Is Jordan Ash the next Isiah Thomas?

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Is Jordan Ash the next Isiah Thomas?

Gene Pingatore has been coaching basketball at St. Joseph High School in Westchester since before the Internet, ESPN, blogging, the 3-point line, club teams and summer leagues. He thought he had seen it all, but he hadn't seen anything like Jordan Ash.

Ash, a 6-foot-2 freshman guard, is being touted as one of the leading prospects in the class of 2015. Pingatore is constantly being asked how good he is, if he'll start on the varsity team as a sophomore, and if he projects Ash to be one of the best players that he's produced. Another Isiah Thomas?

"I don't understand the whole thing. He hasn't played one minute for me," Pingatore said. "People are offering scholarships. He was offered by DePaul in the summer before he enrolled. But he hasn't played a minute on the varsity.

"Not too many kids came in here with the reputation that he has. He is going to be one of the best players to come out of here if everything goes the way it has gone for him. If he continues to grow and develop, he has all the physical attributes to make him one of the top players in the state.

"But what is hard for me to evaluate are his intangibles. You have to know a kid. Does he have mental toughness? Personally, I hate all this early publicity. It puts more pressure on a kid to excel rather than work hard to get to that position. And if he doesn't start for me, then I'm a jerk."

Even before Ash plays his first varsity game at St. Joseph, the press clippings precede him. "Ash clearly is among the top two or three prospects in Illinois in the class of 2015. It is downright scary to think how much better he will continue to get," said recruiting analysts Roy and Harv Schmidt of Illinois Prep Bulls-Eye.

"However, when one considers the rich tradition at St. Joseph and all of the outstanding college products that have come through there, we are going to reserve judgment before we call him the next great player to come out of that school."

Remember Isiah Thomas, Ken Williams, Tony Reeder, Daryl Thomas, Tony Freeman, Deryl Cunningham, Sterling Mahan, Brian Molis, Cliff Scales, Carl Hayes, Brandon Watkins, Amal McCaskill, Demetri McCamey and Evan Turner?

"Ash is a stellar athlete with tremendous quickness. He is creative with the ball and has a first step that can leave defenders in their tracks. In addition, he plays with tremendous poise and confidence," Roy Schmidt said.

"As good as he is, there are still some areas of Ash's game that need continued improvement and refinement, namely the consistency of his perimeter shooting and learning to play more under control. But make no mistake about it, Ash is an elite-level talent which is why high major Division I programs are already in hot pursuit."

It's too early to proclaim that the class of 2015 is blessed with the caliber of talent of the classes of 2013 and 2014. But Ash is at the top of the list with guards Prentiss Nixon of Bolingbrook, Jalen Brunson of Stevenson, Martez Cameron of De La Salle, Glynn Watson and Joffrey Brown of St. Joseph and Luwane Pipkins of Bogan, 6-foot-6 D.J. Williams and 6-foot-4 Brandon Hutton of Simeon, 6-foot-3 Roosevelt Smart of Palatine, 7-foot Tyler
Jackson of Nazareth, 6-foot-7 Evan Boudreaux of Lake Forest and 6-foot-3 Charles Matthews of St. Rita.

Ash, 15, lives in Bolingbrook. His father Jimmy, a Westinghouse graduate of 1981, played with Mark Aguirre in the late 1970s. He chose St. Joseph over Bolingbrook, Nazareth and Benet.

"My father told me: 'Go where you can see yourself going everyday, somewhere you can succeed in the classroom and on the court, where you can progress.' You can always count on getting a good education at St. Joseph," Ash said.

"But there are other things...the tradition, coach Ping, all the better players who came out of there who worked hard and went on to be successful, with hard work and coach Ping's teachings, I can be one of those players.

"I watch Hoop Dreams (the award-winning documentary) all the time. That's how I learned about St. Joseph. Everybody knows about Isiah Thomas and Evan Turner. People go through there and go on to be great and they come back to coach and help kids in their journey and that says a lot about the program. Obviously, something was done right."

Ash started playing basketball at age 3. He played football, too, but basketball became his passion. He played the game year-round. It became part of his life. In sixth grade, at Humphrey Middle School in Bolingbrook, he realized for the first time that he had a special talent for the game.

"It was the first time a lot of kids began to tell me how good I was," Ash said. "Close friends and family said it but people around town were finding out who Jordan Ash was. It motivated me to keep working hard and getting better."

He has offers from DePaul and Purdue and interest from Illinois, Indiana, Northwestern, Michigan and Xavier. He carries a 3.5 grade-point average (on a 4.0 scale) and has a terrific support group that keeps him humble, grounded and level-headed. His mother always checks his grades. Receiving a "C" in Spanish wasn't good enough.

"I haven't done anything major yet so I have to keep working hard and progressing in class, too," he said. "My dad always stressed to be a student first, athlete second. He taught me that many players who are talented but didn't get in the classroom ended up wasting their talent and chance to go to college."

To prepare for his first varsity season--and to pass Pingatore's muster and always skeptical eye--Ash is working to improve all of his skills so he can become an better all-around player. As a point guard, he must be trusted to handle the ball and make the right decisions.

He wears No. 23. His AAU coach, Mike Mullins of the Wolves, issued him the number, mainly because it was Michael Jordan's number. A special number for a potentially special player, Mullins said. And Ash hopes to make it very special before he graduates from St. Joseph.

"No. 11 is hanging in the rafters at St. Joseph. That's Isiah's number," Ash said. "Daryl Thomas' No. 24 is retired, too. My goal is to retire No. 23. In fact, I want to win the state title and see the whole team in the rafters.

"I just see that I am blessed. I'm glad I'm in the position I'm in. I'm motivated to keep working hard and progressing. I'm glad that coach Ping is starting to have trust in me. I want to prove to him that I can play."

After Bears release Antrel Rolle, Matt Slauson, question looms: Who else?

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After Bears release Antrel Rolle, Matt Slauson, question looms: Who else?

Just as the draft selections of guard Cody Whitehair heralded the Chicago end for Matt Slauson, and safeties Deon Bush and DeAndre Houston-Carson brought in alternatives to Antrel Rolle – both vets let go sooner rather than later – an obvious question hanging fire right now in the wake of other draft picks and signings is, “Who else?”

One expectation this offseason is that the Bears would make a difficult decision on rush-linebacker Lamarr Houston, who’s due $6 million this year and next and $8 million for 2018. That situation won’t stand as-is.

The final year of Willie Young’s contract calls for $2.5 million this season. That’s only slightly less than the $2.9 million Slauson was due for 2016 and that was rendered expendable by the Whitehair draft selection and the signings of Ted Larsen and Manny Ramirez.

In the Houston-Young cases, the Bears used a No. 1 pick on Leonard Floyd, a Young-type edge rusher. They used a No. 3 pick on Jonathan Bullard, a 290-pound defensive end with size-rush blend that Young doesn’t have. The Bears re-signed Sam Acho, who doesn’t give the Bears what Houston does as an edge rusher, but Houston doesn’t do anything on special teams, the roster entrée for non-starters.

Then there is the matter of Eddie Royal, with an injury speckled 2015 injury resume’ that defines “vulnerable” for player at age 30 and carrying a $4.5 million salary for 2016. What little the Bears did draft-wise on offense included diminutive wideout Danny Braverman in the seventh round.

Teams don’t make roster decisions based on seventh-round picks before the first minicamp. But Braverman, who led all FBS schools in receptions last year, is 5-10, around 180 pounds.

Forget the knee-jerk comparisons to Danny Amendola, Julian Edelman and Wes Welker just because they’re little white guys (and why is it that people grab those instant so-called comparables based on skin color? For another time.)

But NFL slot receivers in the Braverman mold include Seattle’s undrafted Doug Baldwin (5-10, 189, also a Florida native like Braverman); Randall Cobb (5-10) up in Green Bay, a No. 3 slot guy his first three NFL seasons; Jamison Crowder, a true smurf at 5-8 who caught 59 passes for Washington as a rookie.

Braverman does not make Royal roster-surplus the way Whitehair did Slauson, or Bush did Rolle, or Floyd makes Houston or Young (whom the Bears reportedly tried to trade during the draft). And Royal was banged up in part because he was thrust into a starter role by the injuries to Alshon Jeffery and Kevin White.

But numbers on depth charts and salary cap balance sheets force decisions. And the surprise of the offseason would be if the Bears were done making theirs.

Hamstring still sore for White Sox Avisail Garcia

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Hamstring still sore for White Sox Avisail Garcia

The combination of soreness and cold weather looks as if it will keep Avisail Garcia out for a fourth straight game.

White Sox manager Robin Ventura said Wednesday afternoon he intends to be cautious with how he uses his designated hitter, who hasn’t played since Friday because of a sore right hamstring. The White Sox host the second game of a three-game set with the Boston Red Sox at 7:10 p.m. on Wednesday.

Garcia tested his hamstring before Tuesday’s game and still isn’t 100 percent, Ventura said. He intended to test it again during batting practice on Wednesday. While Garcia is listed as being available, Jerry Sands started at DH again.

“He still has something there,” Ventura said. “So even today, you’re a little nervous using him for a game and having him try to beat something out and sprint. So we’ll test him again today.”

Garcia tweaked his hamstring as he tried to avoid a tag on the final play of Friday’s loss.

The injury arrived just as Garcia had begun to finally hit. He went 8-for-18 with four RBIs and four runs and had a hit in all five games of the team’s road trip.

Blackhawks: Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews have taken their bromance to Twitter

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Blackhawks: Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews have taken their bromance to Twitter

Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews have always had a brother-type relationship on and off the ice since coming up to the National Hockey League together in 2007-08, and now their bromance has shifted to social media.

Toews, who turned 28 years old last Friday, received birthday wishes all day from fans on Twitter, including Kane, who doesn't tweet often — at least during the season.

While the birthday wish was appreciated, the Blackhawks captain still felt a little empty:

It took a few days but Kane eventually gave in on Wednesday and followed Toews, albeit reluctantly:

Meanwhile, Toews is still getting the hang of Twitter.

Many of the replies he gets are from fans calling him "dad" or "goat," and he can't figure out why:

The Blackhawks even offered to inform him what it means, but the fans were quick to let Toews know (GOAT is short for "greatest of all time"):

Signing off for the day, Toews couldn't help but throw a friendly jab at Kane:

Oh, and Scott Darling joined in on the fun later on, posting a GIF of an actual goat:

It's safe to say the Blackhawks aren't used to these long summers. Chicago isn't either.