Thompson, Tuck shine in McDonald's All-American game

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Thompson, Tuck shine in McDonald's All-American game

By Patrick Z. McGavin
YourSeason.com

Janee Thompson rode out a perfect string.

Thompson, who led Young to an undefeated Class 4A state title run, had seven points, two steals, two assists and a block as the East team built a 16-point lead and withstood a furious West rally for the 79-78 victory in the McDonalds All-American Game Wednesday night at the United Center.

Bashaara Graves free throw off an offensive rebound with three-tenths of a second remaining proved the game-winner. Katie Colliers two free throws with 16 seconds forged the games third and final tie at 78.

Alexis Prince scored 15 points to lead the East. Bria Holmes contributed 13 points and Brittney Sykes added 12.

Bolingbrook star Morgan Tuck ignited the Wests rally that nearly overcame the double-deficit disadvantage. Tuck scored 12 of her 18 points in the second half.

Her teammate, Canadian Nirra Fields, scored 20 points. Niles West star Jewell Loyd struggled from the field, missing eight of her nine shots. She compensated by grabbing a team-best nine rebounds for the West. A lot of my shots were in and out, Loyd said, but I was able to contribute in other ways, with my defense and my rebounding.

Thompson scored on a double-pump up-and-under in the opening minutes as the East scored the games first 11 points. We just had great chemistry the whole time, in our practices and the time leading up to the game and it just spilled over, Thompson said. You saw that the way we shared the ball. It was almost effortless out there.

Loyds only basket, a three-pointer from the top of the key, ended the Wests four-minute scoring drought to begin the game. You could see from that time on, the nerves we had just kind of rolled off, tLoyd said.

Zion-Benton and West coach Tanya Johnson thought Loyds shot enabled her group to get into a better offensive groove. I think the kids just settled down, Johnson said. I think early on, we took early shots, and got caught up in he magnitude of the game of the game and playing on the United Center floor.

Johnsons Zion-Benton team lost to Tucks Bolingbrook team in last years Class 4A state final. She was happy to be on Tucks side this time. Shes a coachs dream, Johnson said of Tuck. She was a monster on the boards and she just plays so hard.

The Connecticut-bound Tuck, the Sun-Times Player of the Year, was matched against another Connecticut recruit, 6-3 national player of the year Breanna Stewart, who scored nine points. Tuck was 5-for-7 from the floor in the second half.

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Bears DL Akiem Hicks making the most of a chance the Saints never gave him

Bears DL Akiem Hicks making the most of a chance the Saints never gave him

Living well is indeed the best revenge, and sometimes nothing feels sweeter than proving doubters wrong. Akiem Hicks is savoring that exact feeling.

When the New Orleans Saints made Hicks their third-round pick in the 2013 draft, they typecast their big (6-5, 318 pounds) young defensive lineman as a one-trick pony.

“There were people in New Orleans that said, ‘You can’t rush the passer,’” Hicks recalled after the Bears’ win Sunday over the San Francisco 49ers. “They told me from my rookie year, ‘You’re going to be a run-stopper.’”

This despite Hicks collecting 6.5 sacks and 3 pass breakups as a senior at Regina in Canada. The Saints forced Hicks into the slot they’d decided he fit – nose tackle – then eventually grew disenchanted with him and traded him to New England last year – where he collect 3 sacks in spot duty.

Interestingly, Bears GM Ryan Pace was part of the Saints’ personnel operation. Whether Pace agreed with coaches’ handling of Hicks then isn’t known, but when Pace had the chance to bring Hicks to Chicago for a role different than the one the Saints forced Hicks into, Pace made it happen.

Pace likely saw those New England sacks as a foreshadowing or a sign that the New Orleans staff had miscast Hicks. The Bears defensive end now is under consideration for NFC defensive player of the week after his 10-tackle performance against San Francisco. Signing with the Bears last March 13 as a free agent was the career break Hicks has craved. For him it was a career lifeline.

“They have given me the ability to go rush the passer,” Hicks said. “So I love this organization – [GM] Ryan Pace, coach Fox, Vic [Fangio, defensive coordinator] – for just giving a guy the capability to put it out there and do what you feel like you can do.”

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Hicks has been showing what he can do, to quarterbacks. For him the best part of win over the 49ers was the two third-quarter sacks of 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

Those sacks gave the massive lineman, who the Saints said couldn’t rush the passer, 6 sacks for the season – more than any member of the Saints defense this season. It has been a classic instance of putting a player in position to maximize his skills, not jam someone into a bad fit.

“Akiem has been in a couple of different types of packages before with New Orleans and New England,” said coach John Fox. The Patriots switched from a long-time 3-4 scheme to a 4-3 but “we’re more of a New England-type style. But we’re playing him more at end; he played mostly a nose tackle [in New Orleans]. He’s fit really well for us as far as his physical stature.

"But he does have pass rush ability. It shows a little about his athleticism. So he’s got a combination of both.”

That “combination” has been allowed to flourish at a new level, and the Bears’ plan for Hicks was the foundation of why he wanted to sign in Chicago as a free agent. The Bears do not play their defensive linemen in a clear one-gap, get-upfield-fast scheme tailored to speed players. Nor do they play a classic two-gap, linemen-control-blockers scheme typically built on three massive space-eaters on the defensive line.

They play what one player has called a “gap and a half” system, which requires being stout as well as nimble.

One Hicks rush on Kaepernick featured a deft spin move out of a block, not the norm for 336-pound linemen. He got one sack with a quick slide out of a double-team.

“I’m not freelancing,” Hicks said. “But I’m rushing ‘fast.’ There’s a portion of the defense where you have the [run] responsibility and don’t have the freedom or liberty [to rush]. It’s a great system for me and I love what they’ve let me do.”