St. Viator's Walsh combines academics, basketball


St. Viator's Walsh combines academics, basketball

Kevin Walsh would have enrolled at Prospect High School in Mount Prospect if he hadn't chosen St. Viator in Arlington Heights. But St. Viator was a no-brainer. His father went there. So did two older siblings. And his younger brother will follow him next year. It was inevitable.

There were two other reasons:

He was looking for a good education. He wants to study business or marketing or sports management in college. He ranks in the 93.23 percentile of his class and scored 33 on his ACT.

He wants to play basketball in college, too. The 6-3 senior has interest from Division II and II schools but he is hoping to attract looks from Division I schools.

Before enrolling, he was aware that St. Viator didn't have a reputation as a basketball power. Two years ago, the Lions lost to Chicago Marshall in a Class 3A supersectional, the farthest the school has ever advanced in the state tournament, only the third time beyond a regional.

"I had been going to St. Viator games since sixth grade and I knew they hadn't been very successful. But we're trying to change the mold. We hope to turn around the program with our class," Walsh said. "We have good chemistry on and off the court. We had talent two years ago but this team is potentially as good."

Coach Mike Howland said he is sold on his 7-0 team, which will face a major test against once-beaten Marist Friday on its home floor, then will host Hersey on Saturday. After playing Palatine next Tuesday, St. Viator will compete in the Wheeling Holiday Tournament.

"I know how good we are," Howland said. "I want the final game (of the regular season) on Feb. 25 at Notre Dame to be for the conference title. I want the kids to keep working hard every day to get better. We are extremely talented but at some point we will run into somebody more talented than us and that's when our experience, execution and hard work will pay off."

In his first year, Howland is anxious to make history and establish a basketball tradition at his alma mater. A 1998 graduate of St. Viator, the 31-year-old Howland once was the East Suburban Catholic's player of the year and served as assistant coach for eight years before landing the top job.

"I inherited a great group at all levels," he said. "We returned four starters from a 14-13 team. Our sophomore team was 23-1 last year. A lot of young kids are playing well. And we have a talented freshman and sophomore on the varsity. This team has the potential to be the best ever at the school."

Howland is excited because his team has depth (10 deep), scoring balance, athleticism and weapons at every position. The Lions are averaging 65 points per game while allowing only 44.

"I'm excited about the team and the start we have gotten off to," he said. "I was a point guard growing up. I liked to get up and down the floor. It's fun for the kids. And we play such a good pressure man-to-man defense that teams have trouble scoring against us."

Where is the talent coming from?

"We're getting good kids coming into school. Our feeder program is doing a great job of developing kids. Our talent pool is pulling in more kids at different ages," the coach said. "We're playing an exciting brand of basketball--up-tempo on offense and getting after people on defense. Kids are watching and want to be a part of our exciting style of play. We're playing with emotion. It's fun to watch and fun to be a part of."

Those who are providing the fun are Walsh (14.5 ppg), 5-10 senior point guard D.J. Morris (10 ppg, 5 assists), 6-3 sophomore Ore Arogundade (14 ppg, 6.5 rpg), 6-5 senior Chris Myjak (6 ppg, 8 rpg), 6-2 senior guard Dan Ford (6 ppg) and 5-11 freshman guard Mark Falotico (5 ppg).

Myjak is a three-year starter, Ford is the defensive stopper while Falotico is the sixth man.

"We have to continue to defend as we have been and we have to continue to be unselfish with the ball," Howland said. "We are hard to guard because we have five or six kids who can go for 20 points on any given night. Teams can't key on one or two of our players."

Another advantage is opponents will discover that the Lions are tougher than they look, thanks to strength coach Matt Seay, who came from Illinois-Chicago. Under Seay's guidance, the players went through extensive and intense four-day-a-week off-season workout sessions.

"Those basketball workouts have paid off," Howland said. "(Seay) has gotten our kids excited to get in the weight room. We set the tone from a physical standpoint. We don't get pushed around or pushed off the ball. We rebound well and we are prepared for the wear and tear of the season."

Meanwhile, Howland believes his team's success will enhance Walsh's college opportunities. Walsh wants to play at the highest level he can, hopefully Division I. He has worked hard to test himself against quality competition, to see if he could play in college.

"We underachieved last year," Walsh said. "Now we put as much pressure on the ball as we can. It's not too difficult to buy into defense. We know it is a key component in the game. We know the offense will hit cold streaks, times when shots aren't falling, when we are making poor choices, not scoring as much as usual. Then you have to lean on defense."

He relates his keen intelligence to his leadership responsibilities on the floor. His parents are college graduates who understand the importance of a good education. From the get-go, they pushed their son to be a better-than-average student. And he learned to use his smarts on the basketball court.

"In film study, I watch other teams and learn to read defenses and study plays, where players should be on the floor," he said. "I have to make sure everyone is in the right spot. If they are struggling, I tell them to keep their head up. We have to work as hard as we can to fulfill our potential."

Why Joe Maddon chose Albert Almora Jr. over Jason Heyward in huge Game 6 for Cubs

Why Joe Maddon chose Albert Almora Jr. over Jason Heyward in huge Game 6 for Cubs

With the chance to book their first trip to the World Series since 1945, the Cubs benched the player with the biggest contract in franchise history and started a 22-year-old rookie who began this season at Triple-A Iowa.

Now that says something about Clayton Kershaw’s overall brilliance and Albert Almora Jr.’s precocious nature, but it also again spotlights Jason Heyward’s offensive spiral during the first year of that $184 million megadeal.  

Heyward’s Gold Glove defense in right field, well-rounded skills and clubhouse intangibles certainly helped the Cubs get to this point – up 3-2 on the Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League Championship Series – but manager Joe Maddon wanted to go in a different direction for Saturday’s Game 6 at Wrigley Field.   

“Kershaw’s pretty good,” Maddon said. “You look at his numbers, he’s been absurd versus lefties, (so you) get another right-handed bat out there and the way Albert can play defense really makes it a little bit easier.

[SHOP: Buy a "Try Not to Suck" shirt with proceeds benefiting Joe Maddon's Respect 90 Foundation & other Cubs Charities]

“If we didn’t have the opportunity to do something differently tonight I wouldn’t have. But we do. Albert just presents well at the plate – and well on defense – to the point where I thought we needed to give it a go.”

Almora – the first player the Theo Epstein regime drafted here with the sixth overall pick in 2012 – could be the 2017 Opening Day starter in center field if Dexter Fowler cashes in elsewhere as a free agent.

After posting career lows in homers (seven) and OPS (.631) during the regular season, Heyward has gone 2-for-28 (.071 average) in the playoffs and will probably need to reboot during the winter.

“I’m sure there’s going to be a lot of internal work done in the offseason with him, no question,” Maddon said. “You know he’s not satisfied with the year. (But) he was a big part of our 100-plus wins this year.

“It is something that he has to work on – and he will work on it – but by no means is anybody giving up on him. He just needs to probably clear his mind a little bit when this is all said and done and get back to the drawing board.”

Huskers stay unbeaten with comeback win over Purdue


Huskers stay unbeaten with comeback win over Purdue

At halftime Saturday, Nebraska, the No. 8 team in the country, was trailing Purdue, which just fired its coach.

Uh, what?

Order was soon restored, but the Huskers needed to bounce back from a halftime deficit to grab a 27-14 win over the lowly Boilermakers on Saturday in Lincoln.

Purdue threw an interception on the game's opening drive, and Nebraska turned that into a touchdown, something that looked very much like how everyone expected this one to go. But quarterback David Blough retaliated with the first of two first-half touchdown passes, while the Huskers mustered only a field goal on the next drive and then went silent the rest of the opening 30 minutes, punting three times and Tommy Armstrong throwing an interception right before the break. In there, Blough threw his second touchdown, an 88-yard monster to DeAngelo Yancey that gave the Boilers a lead.

That lead didn't last too long, though, as after going three and out on their first drive of the third quarter, the Huskers scored on each of their next three possessions: an Armstrong pass to De'Mornay Pierson-El, a 24-yard run by Alonzo Moore and a 51-yard field goal by Drew Brown. Meanwhile, the Nebraska defense clamped down, and Purdue had just one drive that lasted more than five plays in the second half, with that drive ending in a turnover on downs and Blough adding an interception.

All in all, the Huskers out-gained the Boilers, 409-333, and had the ball for about seven more minutes, avoiding a repeat of last year's matchup, when Purdue scored its lone Big Ten win over Nebraska.

Armstrong threw for 252 yards, one touchdown and one interception and added 51 yards and a touchdown on the ground. Terrell Newby had 82 yards rushing.

Blough threw for 309 yards, but the Boilers managed just 24 rushing yards.

The win sent Nebraska to a perfect 7-0 ahead of next weekend's huge Big Ten West Division showdown with Wisconsin.

The loss dropped Purdue to 3-4. The Boilers take on Penn State next weekend.