Simeon suspends nine

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Simeon suspends nine

After winning their third consecutive IHSA title, nine Simeon players left their shoes on the court at Carver Arena in Peoria, attempting to showcase their ownership of Illinois boys basketball over the last few years. Coach Robert Smith wasn't impressed, though, and suspended those nine players -- Kendrick Nunn, Jaylon Tate, Kendall Pollard, Bobby Harrison, Myles Harrison, Dennis Williams, Ricky Norris, John Gardner and Quon Davis.

Noticeably absent from the suspended players is junior Jabari Parker, widely regarded as one of the top five prep basketball players in the country. Parker was being interviewed by NBC when his teammates were leaving their shoes on the court.

Even had Parker participated in the act, it probably wouldn't have had an impact on his recruiting profile. The 6-foot-7 junior has received offers from schools such as Washington, Duke, Illinois, Kansas, Michigan State, Mizzou, North Carolina and Ohio State, according to Rivals.com.

Simeon has won six state titles, the most of any boys basketball program in Illinois.

Simeon players stand after removing their shoes and placing them on the court at Carver Arena after winning Saturday's IHSA Class 4A title. (Photo courtesy of Comcast SportsNet)

Jake Arrieta is the wild card in budding Cubs-Pirates rivalry

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Jake Arrieta is the wild card in budding Cubs-Pirates rivalry

PITTSBURGH — Jake Arrieta felt so locked in, so prepared for the biggest start of his life that he trolled the Pittsburgh Pirates on Twitter, telling their fans that the blackout atmosphere at PNC Park wouldn’t matter.

The Cubs will never forget that epic performance during last year’s National League wild-card game, how Arrieta walked the walk in a complete-game shutout. His young son, Cooper, even helped pour champagne into his mouth during that wild postgame celebration, creating another memorable snapshot.

If Arrieta is going to become a true villain in Pittsburgh — and the Cubs and Pirates are going to reach another boiling point and turn this into a great rivalry — then it probably won’t happen during the first week of May while the Penguins are still alive in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

But Arrieta’s starts have already become must-see TV, and the Pirates will get another up-close look on Tuesday night at this beautiful waterfront ballpark.

"Their fans are good," Arrieta said. "They’re passionate about their team and their guys, so it’s something that I enjoy. I don’t expect them to be my biggest fan — or a fan of me at all — but that’s the nature of fans and the fans that really support their team.

"That’s the whole point of social media — to interact. Sometimes it’s well received. Sometimes it’s not. But that was the intention there — to fire people up — and I think that’s exactly what I did."

Arrieta looked a little drained during the next two rounds of the playoffs, beating the St. Louis Cardinals (while seeming to lose his air of invincibility) before the New York Mets swept the Cubs out of the NLCS.

There hasn’t been any sort of hangover for Arrieta, the first NL Pitcher of the Month for three consecutive months after a dominant April that saw him go 5-0 with a no-hitter against the Cincinnati Reds and only two runs allowed across 36 innings.

As manager Joe Maddon likes to say, the reigning Cy Young Award winner is embracing the target.

"When you’re at the top of your game, when you’re one of the teams to beat, it’s just something that comes with the territory," Arrieta said.

Arrieta’s meticulous routine and laser focus mean he doesn’t experience a flood of special memories as soon as he sees the bridges, the black and gold and the Pittsburgh skyline. Or at least he won’t admit that now.

"Well, when you bring it up, yeah," Arrieta said. "That was a neat experience, something that was huge for us as a team and for the organization. But it was short-lived.

"We moved on and had to play the Cardinals and the Mets and our season was cut a little bit short. But we’re in a better spot now this early in the season. We like where we are."

That would be in first place in the Central, with the best record in the league and no interest in dealing with the coin-flip nature of the wild card.

"When you play 162, and then you have to fight it out in one game to move on or go home, it’s a situation that nobody really wants to be in," Arrieta said. "The goal is obviously to win the division. And getting off to a hot start is the way you go about doing that. We’re where we intended to be at this point in the season."

Antrel Rolle blames Bears practice field for knee injury

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Antrel Rolle blames Bears practice field for knee injury

Antrel Rolle has been around the NFL long enough to know this is sometimes how it goes.

The Bears released the 33-year-old Rolle one day after selecting three defensive backs in the 2016 NFL Draft. Rolle played just seven games in the first season of his three-year deal, while dealing with ankle and knee injuries.

He joined 670 The Score on Monday to discuss a number of topics surrounding his release. Among his comments, Rolle blamed the playing surface at Halas Hall, the Bears' practice facility, for the knee injury that ultimately ended his season.

Rolle, still dealing with an injured ankle that had limited him early in the season, injured the knee on the final play of practice on the Friday before the Bears' game against the Denver Broncos.

As he explains:

"I was pretty much shuffling...and I tried to change direction and I slipped on the surface, and because of my ankle and because of the tape the only thing that was able to give was my knee. So my knee had to take a lot of the force and the impact, and even the doctor said it was very unsual to find a tear that I had with a non-contact injury. But it was because of all the pressure and force on my knee because my ankle couldn't really give.

"I think the surface had a whole lot to do with it. It happens.

"The facilities are good in Chicago. The fields are just not as good. I don't know the reason behind it. I don't know how the maintenance and upkeep works in Chicago. But it's real hard to maintain and just be stable under those conditions. But I'm sure they'll try to work and fix it. I always knew Soldier Field (playing surface) was bad. I just never knew that the facitlities were just as bad."

Rolle plans on playing in his 12th NFL season, and believe he's capable of much more than he showed in his limited time with the Bears. Now a free agent, Rolle said he has a chip on his shoulder and is hoping whichever team he signs with plays the Bears in 2016.

"I know who I am as a player. I know who I still am as a player and what I can contribute. It's just unfortunate that it won't be (in Chicago).

"It's all good. I'll find a way and I'll make the best of it. And whatever team i play (for), I hope chicago's on the schedule."

Jason Heyward dealing with wrist injury as Cubs wait for power surge

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Jason Heyward dealing with wrist injury as Cubs wait for power surge

PITTSBURGH – The Cubs revealed Jason Heyward has been dealing with a nagging right wrist injury since the first week of the season, hoping some rest will get the Gold Glove outfielder closer to full strength.

The Cubs scratched Heyward from Monday’s lineup against the Pittsburgh Pirates, though manager Joe Maddon signaled he should be available off the bench after getting treatment at PNC Park.

“I don’t think it’s a long-term kind of thing by any means, but his wrist is sore,” manager Joe Maddon said. “He hasn’t said anything, and then finally he said something, so we’re trying to react to it right now.”

The Cubs gave Heyward the biggest contract in franchise history, guaranteeing eight years and $184 million for his age-26 upside, elite defensive skills and offensive profile as a patient, disciplined hitter.

The Cubs have already seen Heyward make momentum-shifting plays in right field, change the dynamic at the top of the order and reinforce an aggressive mentality running the bases.

But this wrist issue – which stretches back to the season’s second series against the Arizona Diamondbacks in early April – might help explain why Heyward has zero homers through 23 games and a .573 OPS in 100-plus plate appearances.

“He’s the last person who would ever make an excuse,” president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said. “But he got off to a slow start last year, too. And then when it clicked, he was off and running. I think that’s what we’ll see with him.”

Last season, Heyward hit .217 with a .611 OPS in April for the St. Louis Cardinals before increasing his production in May (.783 OPS) and June (.881 OPS). He hit .318 after the All-Star break, getting on base almost 40 percent of the time for a 100-win team and finishing with a 6.5 WAR rating.

At 6-foot-5, 240 pounds, Heyward’s built like a slugger, even if that’s not necessarily his game, and his swing tends to need maintenance.

“He’s a tall guy with longer arms,” Epstein said. “It takes him a little bit of a while to feel his swing and get locked in. No concerns.”