Bears increase LB competition with another trade, draft WVU ILB Nick Kwiatkoski

Keeping in step with the twin themes of the Bears’ 2016 draft, GM Ryan Pace started Day 3 exactly as he did Days 1 and 2 – with a trade – dealing up in the fourth round to select West Virginia linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski, who immediately dials up the competition level at inside linebacker.

And some good feelings. Former Mountaineers teammate Kevin White, the Bears’ first-round pick in the 2015 draft, immediately tweeted:

“I’m pretty close with Kevin,” Kwiatkoski said. “He came into West Virginia as a junior-college player, lived two doors down from me, and have stayed close with him. I lived with his brother Karon at West Virginia this past year.”

Kwiatkoski, 6-2, 241 pounds, fits the template for inside linebackers in the 3-4 scheme of John Fox/Vic Fangio, with mobility enough in his senior seasons to post three interceptions, 10 tackles for loss, three sacks, seven passes defensed and a team-high 86 tackles. He had six interceptions and 14 passes defensed in his four West Virginia seasons.

“My junior year I played a lot more of the sub packages," he said. "This past year, I played them but not as much. But I feel like I can stay on the field for a third-down guy and different sub packages. This year I’m transitioning to outside backer so I was in coverage a lot more than I was the prior year so that definitely helps contribute to that.”

Kwiatkoski also goes into a competitive cauldron with offseason signees Danny Trevathan and Jerrell Freeman in addition to ILB holdovers Christian Jones, Jonathan Anderson and John Timu. Pace has said throughout the offseason that increasing competition was a goal, and the nature of the picks has followed that lead.

The Bears gave the St. Louis Rams the sixth-round draft pick they’d acquired from Carolina in the Jared Allen trade early last season. The deal allowed them to move from No. 117 to No. 113, another move pointing to the Bears targeting best players available on their board and moving to get them.