Maxey recalls Smedley's winning shot

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Maxey recalls Smedley's winning shot

The last time we talked to Ken Maxey, the former Carver and Michigan basketball star was preparing to introduce another former Carver and Michigan star, Cazzie Russell, as one of the latest inductees into the NCAA Basketball Hall of Fame.

Maxey was a freshman when Russell was a senior at Carver in 1962, when he led coach Larry Hawkins' team to second place in the state tournament. And he was a freshman at Michigan when Cazzie was hailed as the Player of the Year in college basketball.

"I didn't play with Cazzie. We never played together in high school or college," Maxey said. "But we played on the playgrounds and with an elite CHS team that played all over the city. And we have the same roots. We're two kids from the (Altgeld) Gardens.

"The message is you can make it, no matter where you come from. It comes from building integrity and character when you are young, no matter whether you are black or white. Everyone knew Cazzie but there were players as good or better than Cazzie. He had an extremely good work either. That's what catapulted him above other players who had more talent. He carried Altgeld Gardens with him wherever he went."

Now it is Maxey's turn. Most kids in Altgeld Gardens and the Carver community don't know of the tradition that was established in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s by Russell, Maxey, Pete Cunningham, Tommy Hawkins, Joe Allen, Tim Hardaway and Terry Cummings.

It is time they learned.

Maxey, one of the leaders of Carver's 1963 state championship team, will be inducted into the Chicago Public League Basketball Coaches Association's Hall of Fame on May 12 at Hawthorne Race Course in Cicero.

Among others to be inducted will be King's Efrem Winters and Laurent Crawford, Crane's James Jackson, South Shore's Bobby Joor, Kenwood's Donnie Von Moore and Hubbard's Reggie Rose.

Maxey grew up in Altgeld Gardens. He and other kids idolized Pete Cunningham, who had scored more points in high school than Cazzie Russell.
He played on a park district team with Anthony Smedley that won a city championship at age 11-12.

"It was ideal growing up in Altgeld Gardens," Maxey said. "It was a community effort. Everyone knew everybody. Very few had more than anyone else. It was common ground. Everyone was respectful. There was a lot of parental involvement."

As a senior, he averaged 31 points per game and was the leading scorer in the Public League. He chose Michigan because Cazzie had gone there. His other options were USC and Western Michigan. He passed on Illinois because Cunningham had flunked out after his first semester. "You couldn't trust them to help black athletes," Maxey said.

At Michigan, he majored in history and physical education. As a senior, he captained the basketball team and boycotted the administration building to force the university to hire more black coaches. As a result, Fred Snowden became the first black assistant coach in the Big 10.

After graduation, he received an offer to try out with the St. Louis Hawks of the NBA but had a knee operation and was drafted for Viet Nam. He taught in Detroit, obtained a masters degree in guidance and counseling at Michigan and got into coaching.

He was head coach at Lake Michigan College in Benton Harbor, Michigan, assisted for four years at Arizona and three years at Stanford, then was head coach at Cal State-Los Angeles, becoming the first black coach at a four-year college in Los Angeles. Later, he was an assistant at USC and Los Angeles City College, then joined the teaching and administrative staff at Los Angeles' Crenshaw High School in 1991.

But Maxey will forever be remembered for one of the most memorable games and dramatic incidents in the history of the Illinois high school basketball tournament. Carver 53, Centralia 52. 1963 state championship. Anthony Smedley. If you were there, you'll never forget it.

It all began in 1962, when Cazzie Russell and Carver lost a heartbreaking 49-48 decision to Decatur in the state championship game. Bruce Raickett, whose errant pass was intercepted by Jim Hill to set up Ken Barnes' game-winning free throws, went into isolation for 20 years, a la Steve Bartman.

"Everyone recalled how close we got but yet so far," Maxey said. "The stigma was that we got there and blew it. It was devastating to the community. It raised everybody's expectations quite a bit for the following year."

Maxey, a sophomore, started at point guard. Joe Allen was the leader. Gerry Jones, who later played at Iowa, Curtis Kirk and Robert Cifax were standouts, too. "As long as I got the ball to our star players and they got their shots, it was OK. We had a speed game and a slowdown game. If we lost, it was because we didn't execute our strategy effectively."

Carver beat Harlan for the Public League championship, then ousted Waukegan in the supersectional, Geneva in the quarterfinals and Peoria Central by three points in overtime in the semifinals.

In the final against Centralia, Carver led by four at halftime but trailed by one with 14 seconds to play despite an 18-point, 17-rebound performance by Joe Allen and 18 points by Maxey.

Enter Anthony Smedley. He was on the frosh-soph team all year and had been promoted to the varsity for the postseason because of his quickness and shooting ability against a zone. Coach Larry Hawkins pulled Smedley off the bench.

"(Hawkins) wanted us to steal the ball and he put in Smedley for his quickness, not for his shooting," Maxey recalled. "If you look at the film, Joe Allen was free under the basket when he shot.

"But Smedley was a gunner, an automatic shooter. From the spot he shot on the baseline (after stealing the ball with seven seconds left), he shot that all the time in practice. It was his shot. He was deadly from that spot. He did it instinctively. He never thought about it. For him, it was a natural reaction to take that shot."

Interestingly, Carver didn't place a single player on the six-man all-tournament squad while Centralia had three. Allen, who later was an all-time great at Bradley, had 67 points and 40 rebounds in the final four games. Maxey scored 54 points.

No need for Cubs to overreact when best years should be in front of Kris Bryant and Addison Russell

No need for Cubs to overreact when best years should be in front of Kris Bryant and Addison Russell

There’s no need to overreact when the injuries pile up and the Cubs lose 6-of-7 games in June, because Kris Bryant and Addison Russell are still possibly years away from their best seasons in an organization loaded with young talent.
 
Bryant and Russell have been such integral parts since debuting in April 2015 that it's hard to remember they're still around three-to-five years away from their prime. They're also in a perfect situation to keep developing, not having to worry about carrying the weight of the franchise on their shoulders, the way Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro used to feel those responsibilities.
 
The pressure is spread out among a young core, a battle-tested group of veterans and a manager that loves the spotlight. All of that can help explain why each player has avoided the dreaded "sophomore slump" that sometimes plagues second-year players in the big leagues.
 
"Last year, I thought both of them fought through some really different moments their first year up," Joe Maddon said. "And that's what it's really all about. The sophomore slump, for me, is where the league adjusts to you, and then you adjust back to the league. That's the definition."
 
Bryant currently has an OPS that’s 19 points higher than his 2015 numbers, while Russell's OPS is 23 points higher entering play Monday, and both second-year players have seen major improvement in important areas.
 
Bryant led the league with 199 strikeouts last season, but has seen his strikeout percentage drop from 30.6 percent to 23 percent this season. He's on track for about 162 strikeouts in 2016.
 
Russell, meanwhile, has experienced just an incremental decrease in strikeout percentage (from 28.5 to 27.2 percent), but he has seen a nice jump in walk rate (from 8 percent in 2015 to 11.2 percent this season). Despite drawing only one free pass in his last eight games, Russell is on track for 68 walks, which would've ranked 12th in the National League overall last season and first among shortstops. 
 
"The guys that don't adjust back quickly enough really have an extended period of negative moments," Maddon said. "I think they learned a lot last year. They made a lot of adjustments. Both of them made swing adjustments last year. And that, I think, is permitting their success this year.
 
"Addison's propensity to get big hits is unbelievable, and now he's using the whole field. He's not chasing balls out of the strike zone. Those are the adjustments he had to learn how to do last year when he was going badly, and now he's doing them.
 
"They're both going to hit a bad stretch, there's no question. But I think they're better able to handle that based on their experience from last year."
 
Bryant has settled in as one of the premier offensive threats in the game by following up his 2015 campaign (26 homers, 99 RBI) with a pace for 39 homers and 112 RBI.
 
In spring training, he said he considered 2016 an extension of his rookie season, just with a three-month break off in between. But as the regular season hit, he took that sort of thinking to another gear.
 
"I feel a lot more focused this whole year," Bryant said. "I don't know why. I don't know if it's a whole other level or just extra determination or the fact that I know we have a good team and we really want to win.
 
"I just feel really good up there. I feel like I'm having some quality at-bats. I'm doing all I can to help. I'm in a good spot."
 
Russell, meanwhile, has developed a reputation as a clutch hitter, posting a .429 average, 1.237 OPS and 23 RBI in 54 plate appearances in high-leverage situations. 
 
He's taken his game to another level at the biggest moments, not something often said about a 22-year-old with only 210 big-league games under his belt.
 
"Just a slow heart beat," Maddon said. "If you talk to the kid any time, he's always 'suavecito.' There's nothing really hurried about him. He's just got a great way about him.
 
"Again, he's going to keep getting better. Everybody's liking it when he's doing good. I'm here to tell you: He's going to get better."
 
However, Russell also just went through one of those bad stretches at the end of May/beginning of June where he hit .161 with a .569 OPS through 18 games, striking out 23 times. He felt he had gotten too passive during that span.
 
When the St. Louis Cardinals swept the Cubs at Wrigley Field last week, Russell stared at strike three right down the middle during his first trip to the plate. He instantly made a mental adjustment to be more aggressive and responded with three straight hits to close out that first game.
 
"I've been feeling good," he said. "I've been seeing the ball well. Just taking an opportunity of swinging the bat at the right moment. I felt like early on in that game, watching two balls go by that I would normally do some damage with, I kind of took it hard and realized maybe I'm letting these pitches go too frequently. 
 
"I still feel more comfortable [overall this season]. It's just a daily grind, man. You're going to go through these funks. You're going to hit balls day-to-day that don't tend to fall. You normally don't want to change anything, so my approach is just to stay the same, and I want to take my walks as well."
 
The Cubs understand this is a long season filled with adversity, injuries and losing streaks. But if Bryant and Russell cannot be considered sophomores anymore, would their maturity and advanced approaches put them at a junior level?
 
"I think so. Favorite year in high school, by far," Maddon said. "You're totally free your junior year. SATs don't matter. PSATs are OK. I got my license, among other things. It was a really good time."

Cubs ace Jake Arrieta nominated for two ESPY Awards

Cubs ace Jake Arrieta nominated for two ESPY Awards

Jake Arrieta had a 2015 season for the ages, and was rewarded for it by winning the National League Cy Young Award, becoming the fifth player in Cubs history to accomplish that feat.

He's also been nominated for a pair of ESPY awards because of it: best breakthrough athlete and best MLB player.

After struggling to find his groove in four seasons with the Baltimore Orioles (20-25, 5.46 ERA), Arrieta turned it around in Chicago, particularly in 2015 when he erupted for a 22-6 record with a 1.77 ERA. 

The Cubs ace followed that up in 2016 by jumping out to a 9-0 start, and went nearly a calendar year without a loss.

He's also one of 26 pitchers in MLB history to have thrown more than one no-hitter, and did so 11 starts apart from each other.

The voting ends at 7 p.m. CT on July 13, when the ESPY Awards will take place. Cast your vote here.

Report: Pau Gasol tells Bulls he has declined option, becoming a free agent

Report: Pau Gasol tells Bulls he has declined option, becoming a free agent

It shouldn't be a surprise to anyone, but Pau Gasol is hitting the market.

Gasol told the Bulls that he has declined his option for the 2016-17 season and will become a free agent, according to ESPN's Marc Stein.

The 35-year-old signed a three-year, $22.3 million deal with the Bulls in the summer of 2014.

In two seasons with the Bulls, he averaged 17.6 points per game and 11.4 rebounds and made an All-Star appearance.