Puckett deserves Hall of Fame recognition

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Puckett deserves Hall of Fame recognition

The Chicago Catholic League Hall of Fame is one of the most distinguished organizations of its kind, overflowing with tradition and pride. But it built its reputation on football, so basketball has taken a backseat over the decades.

An examination of the Catholic League's Hall of Fame roster reveals fewer than 25 former basketball stars, including two NBA players of note, Mount Carmel's Lloyd Walton and St. Francis de Sales' Eric Anderson.

Others are Art Hicks, Sam Puckett, Tom Kleinschmidt, Melvin McCounts, Kevin Boyle, Jim Stack, Steve Krafcisin, Steve Puidokas, Ken Redfield, Donald Whiteside, Jeff Carpenter, Greg Carney, Jack Stephens, Mark Zubor, George Janky, Frank Ehmann, George Bon Salle, Ron Feiereisel and Joe Bertrand.

Interestingly, LaRue Martin of De La Salle, who was the No. 1 choice in the 1972 NBA draft by the Portland Trail Blazers, ahead of future Hall of Famers Bob McAdoo and Julius Erving, hasn't been selected. The 6-11 center played at Loyola and once created a lot of buzz by outplaying UCLA's Bill Walton in a college game, but never caught on in the NBA and retired after the 1975-76 season.

Longtime city basketball observer Shelly Stark rates Stephens, the former Mount Carmel football and basketball star, as one of the five best players he has seen since 1950--along with Public Leaguers Sweet Charlie Brown, Clarence Wordlaw, Paxton Lumpkin, Abe Booker and Jamie Brandon, as well as Catholic Leaguers Greg Carney, Tony Parker, Art Hicks and Sam Puckett.

But, largely because the Catholic League didn't join the Illinois High School Association and didn't begin to participate in the state football and basketball playoffs until 1974-75, many of the Catholic League's great athletes and coaches have been overlooked when the subject turns to Hall of Famers.

When the Illinois High School Basketball Hall of Fame and Museum in Pinckneyville announced its first class last November, only one Catholic Leaguer was among the 60 male inductees--St. Elizabeth's Art Hicks.

The second class was announced recently and not a single Catholic Leaguer was selected among the 20 inductees. Interestingly, the class to be inducted into the Catholic League Hall of Fame on Thursday, May 3 includes one basketball player, Norb "Gooch" Lewinski, who played at Mount Carmel and joined Stephens and Joe Bertrand at Notre Dame.

Sam Puckett is a personal favorite. He is a member of the Catholic League's Hall of Fame, but few high school basketball fans outside Chicago have ever heard of him. He was a legend in the city. Only 5-foot-9, he put Hales Franciscan on the map, locally and nationally, and scored more than 2,600 points from 1967 to 1970.

He led Hales to three consecutive National Catholic championships and to the Catholic League title in 1970 and to second place in 1968. His 1970 team lost to Public League champion Harlan 72-66 for the all-city crown.

How good was Puckett? When future Hall of Fame basketball player Isiah Thomas enrolled at St. Joseph High School in Westchester, he was asked what uniform number he wanted to wear.

"No. 11," Thomas said, "because Sam Puckett wore No. 11, and Sam Puckett was the best player I ever saw."

He was a Parade All-American. He scored 49 points, breaking Austin Carr's record, to win the National Catholic championship in 1970. He is widely regarded as the best under 6-foot player in state history.

Curiously, he was recruited to Hales Franciscan as a 5-foot-7, 110-pound quarterback with Ricky Brooks, who later played football at Iowa. He chose Hales Franciscan over St. Philip and Fenwick because they offered full scholarships--lunch, bus fare, books, tuition--and it was a new school that was trying to establish an identity.

He was recruited by Notre Dame, but also received fliers from dozens of colleges and coaches who expressed interest in him. However he never visited any other campuses besides Notre Dame, even though Cazzie Russell wanted him to visit Michigan. Maybe they were turned off by his size or his 17 ACT score.

He was accepted at Notre Dame and was never told he didn't qualify. He attended classes before the season began, then was informed that he couldn't play. After the winter break, he transferred to Jacksonville to play with Artis Gilmore. But he didn't think it was the place for him and he returned to Chicago, then went to play at an NAIA school in Hawaii for two years, then the University of Hawaii as a senior. He never pursued a chance to play in the NBA. At 24, his basketball career was over.

But he won't be forgotten. He grew up in an era when Cazzie Russell was the biggest name in town, then George Wilson before him. In the mid-1960s, Eugene Ford and Rich Bradshaw were headliners.

"Your reputation depended on who chose you to play, how you performed," Puckett said. "At that time, you made your name before you played for a school. People knew you. I played at Marillac and Gladstone and Garfield Park. And I played in Maywood against Jim Brewer.

"We knew where to go to put your name on the map. I made my rounds. I had to have skills. I had to handle the ball. I got the ball to the open man. I kept everyone involved. There were playground legends and team players, guys who got wrote about and guys who didn't get wrote about."

Everybody knew how to spell Sam Puckett's name.

Bears OTA's: Observations from the first all-team practices

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Bears OTA's: Observations from the first all-team practices

The sessions are not mandatory, meaning that Alshon Jeffery’s continued absence from Halas Hall is simply disappointing for the Bears and not yet quite in the realm of Martellus Bennett’s pointed stay-away’s last year.

But as the Bears continue through their allowed quota of organized team activities (OTA’s) this week and through mid-June minicamp, it is evident already that a handful of aspects are different in 2016 from one year ago at this time.

One is a sense of urgency, a practice-speed tempo surprising for this time of year but emblematic of changes within the roster and coaching staff from even the end of last season. Coaches were driving the intensity and competitions, if not technically permitted under collective-bargaining rules, were very much in evidence, unusual for a hot day in May.

The offense is under Dowell Loggains, promoted from quarterbacks coach to offensive coordinator with the exit of Adam Gase to coach the Miami Dolphins. That is involving an element of re-orientation even within an are still grounded in the same philosophies. Position changes are afoot and even with veterans, there is a learning curve that coaches and players are fast-tracking.

“It’s become clear the last few days it’s a lot different when you’re lined up in the spring and there are trash cans across from you, and then when you’ve got these big, fast D-linemen across from you,” said Kyle Long, doing his own orientation back inside from right tackle to right guard. “There’s going to be a bit of a learning curve. We’ve got to gel. You talk to a lot of guys who have been on good teams before and they’ve said, ‘We didn’t really gel until the end of training camp,’ or ‘it took us until training camp.’ So there’s going to be some time to get some of the rust off from a technical standpoint, from a live football standpoint, but I think we’ll be all right.”

Besides Jeffery, linebacker Pernell McPhee was at Halas Hall but not practicing following offseason knee surgery. Defensive lineman Will Sutton was not practicing, but fellow D-lineman Ego Ferguson was practicing after an aggressive rehab program following season-ending knee surgery of his own.

Without Jeffery, Kevin White was No. 1 through the lines for individual reps, and a scramble is developing down the wideout depth chart with rookie speed blurs Daniel Braverman (seventh-round draft choice) and Kieren Duncan (tryout player who earned a roster look with repeated highlight plays in rookie minicamp) getting looks in a group that includes nickel receiver Eddie Royal, Josh Bellamy, Marc Mariani and Marquess Wilson, all with NFL experience but few anywhere close to roster locks.

“The effect [of no Jeffery] is that someone else is getting an opportunity to get some reps and that’s a good thing,” Loggains said during rookie sessions. “We all wish Alshon was here. We’re in constant communication with him. He knows how we feel about the situation and him. But it is an opportunity for some of these different receivers that we like to get opportunities and we’ll find out more about them.”

Adam Eaton's defense has forced White Sox to change plans for Avisail Garcia

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Adam Eaton's defense has forced White Sox to change plans for Avisail Garcia

Adam Eaton’s outstanding defensive play in right field has altered the team’s original plans to give Avisail Garcia some playing time there.

Through 47 games, Eaton has played at a Gold Glove-level for the White Sox. He leads all major league defenders with 14 Defensive Runs Saved (DRS), according to fangraphs.com, which has made it impossible to play Garcia in the field. That has White Sox manager Robin Ventura considering other ways to get Garcia on the field, including taking fly balls in left.

“The emergence of Adam out in right field has made it different,” Ventura said. “It’s a different spot for (Garcia). Eventually he’ll be back out there, but right now, what works for us is Adam in right field.”

“Adam has been above and beyond what we really thought he would be in right field.”

Garcia, 24, has nearly been relegated to full-time duty as the team’s designated hitter in 2016. He has a total of 16 innings played in the outfield.

Last year, Garcia started 129 games in the outfield. But his collective struggles — Garcia produced minus-11 DRS in 2015 — with Eaton’s forced the White Sox to look for a defensive-minded center fielder this offseason. Whereas last year the White Sox outfield was 26th of 30 with minus-22 DRS, this season they’re fifth overall at 7 DRS with Austin Jackson patrolling center.

The team’s defense has been a critical part to the club’s early success, which makes it nearly impossible for Eaton to sit. Garcia could see time in right field on days when Eaton needs to rest. But he’s more likely to force Melky Cabrera to the bench for a day or two and has worked to prepare for such an occasion.

“He’s getting some fly balls out there,” Ventura said. “That’s probably going to be really the rotation starts coming in for him to be able to get out there and get on the field. Or if something comes up with Adam or we want to DH. I even thought of that the other night during the DH. Again, Adam feels like he’s good enough to keep going.”

Bears sign former Notre Dame linebacker Jarrett Grace

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Bears sign former Notre Dame linebacker Jarrett Grace

The Bears announced on Wednesday they have signed former Notre Dame linebacker Jarrett Grace.

Grace attended Bears rookie minicamp earlier this month as a tryout player. 

Grace appeared in 32 games with the Fighting Irish and notched 78 tackles and 2.5 tackles for a loss. Grace was named to the Butkus Award Watch List prior to the 2014 season, but ultimately missed the whole year while recovering from a broken leg he suffered against Arizona State in 2013.

Following the 2015 season Grace expressed interest in applying for a sixth year waiver from the NCAA, but didn't fit the league's requirements, as CSNChicago.com Notre Dame Insider JJ Stankevitz highlighted.

To make room for Grace on the 90-man roster the Bears waived linebacker Danny Mason.

Mason spent parts of the 2015 season on both the Bears and Denver Broncos practice squads, but never appeared in a regular season game.