Notre Dame Dons suprising with inexperienced roster

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Notre Dame Dons suprising with inexperienced roster

There are a lot of strange things going on with Notre Dame's basketball team. But the Dons are 14-4 so coach Tom Les isn't complaining.

There isn't a single player on the team who is averaging in double digits in scoring.

A player has scored 20 or more points in only two of 18 games.

Les is a fifth-year coach who was hired on a volunteer, no-pay basis--at his own request.

One of the team captains is a junior who comes off the bench.

The starting lineup includes only one senior and three underclassmen with no previous varsity experience.

This is a team that was picked to finish sixth in the conference race.

"I lost five starters from a 23-7 team. So experience-wide, on the varsity level, it has come this season," Les said. "I was apprehensive early. When the lights go on and referees are wearing long pants and people are in the stands, it is different than spring, summer and fall leagues. But these kids have responded."

Last week, the Niles school defeated Brother Rice 63-44, Loyola 50-46 and Nazareth 65-54. The Dons will host St. Patrick on Friday, then meet Downstate Morton on Sunday in the Whitney Young Shootout.

Matt Mooney, a 6-foot-1 junior guard who averages seven points per game, scored 16 against Brother Rice, 9 against Loyola and 18 against Nazareth to lead Notre Dame. Donte Stephenson, a 5-foot-9 junior, scored 10 against Loyola.

"We don't have a dominant scorer," Les said. "Who do we go to? We change it up. We go to the hot hand depending on who it is. It gives us an advantage. The teams scouting us don't know who to defend. They don't get a true indicator of which player will turn it up.

"In the state tournament, history says you need someone to turn it up on a consistent basis, an All-Stater, a big-time scorer. But we rarely have a scorer with 20 or more points this season. Who would be our most valuable player? I have no idea who it would be. So far that has been an advantage."

The lone senior starter and leading scorer is 6-foot-4 Joe Ferrici (8.5 ppg, 7.5 rpg). Mooney and Stephenson (8 ppg, 5 assists) form the backcourt. Stephenson, the floor leader, is called "Scooter" to differentiate him from 6-foot-3 sophomore Duante Stephens (8 ppg).

"Why Scooter? That's the way he flies around the court," Les said.

The other starter is 6-foot-6 sophomore Jon Johnson (6 ppg, 6 rpg, 3 blocks).

Top reserves are 6-foot-3 junior Eddie Serrano, 5-foot-10 senior Greg Leifel and 6-foot-5 junior Justin Halloran.

"Experience is key. We're starting two sophomores and one junior with no varsity experience. None of them have had big roles in the state tournament, in one-and-done games, in pressure-packed situations," Les said.

"One concern I have is when we get behind, we turn up intensity and focus. We can't afford to get behind in the state tournament because good teams will put you away."

Notre Dame has lost to four quality teams--Simeon, Evanston, Libertyville and Stevenson. The Dons trailed Simeon by nine in the third quarter before losing by 20. They trailed Marist by 16 at halftime but rallied to win. They trailed Zion-Benton by 12 going into the fourth quarter but rallied to win. They were disappointed by their 2-2 showing at the
Wheeling Holiday Tournament. To a man, they believe they should be 16-2, not 14-4.

"It was a great learning experience by playing Simeon," said Eddie Serrano, who shares the team captaincy with Ferrici. "We learned we need to play hard from the get-go to win. We competed against the best team in the nation (Simeon). No one backed down. We weren't intimidated. We came out to play. We stuck with them and cut their lead to nine points in the third quarter before they pulled away. If we can compete with them, we can compete with anyone.

"We can go far (in the state tournament) because not many people can understand what it is like unless they experience it themselves, to not have a go-to guy. It is a rare case but it can work out. It is pretty unique. But we find ways to win even without a dominant scorer. It starts off the court. We all get along very well. It's not easy to find with many teams."

Serrano said he and his teammates accepted a lot of advice from last year's team, which featured a pair of dominant scorers in Rodney Pryor and Clinton Chievous. They finished 23-7, losing to Niles North in the sectional semifinal. Two years ago, the Dons were 20-9, losing to Glenbrook North in the sectional final.

In fact, Notre Dame has advanced beyond the sectional round only once. In 1997, coach Denny Zelasko's 23-8 team lost in the Class AA quarterfinals to Rockford Boylan.

"To be successful, we knew we would have to have more guys who could score for us," Serrano said. "Last year's team wasn't as close as this year. The kids hung out with their own class. Our success starts with the fact that we have a lot of humble guys. We know we have to sacrifice for each other. No one player thinks he is the best guy out there. We need each other. We learned that even with two good players, you need to be a team to
be successful."

Les has been encouraged by how his team has bounced back from its disappointing fourth-place finish at Wheeling. "They are very coachable. They understand the importance of defense. We have found ways to win because our man-to-man defense has kept us in games," he said.

Les, 57, has a special attachment to Notre Dame. A graduate of 1971, he is 10 years older than his more celebrated brother, Jim, the former NBA player and former coach at Bradley University who currently is a head coach at California-Davis. Les has one significant distinction, however. He is Bradley's all-time assist leader.

After graduating from Bradley, Les wasn't able to follow Jim into the NBA. Instead, he began a career as part owner in a Crystal Lake-based Althoff Industries, an electricalmechanical contractor.

Ten years ago, he got the itch to get back into basketball. He served as head coach at Marian Central in Woodstock for five years. When Zelasko retired at Notre Dame five years ago, Les received a call from the school's new principal, the Rev. John Smyth, former executive director of Maryville Youth Center in Des Plaines and a former All-American basketball player at the University of Notre Dame.

"Would you be interested?" Fr. Smyth asked Les.

He didn't have to ask twice. Les met with Fr. Smyth and Notre Dame athletic director and football coach, Mike Hennessey. He accepted--on a volunteer, non-paying basis.

"I have a quality relationship with Fr. Smyth," Les said. "When I was in high school, many orphans from Maryville went to Notre Dame. I spent a lot of weekends there. My parents and I met Fr. Smyth. I was influenced by him. He's the No. 1 reason I'm here.

"Another reason is the foundation that Notre Dame had built for me in my personal life. This is a way of giving back. I'm fortunate enough that I work in a business where I can come and go as I like. I'm having the time of my life."

Fire cut ties with Gilberto, mutually terminate contract

Fire cut ties with Gilberto, mutually terminate contract

Chicago Fire general manager Nelson Rodriguez said the club would likely be quiet in the summer, but they announced a big move on Wednesday.

The Fire and Gilberto mutually agreed to terminate the Brazilian forward’s contract, cutting him loose in the middle of the season.

The move is significant for a number of ways. First, it marks the end of another failed Designated Player for the Fire. Gilberto scored five goals in 10 matches after joining the team on July 27 last season, but had no goals and two assists in nine matches this season.

The second important thing to note is that Gilberto’s departure means the Fire now have an open DP slot. David Accam and Kennedy Igboananike are the remaining two DPs on the roster. Also, Gilberto is off the books both in terms of salary and in terms of his salary cap hit for the remainder of the season.

“Despite his best efforts, Gilberto was not able to reach his top form in Major League Soccer,” Rodr√≠guez said in a statement. “He is a good person, with a big heart and a passion for the game, and we hope he finds success at his next stop.”

Gilberto’s departure also means the Fire have an open international spot on the roster. Previously all eight international spots were filled up.

Gilberto last played for the Fire on May 21, when he delivered the assist on the game-winning goal in a 1-0 win against Houston. Coach Veljko Paunovic said after the following match on May 28, a 1-1 draw with Portland, that Gilberto asked for some time away for personal reasons a couple days before the match.

Gilberto’s contract was set to expire at the end of the season. His contract was the highest on the team at $1,145,000, according to the MLS Players Union.

White Sox draftees one win away from College World Series title

White Sox draftees one win away from College World Series title

The White Sox are going to have to wait a little longer for two members of their 2016 MLB Draft class to join their farm system.

Coastal Carolina closer Mike Morrison (27th round) and third baseman Zach Remillard (10th round) have played a major role in the Chanticleers magical postseason run which has them one win away from a College World Series championship after Tuesday's thrilling 5-4 win against Arizona.

With a depleted pitching staff, Coastal Carolina head coach Gary Gilmore turned to his senior closer to make just his third career college start in an effort to even the best-of-three series at 1-1.

Gilmore's decision paid off.

Morrison tossed a career-high 103 pitches on the biggest stage of his career, limiting Arizona to just two runs while matching a College World Series finals record with 10 strikeouts. Morrison was pulled after just 6 2/3 innings. Although he didn't get the victory, Morrison gave Coastal Carolina the quality start they needed.

Before exiting the mound, a teary-eyed Morrison embraced pitching coach Drew Thomas and reliever Bobby Holmes, then walked to the dugout to a standing ovation from the 24,716 in attendance.

“I put my heart and soul into this program for four years, man, and to end it like that, I mean, that was special,” Morrison said via Josh Planos of  KETV.com. “That standing ovation was probably the coolest things that’s ever going to happen in my entire life.”

Morrison presumably finishes his season with a record of 8-1 and a 1.50 ERA with 94 strikeouts in 72 innings.

While Morrison will be watching the winner-take-all Game 3 from the sidelines, Remillard, who scored the game-winning run Tuesday night, will try to ignite the Chanticleers offense batting out of the cleanup spot.

After undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2014, Remillard has rebounded into one of the nation's premier hitter — he's no slouch with the glove either. The New York native has a slash line of .345/.392/.617 with 19 homers and 72 RBI this season.

As the soon-to-be White Sox aim to bring some hardware back home, their former teammate and current White Sox prospect will be cheering them on from Charlotte.

58 Days to Kickoff: Oak Lawn Richards

58 Days to Kickoff: Oak Lawn Richards

CSNChicago.com preps reporter "Edgy" Tim O’Halloran spotlights 100 high school football teams in 100 days. The first 75 team profiles will focus on teams making strides across Chicagoland and elsewhere in the state. Starting Aug. 1, we’ll unveil the @CSNPreps Top 25 Power Rankings, leading up to kickoff on Friday, Aug. 26.

School: HL Richards Bulldogs

Head coach: Tony Sheehan

Assistant coaches: Steve Fleming, Kevin Szczepkowski, Adam Ziemba, Jeff Kortz, Charlie McCullough, Matt Royce, Charlie Kipp, Rick Pratl

How they fared in 2015: 7-4 (5-1) South Suburban Red Conference. Richards made the Class 6A state playoffs and defeated Morgan Park, then lost to Lincoln-Way North in second round action.

Biggest storyline in 2016: Can the Bulldogs make a deep run this fall?

Names to watch this season: RB Pat Doyle, RB/LB Anthony Quinn, OL Joe Capenter

Biggest holes to fill: The Bulldogs welcome back just one returning offensive linemen in senior Joe Carpenter (6-foot-2, 285 pounds).

EDGY's Early Take: The Bulldogs always have speed and athletes and confidence is pretty high in regards to this team. With 12 starters back including the entire starting offensive backfield, expect Richards to make some serious noise this season.