Other looks at the stars of 2013, 2014

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Other looks at the stars of 2013, 2014

Sometimes we can't see the forest through the trees, right? Sometimes we get too comfortable by accepting evaluations from basketball recruiting analysts we know and trust, old standbys such as Bob Gibbons, Van Coleman, Bill Flanagan and Roy and Harv Schmidt.

So, at a time when the classes of 2013 and 2014 in the Chicago area are being touted to be among the best talent in the country, perhaps it is wise to acknowledge what other evaluators have to say about them.

Are they as good as we think they are? Or are they overrated? Do they rank with the Isiah ThomasTerry CummingsTeddy Grubbs class of 1979? Or the Quentin RichardsonCorey MaggetteJoey Range class of 1998?

The Illinois crop got plenty of exposure in recent tournaments in Minneapolis, Fort Wayne, Akron and elsewhere. And judging from the reviews, they played up to their clippings.

Here is a sampling of what the critics saw:

N.D. Kendrick of NBE Basketball Report on Simeon's Jabari Parker: "He showed throughout the tournament against some of the best players in the Midwest that he was the best of the elite."

Kendrick on Proviso East's Sterling Brown: "He is one of the most physically gifted players in the 2013 class. What sets him apart from others is his combination of power and athleticism which makes him a difficult match-up for opponents."

Eric Bossi of Rivals.com on St. Charles East's Kendall Stephens: "It's hard not to be impressed with the development of Purdue commitment Kendall Stephens over the last year. While he's still slender, he's gotten much stronger, grown to a legit 6-foot-4 and boosted his athleticism."

Bossi on Normal University High's Keita Bates-Diop: "He showed plenty of what got him ranked No. 39 in the country. The 6-foot-7 forward has length, ball skills and is a graceful athlete who is light on his feet and plays with a high level of intelligence."

Bossi on Morgan Park's Kyle Davis: "One of the most athletic playmakers in the country, he plays with attitude, swagger and never stops attacking. Previously viewed as a bit of an undersized shooting guard, Davis is proving that he's a point guard and with his performance this spring he has built a pretty strong case to be included in the Rivals 150 the next time the class is updated."

Bossi on Jordan Ash, St. Joseph's freshman guard: "He didn't really get a chance to show off his entire arsenal because he was playing for the Illinois Wolves' 16 and 15-and-under squads. But it's easy to see what has drawn early offers from Purdue and DePaul to go along with lots of Big Ten interest."

Bossi on 6-foot-7 sophomore Amanze Egezeke of Huntley: "He is a lunch pailbig-time effort guy who plays physically and gets on the glass. He is a potential high major Division I recruit."

Jim Comparoni of Yahoo Sports on Whitney Young's 6-foot-11 Jahlil Okafor: "He was dominant inside, utilizing his substantial width and showing excellent ability to elevate quickly and finish with power. Inside, he is patient, powerful and improving rapidly with his post game."

Bossi on Okafor: "Already ranked No. 3 overall in the class of 2014, there isn't exactly a lot of room for Okafor to move up in the rankings. However, that doesn't mean that there's not room for him to get a lot better. That's exactly what he's been doing. He's expanded his game and can face up and attack from the high post thanks to excellent hands, nimble feet and a surprisingly tight handle."

Bossi on Orr's Tyquone Greer: "There will be several more opportunities to watch Greer to confirm this--but all the information we have leads us to believe that he's a no-brainer as a four-star prospect. The 6-foot-5 small forward is a big-time athlete with a big-time penchant for getting to the rim and he's got significant upside."

Jeff Borello of Eye on College Basketball Recruiting on Okafor: "He has tremendous hands and is adept at finishing down low. He does need to become more aggressive with his back to the basket but he has a good set of post moves and simply overpowers many defenders."

Jason Pratt of Future150 on Okafor: "He is the nation's No. 1 player in the class of 2014. He has a body that absolutely pounds you on the low block and is a force on the defensive end of the floor. He is being compared to Ohio State star Jared Sullinger. He has the size and skill to dominate the game whenever he chooses."

Pratt on Curie's Cliff Alexander: "He is quick for a 6-foot-9 post player and shows good athleticism for a player his size. He reminds me of Dennis Rodman because he is an elite rebounder. He is a game-changer because he can control the paint, not only scoring but blocking shots as well."

Bossi on Simeon's Kendrick Nunn: "There are some who have been down on his performance this spring. But, on this night, he turned it up on the defensive end where he can be one of the best in the country when locked in. Once he got going there, his jumper started dropping. Ranked No. 22 in the class of 2013 by Rivals, he played up his ranking."

Bossi on Simeon's Kendall Pollard: "At 6-foot-5, he is a big-time athlete with a nose for the rim and some scoring tools. He plays with great energy. Whether he is playing with his high school team or his club team Mean Streets, he shares the spotlight with some guys who have a lot of notoriety."

Fire players to appear at Nando's Peri-Peri in South Loop on July 30

Fire players to appear at Nando's Peri-Peri in South Loop on July 30

Nando's Peri-Peri just launched a seventh Chicago-area restaurant and the Chicago Fire are helping to promote the new location in the name of the Chicago Fire Foundation.

Fire players and general manager Nelson Rodriguez will pay a visit to the Nando's at 1005 S. Delano Court on July 30.

Nando's will donate all sales, excluding alcohol, on that date to the Chicago Fire Foundation. That Nando's location opened on July 24.

Players Matt Lampson, Patrick McLain, Patrick Doody, Drew Conner, Matt Polster, Michael Stephens, Joey Calistri and Alex Morrell and Rodriguez will be at the Nando's. Fire players will be at the restaurant from 1:30 p.m. to 7 p.m.

Check out the Fire's release on the event for more information.

Notre Dame unit preview: Is Alize Jones primed for a breakout at tight end?

Notre Dame unit preview: Is Alize Jones primed for a breakout at tight end?

With the start of Notre Dame preseason camp approaching fast, we’re looking at what to expect from each unit that’ll take the field in primetime Sept. 4 against Texas at Darrell K. Royal Stadium. 

Depth Chart

1A. Durham Smythe (Redshirt junior)
1B. Alize Jones (Sophomore)
2A. Tyler Luatua (Junior)
2B. Nic Weishar (Redshirt sophomore)
3. Jacob Matuska (Redshirt junior)

Smythe’s Week 2 injury against Virginia thinned this group quite a bit last year. As a group, Notre Dame’s tight ends only totaled 20 receptions for 233 yards and one touchdown (which came when Smythe scored on a fake field goal against Virginia). 

But with Smythe healthy, Jones feeling more comfortable and a dearth of experience at receiver, Scott Booker’s group should be relied on more in Notre Dame’s passing game this fall. The return of Luatua, who was welcomed back to the team this summer after initially deciding to transfer prior to spring practice, will help Notre Dame’s running efforts behind the physical 255-pound California native. 

Weishar could develop into a factor, too, as he enters his third year in the program. The Marist alum has solid receiving skills that could play well this fall, especially in the red zone. 

Biggest question: Is Alize Jones ready to break out? 

Jones accounted for most of Notre Dame’s tight end production last year (13 catches and 190 yards) but wasn’t satisfied with his first year on campus. It was an eye-opening experience for him: “I didn’t take enough time and I don’t think I took it too serious last year,” Jones said during spring practice. 

But even through some of that first-year turbulence, Jones showed glimpses of the outstanding athleticism and receiving skills that made him a sought-after recruit out of Bishop Gorman High School in Las Vegas. His 45-yard catch in the fourth quarter against Temple set up DeShone Kizer’s game-winning toss to Will Fuller, and he also had a 37-yard reception against UMass an a 35-yarder against USC. 

Whether Jones stays at tight end is another question. Notre Dame tried him out at its “W” receiver position this spring, and if he winds up sticking there, he could follow the Devin Funchess-like career arc plenty of Notre Dame fans prophesied when he signed with the Irish in February of 2015. But however the 6-foot-4, 240 pound Jones is used, he’s primed to develop into a key part of Notre Dame’s offense this fall. 

Youthful impact

Notre Dame didn’t sign a tight end in its 2016 recruiting class, but has two highly-touted players verbally committed to its class of 2017. Both Brock Wright (Cypress, Texas) and Cole Kmet (Arlington Heights, Ill.) are rated by Rivals as four-star recruits. 

They said it

“I know what it’s like to play Clemson and Ohio State and teams like that, playing against elite guys. Now going into my sophomore year, I’ve already done it. It’s just getting comfortable with everything, which I am. So I really feel like all the pieces are coming together.” — Alize Jones

White Sox like short- and long-term payoff from Tim Anderson's battle with Jake Arrieta

White Sox like short- and long-term payoff from Tim Anderson's battle with Jake Arrieta

What arguably was the best at-bat of Tim Anderson’s nascent major league career ended with a strikeout. 

Anderson led off the sixth inning of the White Sox 5-4 win over the Cubs on Monday with a 10-pitch at-bat against reigning National League Cy Young winner Jake Arrieta. He fouled off four consecutive pitches, three of which came on a 3-2 count, before taking a sinker on the black for strike three. 

What happened after Anderson’s at-bat was where the payoff from it came: Melky Cabrera drew a walk and Jose Abreu lined a single to right. After Justin Morneau struck out looking on a high curveball — the pitch was out of the strike zone, according to BrooksBaseball.net — Todd Frazier launched a three-run home run.

 

[SHOP: Gear up, White Sox fans!]

“I kind of felt like that got us some momentum, even though I did strike out,” Anderson said.” It kind of got him (Arrieta) flustered a little bit, got him off rhythm and we were able to capitalize on that.”

The 23-year-old Anderson hasn’t made a living on patient, lengthy at-bats since being promoted to the majors in early June. Anderson entered Tuesday’s Crosstown date with the Cubs seeing an average of 3.56 pitches per plate appearance, ranking 278th out of 310 players with at least 150 plate appearances this season (former White Sox and current Atlanta Braves catcher A.J. Pierzynski is last with 3.09 P/PA, while the Cleveland Indians’ Mike Napoli leads the majors with 4.59 P/PA). 

Anderson also has the lowest walk rate (1.2 percent) of any player with 150 plate appearances, which would explain why he only has a .281 on-base percentage despite hitting a relatively healthy .273. 

It’s relatively rare for a player to have a walk rate as low as Anderson’s and have an above-average season at the plate. The lowest walk rates for players with a wRC+ over 100 (100 being average) over the last three years: Adam Jones (3.6 percent walk rate, 119 wRC+ in 2013), Dee Gordon (3.8 percent walk rate, 113 wRC+ in 2014) and Jones (2.8 percent walk rate, 116 wRC+ in 2015).

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Eventually, Anderson will have to become more patient at the plate to maximize on his outstanding contact skills. The battle he had with Arrieta showed he can fight off plenty of pitches from one of baseball’s best hurlers, which manager Robin Ventura saw as a positive long-term sign. 

It didn’t hurt things in in the short-term view of the sixth inning Monday, either. 

“He’s getting a taste of some good pitchers,” Ventura said. “I think that’s part of his process going through the league, seeing these guys. He doesn’t back down, he’s a very confident kid. You learn something as well as be productive. You like to see a kid fight like that at the plate.”