Saying goodbye to an old friend, Rick Majerus

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Saying goodbye to an old friend, Rick Majerus

When I learned of the death of my very good friend, Rick Majerus, on Saturday night, I wasnt stunned but deeply saddened. I knew that Rick was in very poor health and was never going to coach again, but I wasnt prepared for the sadness that I feel at the loss of a friend who has had a great influence on my life.
I have known Rick since we coached against each other in 1982, when he was an assistant at Marquette and I was a young assistant at Northern Illinois. I remember getting to know him well after he was named Marquettes head coach in 1983, and I would see him on the recruiting trail looking at players in and around the Chicago area.
However, we became very close when he moved on to Ball State and then the University of Utah, when he became a subscriber to my scouting service that I spent 10 years publishing after leaving coaching. Rick would call often about players, looking for a sleeper that Big Ten schools had missed on, and always asked about the toughness of a particular player.
Is he tough enough to play for me? What kind of a kid is he? Those would always be the first questions he would ask, saving questions on the players basketball skills for later in our conversation.
First, he always asked about me and my family and how my son Brett was doing.
When I remarried in 2004, I sent Rick an invitation sure that he wouldnt attend. But he flew from Maui to be at the ceremony and then spent several hours at the reception talking basketball and sports with some of the other guests. Rick took a genuine interest in my family, including my son and stepsons who he always asked me about, even offering my oldest stepson Nick a chance to attend his camps or to walk on and play for him at St. Louis University.
A few years ago Rick called me on a summer afternoon and asked me how my career was going, and was I making progress in getting to call college basketball games as an analyst on TV. When I asked him, "Why?" he replied, I am going to the Milwaukee Brewers game tonight with a TV executive who I am very good friends with. When you get done with your radio show, drive to Milwaukee and have dinner with us. I want him to meet you and I want to tell him he needs to hire you to do games for him.
That was Rick in a nutshell. Thinking of how he could help someone else. Always calling and inviting me to games, to dinner or agreeing to come on my radio show. He was an amazing friend who would never say no and just wanted to have fun together and talk ball as he called it. We would X and O or just talk basketball and about life.
He asked me to have him on my radio show a couple of seasons back, but he wanted to make sure that it would be a lengthy interview. "Put me on for an entire hour, Kap. I want to talk with you," he said. When I told him that I couldn't devote a full hour to St. Louis University basketball on a Chicago radio station, he laughed and said, "We can talk about stem cell research and abortion rights and the war, too. I just went to a Hillary Clinton rally and I have a lot to say about things other than basketball."
We booked the interview and he spent most of the hour talking about social issues, the importance of family and education and a few minutes on how much he loved coaching at St. Louis University. That was the Rick Majerus I knew. He was well-read, he was a deep thinker and he was as loyal a friend as you could possibly hope to have.
He was an amazing man and someone that I will never forget. Rick, I will miss you, my friend. I hope you are sitting down to a wonderful meal and talking ball with some of the all-time greats who are in heaven with you. I will always cherish our friendship and your influence on my life. Rest in peace.

Cy Young candidate Kyle Hendricks destroys another NL lineup as Cubs top Pirates

Cy Young candidate Kyle Hendricks destroys another NL lineup as Cubs top Pirates

Kyle Hendricks continued his systematic destruction of National League lineups on Tuesday night at Wrigley Field, shutting down the Pittsburgh Pirates during a 3-0 victory that highlighted his Cy Young Award potential.

Hendricks, who leads the majors in ERA, sliced his number down to 2.09, throwing seven scoreless innings as the Cubs continued their march toward a division title and what they expect will be a deep run into October.

Hendricks (13-7) has grown from a nominal fifth starter into someone near the front of a playoff rotation, neutralizing entire lineups with his curveball and four-seam fastball — which make his changeup and two-seam fastball that much more effective — while turning opponents into very-good-hitting pitchers (sub-.600 OPS).

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On the one-year anniversary of Jake Arrieta’s no-hitter/onesie press conference at Dodger Stadium, Hendricks didn’t allow a hit until Gregory Polanco’s soft single to center field leading off the fifth inning.

Hendricks had faced the minimum through four innings and wound up throwing 99 pitches, 61 for strikes, giving up only two more hits and not allowing any Pirates to go past second base.

The Cubs (84-47) gave Hendricks — a pitcher already working with a quiet confidence and a specific game plan in mind — an early lead when Anthony Rizzo slammed a Chad Kuhl fastball off the small video panel above the right-field wall for a two-run homer in the first inning.

Whether or not Rizzo can catch up to Kris Bryant in the MVP race, Hendricks has to be among the leading Cy Young candidates, given his remarkable consistency (18 straight starts with three earned runs or less) and strong second-half push.

Bears claim Browns castoff defensive back K’Waun Williams

Bears claim Browns castoff defensive back K’Waun Williams

This could be interesting.

Bears coach John Fox made a passing reference to “owies” last week, an apparent reference to the typical nicks and bruises that players suffer, presumably falling on the safe side of the pain-vs.-injury line. Coaches like players to play when they can.

The Cleveland Browns suspended K’Waun Williams this offseason for two weeks after the former No. 1 Cleveland nickel cornerback refused to play in the Aug. 12 Browns preseason opener against the Green Bay Packers.

Now the Bears have claimed Williams, 25, waiving cornerback Kevin Peterson, and hope Williams is past what the Browns look to have deemed just their version of an “owie.”

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Williams’ release comes after a convoluted disagreement between player and team, with Williams obtaining medical opinions that he needed surgery to remove bone spurs from an ankle. The team said that Williams never informed them of his ankle problems until the day after the Green Bay game.

The Bears have struggled mightily this preseason to find anything close to a healthy cornerback. Starters Kyle Fuller (knee) and Tracy Porter (concussion) are currently sidelined along with nickel corner Bryce Callahan (hamstring). Jacoby Glenn started for Fuller at New England but also left with a concussion.

Bears O-line will benefit from ripple effect whenever Kyle Long returns

Bears O-line will benefit from ripple effect whenever Kyle Long returns

Pro Bowl right guard Kyle Long continued doing work on the side of Bears practice on Tuesday. He won’t play Thursday at Cleveland, but he represents a looming one-man shakeup of the offensive line — in a positive way — when he returns from a shoulder injury, presumably next week.

Coach John Fox demurred from saying that Long will be in the lineup when the Bears open the regular season Sept. 11 in Houston.

“We’re anticipating him at least being back out there to get ready for Houston,” was as far as Fox would go on Tuesday.

But Ted Larsen, who has filled in for Long at right guard while Cornelius Edison worked as the No. 1 center, has been taking some snaps at center, a hint that Long might be on course for a return for Houston.

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When that happens, it will effectively improve all three interior-line positions at the same time.

The upgrade at right guard is immediate and obvious. When Long was pressed into an emergency shift to right tackle the week before the opener vs. Green Bay last year, it sent Vlad Ducasse into the starting lineup at Long’s preferred spot. Long now represents an obvious upgrade over Larsen.

Installing Larsen at center, where he went after Hroniss Grasu suffered his season-ending knee injury, upgrades the center position over Edison, who has never played an NFL game.

The third upgrade happens at left guard, where rookie Cody Whitehair has settled in at the job he stepped into when Larsen was out late in the offseason. Whitehair is a rookie; Larsen, who has played center during his career, is better able to help Whitehair than Edison, certainly at this point in the latter’s career.