Sam: Keep an eye on Young's Brooks, Smith

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Sam: Keep an eye on Young's Brooks, Smith

Nate Brooks and Jordan Smith couldn't be happier. Even with their peers around the city -- including some at their school -- receiving much more attention for the colleges recruiting them and their status as basketball prospects, the two seniors at Whitney Young Magnet High School in the West Loop are content.

That's because the duo recognizes that even if they don't achieve stardom in their final prep basketball campaign, they're still in great shape. Brooks, a 6-foot-5 undersized power forward with tremendous athleticism, and Smith, a versatile, 6-foot-2 combo guard, could have waited out the recruiting process until the spring and with the benefit of an expected successful season for Young, perennially one of the top hoops programs in the city and state, accepted scholarships to programs on the lower rungs of Division I college basketball.

Instead, the pair made a decision to attend the University of Chicago, one of the nation's top academic schools, which plays on the Division III level and is hardly renowned a basketball powerhouse. They made a choice for their future.

"Really, I look at I have going for me right now and I had some Division I offers, but really because I'm such a good student, too," said Brooks on why he committed to attend the Hyde Park university. "I feel that University of Chicago gives me the best opportunity to take advantage of both my skills on the classroom and my skills on the court."

Chimed in Smith: "Pretty much education. It's a great opportunity. I couldn't pass it up."

Earlier this month at the United Center, Smith and Brooks joined their teammates -- including sophomore center Jahlil Okafor, one of the nation's top prospects in his class -- at a Nike-sponsored pep rally for some of the better high school teams in the city, including Simeon Career Academy, Derrick Rose's alma mater. However, even among the likes of Okafor and Simeon junior superstar Jabari Parker, arguably the best high school player in the country, the unheralded Whitney Young duo stood out.

Brooks boasts a 4.4 grade-point average (on a weighted scale, as Young, the alma mater of First Lady Michelle Obama, offers an array of Advanced Placement courses, giving students college credits before they even hit campus) and a 31 score on the ACT, while Brooks has a 4.3 GPA -- "Smith beat me on that," he joked -- and a gaudy 32 ACT. In other words, even if they couldn't play basketball, these are two kids who could attend their prestigious future university. But don't think they're merely two kids who happen to suit up for high-level squad like Whitney Young and can't actually play.

Although neither is a starter -- playing behind the likes of Okafor, junior big man Tommy Hamilton, who is ranked among the top 50 players in his class nationally, Paul White, a 6-foot-8 talent regarded as one of the top 50 sophomores in the country, and fellow seniors Jermaine Morgan (a post player and fall Colorado State signee) and UIC-bound sharpshooter Gabriel Snider, is nothing to be ashamed of -- neither is an unfamiliar name to observers of Chicago high school basketball. Watch a Whitney Young game and you'll see two valuable contributors who could be putting up gaudy statistics for an average high school team in the city, as well as recruits who were pursued by numerous college programs.

"I had Florida A&M, Northern Illinois, annual Division II title contender Northern Kentucky and we had some Ivy League looks, but they never really offered us, so this was the best opportunity," said Smith.

Added Brooks: "I had Southern Illinois and UIC, too."

So it's not as if college coaches weren't aware of their abilities, as they often excelled on the summer AAU circuit, where their individual skills could be evaluated outside of the context of Young's loaded team. (Full disclosure: I've personally seen both of them play in outside events and for their team since they were sophomores and upon seeing them at University of Chicago's exhibition game at the University of Illinois-Chicago, I simply assumed they were recruits invited by UIC, instead of potential "U of C" recruits.)

"Phenomenal kids. Two kids who are unbelievable hard workers in the classroom and who take that hard work and transition it to the court also," gushed a Young assistant coach. "When you look at where they came from and where they are now, they're classic stories of achievers and really, that's what the Whitney Young model is, achieving and wanting to be the best."

At the University of Chicago, Brooks and Smith have a chance to be the team's focal points, something they missed out on in high school. That played a part in their decisions, but more importantly, armed with a degree from the institution, the odds that they'll be successful in life are greater than even their most talented counterparts.

"Well, of course you've got people around you doing things and you kind of want to do what they're doing, too," said Brooks. "So, of course that was something, but I still feel like the University of Chicago's a great opportunity. I'm not really losing out on anything.

But before giving them too much credit as trend-setters, it should be noted that the move isn't entirely unprecedented. University of Chicago has a freshman point guard on its roster, Royce Muskeyvalley, who in addition to having an excellent name, was the teammate of co-Illinois Mr. Basketball Chasson Randle, currently a starting guard at Stanford (not exactly a shabby academic institution itself) while attending Rock Island High School, the 2011 state champions.

"When we visited down there, we stayed with Royce and he's a really cool guy. He was telling us it's a great opportunity," said Smith of his future teammate, who also received recruiting interest at the Division I level. "He was in the same position as us. We had DI looks, but the University of Chicago, you can't pass something like that up."

Do yourself a favor sometime over the next five years: Head over to Hyde Park (easy for me to say, living in the neighborhood) and check out a University of Chicago home game. Competing in one of the top conferences in Division III, the level of basketball might surprise you, especially with a boost from at least three Division I-caliber athletes. Better yet, with NBA basketball not set to start until Christmas, watch a Whitney Young game -- I'd recommend their Dec. 23 tilt against Simeon at UIC -- to see two young men who may not be headliners on the floor just yet, but are definitely a refreshing example of what athletics should be about.

Preview: Cubs wrap up series with Pirates on CSN

Preview: Cubs wrap up series with Pirates on CSN

The Cubs wrap up their three-game series with the visiting Pittsburgh Pirates on Wednesday night at Wrigley Field, and you can catch all the action on CSN. Coverage from the North Side starts at 7 p.m., and be sure to stick around following the final out for reaction and analysis on Cubs Postgame Live.

Starting pitching matchup: Jason Hammel (13-7, 3.21 ERA) vs. Ryan Vogelsong (3-3, 3.02 ERA)

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Preview: Chris Sale, White Sox close out series with Tigers on CSN

Preview: Chris Sale, White Sox close out series with Tigers on CSN

The White Sox close out their series against the Detroit Tigers Wednesday, and you can catch all the action on CSN. Coverage begins with White Sox Pregame Live at 11:30 a.m. Be sure to stick around after the final out to get analysis and player reaction on White Sox Postgame Live.

Today’s starting pitching matchup: Chris Sale (15-7, 3.14 ERA) vs. Justin Verlander (14-7, 3.33 ERA)

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White Sox bullpen falters in loss to Tigers

White Sox bullpen falters in loss to Tigers

DETROIT — The 2016 White Sox expected an improved offense when they addressed two of last season’s biggest needs with trades for Todd Frazier and Brett Lawrie.

While scoring is up a hair over the 2015 club, it hasn’t nearly been enough.

As they have for much of the season, the White Sox jumped out to an early three-run lead on Tuesday night but failed to put their opponents away. Their dormancy allowed the Detroit Tigers to rally back to send the White Sox to an 8-4 loss in front of 27,121 at Comerica Park. Frazier homered early before Detroit scored eight runs between the fifth and seventh innings. The Tigers look to complete a three-game sweep of the White Sox on Wednesday afternoon on CSN.

“That’s kind of been the story of our year,” leadoff man Adam Eaton said. “With runners in scoring position we haven’t been able to drive in and get the big hit. When we do that we win. When we get it done we win and when we don’t it bites us.”

The White Sox thought they added serious bite to an offense that finished at or near the bottom of the American League in 2015 in most of the major categories. Frazier was acquired in a three-team deal from the Cincinnati Reds and Lawrie came over from Oakland for two-minor leaguers. On top of the acquisitions of Melky Cabrera and Adam LaRoche a year earlier, Frazier and Lawrie were expected to bolster positions in which the White Sox finished last in OPS in the majors last season.

To an extent, the plan has worked. The White Sox entered Tuesday having increased their scoring average to 4.07 runs per game, up from 3.84. But even with that improvement, the White Sox started play 13th among 15 AL clubs in runs scored and 63 runs below the league average.

They also were 13th in home runs (131), slugging percentage (.402) and OPS (.717).

Part of their struggles can be attributed to injuries — Lawrie has been out since July 22 and Austin Jackson has been gone since early June. The unexpected retirement of LaRoche also left the White Sox short on left-handed power in the middle of the lineup and forced Cabrera from the second spot to fifth to provide balance. And some can be attributed to down years by several key veterans, including the performance with runners in scoring position by Jose Abreu and Frazier.

But even the White Sox thought they’d be a better run-scoring team than they have proven through 131 games.

“I think we did,” White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. “You lose Rochie at the beginning of the year, and that changed the left-handed dynamic of what our lineup would have been like. But you still expect guys to hit a little better and score more runs than we’ve done. We haven’t held up our end of the bargain.”

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Their end of the bargain left the White Sox vulnerable on Tuesday. Frazier’s two-run homer and an RBI groundout by Eaton in the second inning had the White Sox in command. But Daniel Norris struck out Tim Anderson to strand a runner at third.

Then in the fourth, Norris got Tyler Saladino to fly out to shallow right, which prevented the runner on third from tagging. After Eaton walked, Norris got Anderson to ground into a fielder’s choice.

Even though Norris’ pitch count was sky high, the White Sox failed to knock him out of the game. That allowed the Tigers to rally back against Anthony Ranaudo, Matt Albers and Jacob Turner.

“They seem to add on,” Ventura said. “They don’t stop adding on that extra run. A guy on third with less than two outs, they’re able to get it in. That’s been an Achilles heel for us.”

It’s also been a source of frustration, Eaton said. The White Sox look around the room and feel like they have a talented group, especially now with Justin Morneau solidifying the middle. But once again, that group didn’t keep their foot on the pedal and paid the price.

“They just continue to plug away,” Eaton said. “Their offense is good enough to come back from any deficit. Hats off to them, but we’ve got to keep adding on. We got on Norris early and got his pitch count up, but we’ve got to keep knocking on the door. We didn’t keep on it enough and knock him out real early.

“Top to bottom I think we have a pretty good lineup. It is frustrating when you don’t get that big hit and vice versa for the big pitch.”