Montgomery rebuilds at Dunbar

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Montgomery rebuilds at Dunbar

Dunbar coach George Montgomery, who made some history of his own while playing basketball, admits that his players don't have a clue about the school's tradition and the teams, players and coaches whose shoulders thay are standing on.

Butch Rittmeyer's 29-4 team in 1956, led by Mel Davis and Alphra Saunders, finished third in the state tournament. Bernie Mills was a two-time All-Stater. Ronnie Lester emerged as a star in the NBA. Coach Jim Foreman produced many outstanding players, including playground legend Billy Harris. And Mike Poole, a 5-foot-5 point guard, was an All-Chicago Area selection in 1971-72.

"Kids today don't know the traditions or the fundamentals of the game. And a lot of coaches haven't played the game," Montgomery said. "I felt it was time for me to be a head coach again, time for me to give back."

Montgomery, 49, a graduate of Corliss in 1981, played at Illinois and was a second-round choice of the Portland Trail Blazers in the 1985 NBA draft. But he never played in the NBA. He is the father of Washington Wizards center JaVale McGee.

He coached at North Lawndale, Southside Prep and Corliss. Three years ago, when he learned there was an opening at Dunbar, he decided it was time to begin his own program at a school that once boasted one of the strongest and most competitive teams in the city.

"The experience I had from playing and coaching made me feel that it was time for me to put my flavor and philosophy into the school system, helping kids," he said.

"Since 1999, I've been coaching off and on. I didn't know if I was burned out or just needed to be at a different place. Coaching is fun but you're dealing with all sensitive personalities.

"It is so much different from what it was 10 years ago. Kids aren't as dedicated or they don't care to work hard on their game, their jump shot or work in the pivot. Half of the team is pretty dedicated on working on their weaknesses."

His first team was 14-10. His second team was 7-16. This year's team finished 17-5, losing to Du Sable 57-55 in the Class 3A sectional final at St. Ignatius.

"Last year was very frustrating and disappointing," Montgomery recalled. "They were rebelling. They didn't want to listen to me. They didn't want to work hard. They didn't think I should blow my whistle in practice so much."

After the last game, Montgomery met with the team leaders, DaJuan Appleberry and William Davis, and laid down the ground rules for the 2011-12 season. "I told them: 'To play for me next year your attitude has to change and you have to work hard on your game.' In the summer, the kids came to all of our games on time. They were dedicated. I felt they were determined to do something positive this year," he said.

And so they did. According to Montgomery, Appleberry, a 6-foot-1 senior guard, "did a complete 360" in terms of his attitude and dedication and work ethic. He averaged 17 points, five assists and five rebounds per game. He scored 18 in Dunbar's 53-42 victory over Jones in the sectional semifinals and netted 26 in the Mighty Men's loss to Du Sable.

Appleberry and 6-foot-4 senior Darvell Harris (10 ppg) will graduate but Montgomery has some talented players returning for 2012-13, including 6-foot-5 junior James Simmons (12 ppg, 6 rpg, 4 assists), 6-foot-7 junior Eric Ross (10 ppg, 7 rpg) and 5-foot-8 junior point guard Destyne Butler (7 ppg, 6 assists).

"This is the same team as last year but they bought into my system," Montgomery said. "I had to change certain things. I thought these kids were like us when we played...on time, hats off. But they think having fun is throwing the ball up and letting them go five-on-five up and down the court and no teaching.

"As a coach, you are still going to school. You have to adjust. Now they run more but I can't get away from discipline or teaching. Some of them are good at running up and down so you have to let them play. We started winning and they were convinced we could win with what I was talking about."

Montgomery learned his system and philosophy while playing with future NBA star Darrell Walker in a highly competitive program at Corliss. And his education continued while playing with Quinn Richardson, Efrem Winters, Doug Altenberger and Bruce Douglas at Illinois.

"I believe that hard work will pay off. In the beginning, some kids were on board and others jumped on board because winning is contagious," the coach said. "I've played on every level and been successful and if you listen to me, I'll take you Downstate, I told them. They have been listening. Now they have drive and determination."

Well-traveled Khaly Thiam settling in with the Fire

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Well-traveled Khaly Thiam settling in with the Fire

Khaly Thiam's still young soccer career had already taken him to multiple countries and continents. When he joined the Chicago Fire earlier this week he added another country and continent to that list.

The Fire officially added the 22-year-old Senegalese midfielder on loan on Wednesday. His first training session with the team was on Thursday. The club hopes he will be available in the May 11 match in Vancouver, pending getting his visa to go through in time.

“I am getting on with everybody," Thiam said. "It is football and everything, but this team they are really great guys. I am friendly with the coaches, the players, everybody is helping me to integrate into the team.”

Thiam learned English through a private teacher in Senegal and speaks with a British accent, but said he wasn't able to practice the language until he moved to Europe. He first joined the Novara Primavera, the Italian Serie B club's youth and reserve team. He then moved to Hungary, where he had been since 2012.

“I first went to Italy for one tournament there," Thiam said. "One month in the Primavera with Novara when I played this tournament. Then I went to Hungary for a first division team. From there I got my first professional contract.”

The Fire acquired Thiam's MLS discovery rights from the Columbus Crew. If Thiam starts 12 matches or the Fire make the move permanent, the Fire will send general allocation money to the Crew. If neither of those happen, the Fire will give the Crew a second round pick in the 2017 draft.

Thiam has not yet been able to check out Chicago or explore and he won't have much of a chance for a while either. The Fire leave for a three-game road trip on Tuesday and will not return until after the May 18 match at the New York Red Bulls.

After growing up in Africa and beginning his professional career in Europe, coming to the U.S. is another new adventure for Thiam. Thiam took the chance to join the Fire after hearing good things about MLS.

“I came here for the soccer because now I see the soccer is building up and the level is coming up," he said. "I came here to see what was going on here.”

Thiam will be a welcome addition to a Fire midfield which has struggled to keep possession, the Fire are currently last in MLS in that category. He also comes at a time when the roster is dealing with a number of nagging injuries in the midfield and attack ahead of a crowded schedule featuring two midweek games in the next two weeks.

David Accam and Alex Morrell worked out separately from the rest of the team on Friday. Gilberto, who has a hamstring injury, did some running on the side. Matt Polster, who missed the 1-1 draw against D.C. United on April 30 with a calf injury, left practice early.

“Gilberto, Morrell, Polster they are in the final phase (of recovery)," Fire coach Veljko Paunovic said. "Accam also, but we also have to work on Accam’s fitness because he was out longer. We have to take care of his fitness. We don’t want any new issues with him. We have to be smart and manage the load, minutes and everything once he is ready."

John Goossens was not at practice and could still be out for a few weeks after suffering a sprained LCL just before the D.C. match.

Ex-Pitt running back Chris James announces transfer to Badgers

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Ex-Pitt running back Chris James announces transfer to Badgers

Wisconsin landed a Power 5 transfer running back Friday.

Like the Badgers need another running back.

Former Pittsburgh ball carrier Chris James, a Chicago native, announced on Twitter that he's coming to Madison, re-teaming with Paul Chryst and the coaching staff that recruited him to the Panthers a few years back.

James was a four-star recruit coming out of Notre Dame College Prep in 2014, ranked by Rivals as the No. 22 running back in that class. He was recruited to Pitt by Joe Rudolph, currently the offensive coordinator at Wisconsin, and picked the Panthers over the Badgers and offers from a host of other Big Ten teams including Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan State, Minnesota and Purdue.

James rushed for 437 yards on 87 carries, scoring four touchdowns as a freshman in 2014. Last season, he rushed for 253 yards on 56 carries.

Per NCAA rules, James will have to sit out the upcoming season, but he'll have two years of eligibility remaining starting in 2017.

That's good news for the Badgers, who will see two thirds of their three-headed running back monster — Corey Clement and Dare Ogunbowale are seniors, Taiwan Deal is a sophomore — depart after the 2016 campaign.

Is Javier Baez the next Ben Zobrist for Cubs?

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Is Javier Baez the next Ben Zobrist for Cubs?

Ben Zobrist’s hot streak has earned the veteran newcomer to the North Side a lot of attention of late.

The Cubs’ everyday second baseman is hitting .325/.431/.600 with three home runs and 16 RBIs in his last 11 games. But he’s also showed off some of that much-advertised versatility in recent games, too, playing both second base and right field in two of the last four contests. It’s the first move off second base this season for the guy who signed with a utility-player pedigree, moving all around during his time playing for Joe Maddon in Tampa Bay.

That versatility can be found all over this Cubs roster, but perhaps no player has gained more attention for it than Javier Baez, who has taken on a utility role for Maddon.

And because the youth of this Cubs team always has fans and media members looking down the road a few years, the question was posed ahead of Friday’s game against the Nationals: Is Baez the next Zobrist?

In terms of starring as a career utility player — Zobrist made his first All-Star Game in a season where he appeared at seven different positions — Maddon doesn't think so.

“He’s probably going to settle in one spot on the infield. Probably,” Maddon said. “His defense, it’s really different in a good way. Zo was a shortstop, and we took him off shortstop. And he went to the outfield/second base … which really, his abilities are conducive to that. I’m not saying that Javy can’t be that. Of course he can be. But I think you might eventually want him to just nail down a spot, I think, probably in the middle of the field somewhere because he could contribute more there normally. But for right now, I love where he is at regarding this super-utility kind of an attitude.

“Is he going to be Zobrist? I don’t think so, but it’s possible.”

Baez has wowed early this season with both his glove and his bat — he’s reached base in 16 of his 43 plate appearances this season — and he’s certainly been versatile, playing at five different positions already in just 15 games.

The versatility of Baez is perfect for Maddon, who loves putting players in every possible spot on the field and in the lineup. He’s done it with Kris Bryant, swapping the All Star between third base and the outfield, and Kyle Schwarber, who was set to play outfield and catch on a fairly regular basis prior to his season-ending injury on the season-opening road trip.

And in addition to being a puzzle piece that fits in numerous spots, Baez and his prowess with both his glove and his bat make it so Maddon can give some rest to another young infielder in Addison Russell without much of a drop in production.

“That’s a beautiful thing, and I think we’ve been able to do that all over the field with different guys when we give guys rest,” Maddon said. “Our guys that are in waiting are really good. So I feel good about that. It’s wonderful to be able to keep Addison strong mentally and physically during the course of the year, like you’re not losing anything by putting the other guy at shortstop. All this stuff … this is something that Theo (Epstein) and Jed (Hoyer) had set up before I’d gotten here.”

The most glowing praise Maddon gave Baez on Friday had to do with his maturity and how the 23-year-old has changed in just his third season in the big leagues.

“He just really has accelerated maturity-wise,” Maddon said. “The maturation of his game and his outlook on the day is really staggeringly different than it was last year, and I’m not putting him down, he’s just really grown up quickly. To his credit. We’ve done a lot of talking with him, done a lot of explaining with him. He smiles easily right now, and he gets his role on a daily basis and how important it is to us. Give him all the credit in the world.”