Streets gives back with Meanstreets


Streets gives back with Meanstreets

Tai Streets arrived at a crossroads in his life in 2005. One of the most accomplished three-sport athletes in state history, perhaps the best since Centralia's legendary Dike Eddleman in the 1940s, Streets' six-year career in the NFL was over. What direction was he going to take?

Would you believe basketball? He grew up in Matteson and joined coach Ron Newquist's Wolverines, a south suburban AAU team, while he was attending Rich South in Richton Park.

"It was a totally different experience," Streets said. "It was something to do in the summer. I loved competing and I loved playing basketball. We played against the best players in the country. Our goal was to go to the state and national AAU tournaments. The nationals were in New Orleans. I liked basketball more than football at that time."

After transferring to Thornton of Harvey as a senior, he earned All-State recognition while playing on the Wildcats' 1995 team that ousted top-ranked Farragut and Kevin Garnett in the state quarterfinals but lost to Peoria Manual in the state final.

But football punched his ticket to college and the NFL. He was an All-Big Ten receiver at Michigan and caught two touchdown passes in the 1998 Rose Bowl as the Wolverines clinched a share of the national championship. As a senior, he was voted MVP on a team that was quarterbacked by Tom Brady.

Streets played for five years with the San Francisco 49ers as the fourth receiver behind Hall of Famer Jerry Rice, Terrell Owens and J.J. Stokes. Released after the 2003 season, he signed with the Detroit Lions. After one season, he retired.

"In 2005, my knees were banged up. I couldn't do it anymore, too much pain," Streets said.

Fortunately, he had laid a foundation for his future in 2001 when he co-founded with best friend Carlton Debose an AAU team known as the Wildcats. He had been persuaded to launch the project by Newquist, who had too many 14-and-under players and was looking for a way to give them more playing time. "Are you interested in coaching? You should pursue this," Newquist told Streets.

They started their program under the Wolverines umbrella. A year later, they decided to go on their own. They changed the name from Wildcats to Meanstreets, not wanting to think it was a Thornton team. Since then, the program, sponsored by Nike, has grown to involve over 250 boys and girls and has earned a national reputation.

"I wanted to give back," Streets said. "I want to help kids from our area become better people and get to college. It's tough for kids from Harvey to go to college. I wanted to show them that there is a way. That's the reason we did it, why we started our program. We're not trying to get anything out of it except a 'Thank you. You helped me to be a better man and to get me to college.' In our first year, 11 of 12 kids went on to get college degrees."

Streets, who also serves as an assistant on coach Troy Jackson's basketball team at Thornton, admits he is thinking about applying for a head coaching position at the high school level. But he doesn't want to give up his involvement with Meanstreets.

At first, he paid for the club's expenses out of his own pocket. Then Nike came on board in 2005. The advantages are obvious. "The Nike logo helps to get kids. They want to play for a Nike team. They pay for equipment and travel. We still have to raise funds but it helps to have Nike behind you," Streets said.

He admits, however, that the association with Nike and competition with other shoe companies "gets messy at times. Travel basketball is crazy, so many programs, so many tournaments," he said.

"People always are badmouthing AAU basketball on TV. Sure, there are slimy people out there. But don't put everyone under the same umbrella. We're not about that. We're about making kids better people. We get kids off the streets. We deal with kids from Harvey, Gary (Indiana) and Chicago who don't have the best opportunities. We help them to get out of their situation. All of us are in it to help kids."

He fights the AAU stigma all the time. A disciplinarian, he won't tolerate kids who don't do their schoolwork or have bad attitudes or lack character. He won't badmouth other programs. His approach is to talk to parents and tell them what he does and how he can improve their child's game and get him to college.

"The proof is in the pudding," he said. "We produce guys. Many critics say kids who participate in AAU aren't instructed in fundamentals, that coaches just toss the ball on the floor and let the kids run up and down. High school is regimented so they just want to run in the summer, right?

"Well, we try to teach them the proper way of doing things, as in college. We want to get them ready for college. They have to be accountable, be on time, abide by curfews on the road, attend meetings. On the court, we teach the mental part of the game, how to handle certain situations. Why did you do this? This is what you should have done.

"College coaches complain that high school kids aren't prepared, that they lack fundamentals. Our kids are college-ready, more than most programs. They won't be surprised at what happens in college."

Complete Cubs-Indians World Series Game 3 coverage on CSN

Complete Cubs-Indians World Series Game 3 coverage on CSN

Tune in to CSN at 6 p.m. for Cubs Postseason Live as our crew gets ready for Game 3 of the World Series against the host Cleveland Indians. Be sure to flip over to CSN immediately after the final out to get analysis and player reaction on Cubs Postseason Live.

Starting pitching matchup: Josh Tomlin (13-9, 4.40 ERA) vs. Kyle Hendricks (16-8, 2.13 ERA)

Get ready for Game 3 by reading these stories:

Cubs 'can't imagine' what Wrigley Field atmosphere will be like for World Series

Cubs’ Kyle Hendricks ready for the next biggest start of his career

Ben Zobrist stabilizes Cubs World Series lineup with Babe Ruth-esque performance

Indians pitcher Josh Tomlin will pitch World Series Game 3 against Cubs with ailing father in stands

Kyle Schwarber not medically cleared to play the field, will not start in Games 3-5 of World Series 

Important CSN Chicago Twitter follows:

— Patrick Mooney (@CSNMooney)

— Cubs Talk (@CSNCubs)

— Tony Andracki (@TonyAndracki23)

— Dan Hayes (@CSNHayes)

— J.J. Stankevitz (@JJStankevitz)

Channel finder: Click here to make sure you know where to watch.

Latest on the Cubs: All of the most recent news and notes.

— See what fans are talking about before, during and after the game with Cubs Pulse.

Cubs 'can't imagine' what Wrigley Field atmosphere will be like for World Series

Cubs 'can't imagine' what Wrigley Field atmosphere will be like for World Series

The Cubs already know they have some of the most loyal fans in all of sports. Fans have brought their enthusiasm to Wrigley Field on game days all season long.

But the Cubs also know the energy at The Friendly Confines may reach a new level when the Cubs host the first World Series game since Oct. 10, 1945.

"It's going to be an absolute blast," said manager Joe Maddon. "Beanie's (Maddon's mom) coming in. My kids are coming. Everybody's coming in. It's going to be great. So I know that people have been waiting for this for a long time are going to savor it, and hopefully on our part we can do something to really make it even better."

Ben Zobrist is no stranger to the World Series, with 2016 being his third appearance and second consecutive. He knows what the main stage's atmosphere can be like, but for a fan base that's waited 71 years?

"I can't imagine. They're probably just as excited, if not more excited than we are to see that game played there," said Zobrist, a Eureka, Ill. native. "It's been a long time. They've been waiting patiently and they deserve to have these games played there. Hopefully we can get some Ws there for them. We know it's gonna be electric and a really fun atmosphere."

The Cubs understand what this moment means for their fans. They've also heard the narratives and they don't care.

"We are very much aware of everything that's gone on in the past, but we have to live in the present otherwise you'll never be able to get to this juncture in the season," Maddon said. "So I really am impressed whatever I've read or have heard, the respect our players have shown about every part of this entire situation, organizationally, city-wide, fanbase, all that stuff. I think our players have been outstanding in the way they've handled all that. But at the end of the day, you want to get on that field for the last out, and you want to celebrate among each other.

"I mean, we've been after this for a bit, like everybody else has. We've been after it a bit. Last year started, this year Spring Training. All season long people have been after us, and our guys are still standing. Give them a lot of credit for that. Like Manolo just pointed out, pretty young team on the field last night."

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

The Cubs' batting order for Game 2 at Progressive Field featured six players age 24 or younger, which marked a postseason record. One of those men included designated hitter Kyle Schwarber, who made a surprise return in Game 1 after suffering a significant knee injury in the third game of the regular season.

Although Schwarber wasn't medically cleared by doctors to play the field for Games 3-5 at Wrigley Field, he will be available to come off the bench and pinch hit.

As if the crowd didn't have something to cheer about already, they won't have to wait long to recognize Schwarber for his return, as player introductions will take place prior to Game 3.

"It's going to be great," Schwarber said. "I remember just walking out on the line, when I first got injured, and back for the first playoff game and everything like that, they welcomed me very well. This time, you know, I'm just going to embrace the moment.

"It's going to be awesome. It's the World Series at Wrigley Field. It's going to be electric. It's going to be a fun atmosphere. So I'll definitely soak it in."

Count Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein among those excited to see how loud Wrigley will get when Schwarber runs out of the dugout after his named is called.

"I'll let it speak for itself," Epstein said. "I mean, we were here on Opening Day when he walked out with one crutch, and it was deafening. I think our fans also have a special connection with Kyle, and I'm sure they'll take advantage of the opportunity to let him know how much they appreciate him tomorrow night. Hopefully during the game, too."