Times are changing at Simeon

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Times are changing at Simeon

Bob Hambric was a very private and very disciplined person. Simeon's late basketball coach guarded his family's privacy and defended his policy of not allowing the media to talk to his players and not permitting college recruiters to contact them until after their senior season.

Hambric, who died in 2009, often was criticized for his rigid and uncompromising standards. But he was universally respected for never bending to pressure from administrators, parents or media. He did it his way and if you wanted to play for him or associate with him, you played by his rules.

One of the most controversial was his decision not to allow freshmen to play on the varsity. Any freshman. And that included future NBA star Derrick Rose, who later led Simeon to two state titles under Hambric's successor, Robert Smith, who had played and coached under Hambric.

It was hard to argue with his methods because he was one of the most successful coaches in state history. In 24 years at Simeon, he won over 80 percent (551) of his games. In the 1990s, he won 20 or more games for 10 years in a row. His 1984 team, led by the late Ben Wilson and Tim Bankston, won the Class AA state championship.

Hambric took pride in the number of players he sent to college, including Nick Anderson, Deon Thomas, Bryant Notree, Bobby Simmons, David Knight, Deon Butler, Cody Butler, Belefia Parks, Ervin Small, Mario Bailey, Kevin Turner and Calvin Brock.

When Smith was handpicked to succeed his mentor as Simeon's head coach in 2004, he advocated most, if not all of Hambric's philosophical and disciplinary standards. Players didn't talk to the media and college recruiters were kept on the outside looking in.

But times have changed. Smith has become even more successful than his predecessor. He has won 88 percent of his games and five state championships, including the last three in a row. He is seeking to become the first coach in state history to win four in a row.

Old-timers say Hambric wouldn't recognize his program today. Smith agrees. "Times change and we have changed with the times," he said.

All-Access Simeon? Daily stories in print and online in the Chicago Tribune? Comcast SportsNet Chicago hires a reporter to write two or three stories a week on Simeon? Jabari Parker, Kendrick Nunn, Jaylon Tate and all of their teammates talking to the media? A cover story on Parker in Sports Illustrated?

What would Bob Hambric think of all of this?

"He probably wouldn't be very happy with what is going on," Smith said. "What would I say to him? Everyone has to change with the times. This is a big adjustment for me...television cameras, reporters around all the time. It is something I don't like. It doesn't fit my personality.

"But when you have players like Jabari Parker, Kendrick Nunn and Jaylon Tate, it is only fitting that everyone gets to know who they are besides being a basketball player. The CPS (Chicago Public Schools) get a lot of negative publicity. We thought it would be good to get positive publicity.

"Next year might be something different. But right now we have an opportunity that CPS never had before, to win four state championships in a row. It is fitting to tell the story all the way."

Smith grew up in the Hambric system. Discipline was No. 1, first and foremost. Not talking to the media was huge in his eyes. He felt the media would dominate one player and not give other players any exposure. He was always worried about producing bulletin board material for opponents and creating petty jealousies among his players.

The recruiting policy has changed, too. "I was against committing early but I felt some kids might have missed out on scholarships. I feel it is good for some kids. I don't know if Jaylon Tate would have gotten a scholarship from Illinois if he had waited," Smith said.

"Hambric didn't let kids talk to college coaches until after the season. With times changing, I thought waiting for certain people might mean you can't get the offer you want. Parents should be fully involved. I should give advice if they need it."

As he prepared for the 2012-13 season, Smith was perfectly content to run his program exactly the way he had run it since he succeeded Hambric. Before preseason practice began, however, he was approached by the Chicago Tribune, which proposed an All-Access feature that would publicize the program on a daily basis.

"I told them I would get back to them," Smith said. "Hambric and I would have a fatherson conversation if he saw this today. How did it all come about? The biggest thing is us trying to win four state titles in a row. That is big on my mind. I want the kids to be prepared.

"This is the kind of stuff that they will experience when they get to college...cameras, microphones, interviews. Four of our kids are going to high-level programs. Like being on the court, they need to practice for the questions and the cameras and the atmosphere.

"Jabari does a great job of it. Kendrick, too. It is time for them to step out. I had to step out of my comfort zone to do it. The parents trust my judgment. No parents have questioned what we have done. It took me a week to make a decision. I didn't talk to the kids. I made the decision about them and what they had going on by myself."

So Smith opened the door. He scheduled a media day a week after preseason practice began. The reporters and cameras were there. "You guys are lucky," Smith told them. "You wouldn't be in the building at all to talk to the kids if Hambric was still coaching."

"The first thing I thought about was how positive it would be," Smith said. "I didn't want it to be a situation where they were downing kids or just talking to Jabari. I wanted everyone to tell their stories. And I wanted to make sure we were emphasizing CPS, the good things that go on. I didn't want to just showcase basketball. I want them to know other things about our kids."

Like his predecessor, Smith keeps track of everything that is going on. His name is on the program, his reputation. He said he wakes up every morning and reads the newspaper to see what has been written. And Smith wants everyone to know that this isn't just a Tribune thing, that all media outlets have access to his program.

"We will step out of our box like the Tribune but I won't let the media dominate Jabari all the time. They have to talk to other players," he said. "We feel if it is positive for Simeon and CPS, we are willing to do it."

It didn't take Smith very long to squelch any fears that such a drastic change in policy and unprecedented exposure to his players would have a negative effect on the program, that it would jeopardize Simeon's attempt to write its own chapter in the history of high school basketball in Illinois.

"I noticed it in the second week of practice, how focused they were on detail," he said. "These kids are focused. They want to win the state title. They aren't concerned with the newspaper. This is nothing to them. I felt they were mature enough to handle it.

"This thing is positive when we are all doing good. It isn't about Smith or Jabari or Kendrick. It's about everyone on the Simeon basketball team. I have never been around a group of kids who understand where we are and were we want to go. The leaders are so good and unselfish. All they want to do is win. It is the most mature group I have coached. They think they can't lose. They don't want to be the team that didn't win (the state title)."

Smith said the final piece of the puzzle for this year's team was uncovered and put securely in place when he persuaded Jaylon Tate to become the vocal leader.

"We were missing that, a vocal leader. Last year, we had Jelani Neely and Steve Taylor," the coach said. "That is Jaylon's role. I told him that we didn't have it and we needed it. I was looking for a leader and he felt he was the one. The others don't have that kind of personality. They are more laid back. They show you on the court."

"Everyone understands that Jaylon is the vocal leader. They can't let him down. He is so focused that everything is being done right. Jabari, Kendrick and Kendall Pollard lead by example. But you have to have a locker room and court guy who is vocal and talks to the other kids, who knows what I am looking for, who tells the other kids what they have to do."

Yes, times have changed at Simeon. Smith, his friends and former teammates still sit back and talk of the way it was when their former coach and mentor was there.

"It was like a fraternity," Smith said. "If you played at Simeon, you knew what was going on. It all happened to us as players. We could recite stories and lines about Hambric. He never changed his routine. Had he changed a little bit, he might have won more state titles. But that wasn't his ultimate goal. He wanted to make young men into men."

But he wouldn't permit freshman to play on the varsity, even Derrick Rose. Today, Smith has two promising freshmen on his varsity roster, Ben Coupet, whose father played at Simeon, and Zack Norvell.

"We wouldn't have freshmen on the roster today if we didn't think they could handle it. Sometimes we put kids on the varsity to show them they aren't ready. But sometimes freshmen are capable of handling it," Smith said.

Yes, times have changed at Simeon.

Seven-run ninth inning dooms White Sox in loss to Royals

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Seven-run ninth inning dooms White Sox in loss to Royals

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — What an implosion.

For a second consecutive game, the White Sox bullpen gave away a contest well in hand.

But Saturday’s version was far more unbelievable than Friday’s.

Trailing by six runs, the Kansas City Royals rallied to score seven times in the bottom of the ninth off David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle to send the White Sox to a stunning 8-7 loss at Kauffman Stadium. Brett Eibner’s bases-loaded RBI single off Kahnle delivered another crushing blow to the White Sox, who have lost 13 of their last 17.

Cheslor Cuthbert singled to start an improbable rally and Eibner doubled to deep right when Adam Eaton lost the ball in the sun. Robertson walked Omar Infante and Alcides Escobar consecutively to force in a run. Whit Merrifield’s grounder then hit off Robertson’s glove and a potential double play turned into a two-run single and made it 7-4. Lorenzo Cain just beat out a double play ball to score another run before Eric Hosmer doubled off Robertson to get Kansas City within a run. Drew Butera, who entered in the ninth inning after Salvador Perez exited with a knee injury, doubled off Kahnle to score the tying run.

The White Sox entered the ninth inning without a care in the world. They had bounced back definitively from Friday’s stunner, when the bullpen surrendered a four-run lead over the final three innings.

An opposite-field approach against Yordano Ventura took hold with two outs in the fourth inning. Brett Lawrie, Alex Avila and Avisail Garcia all had opposite-field singles with the last one putting the White Sox ahead 1-0. Tyler Saladino fell behind in the count, but crushed a hanging 0-2 slider from Ventura out to left for a three-run homer and a four-run lead.

The White Sox offense continued to add on against Ventura. Avila doubled with one out in the fourth inning and Garcia pulverized a 2-1 changeup for a two-run shot. Garcia’s homer, his fifth, traveled 428 feet with an exit velocity of 113 mph. It gave the White Sox a 6-1 advantage.

They tacked on another run in the fifth when Austin Jackson singled, advanced on a wild pitch and scored on a throwing error by Omar Infante. Jackson went 3-for-5.

Carlos Rodon didn’t handle the run support very well at first.

He labored in the second inning as the Royals brought the tying run to the plate. But Rodon got Alcides Escobar to ground out with the bases loaded to end the threat.

Rodon gave up a leadoff double in the third inning and Friday’s hero, Eric Hosmer, singled to make it a 4-1 game. The Royals got no closer however as Rodon struck out Perez and got Paulo Orlando to line out with a man on third.

Rodon needed 68 pitches to complete three innings. He retired the side in order on 12 pitches in the fourth, which gave him enough gas to complete the fifth inning despite allowing two hits. Rodon retired Hosmer on a comebacker and got Perez to ground out, both with two runners in scoring position.

Zach Putnam took over in the sixth and recorded seven outs on 27 pitches. Zach Duke got the final two outs of the eighth and gave way to Robertson.

Salvador Perez left the game in the ninth inning after he and Cuthbert collided midway between home and third on Eaton’s foul pop up with one out in the ninth. Perez removed the shin guard on his left knee and had to be helped off the field only six days after Mike Moustakas and Alex Gordon severely injured each other on a pop up in Chicago. Moustakas is out for the season with a torn ACL while Gordon is on the disabled list with a broken bone in his hand.

Rebuilding Phillies are no match for win-now Cubs at Wrigley

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Rebuilding Phillies are no match for win-now Cubs at Wrigley

Pete Mackanin interviewed for the manager's job that went to Dale Sveum in November 2011 — when the Cubs technically had Carlos Zambrano on their roster and Alfonso Soriano's mega deal still had three seasons remaining. The blueprints for a renovated Wrigley Field were just that, blueprints. Saturday afternoons like this didn't seem at all close, with no guarantees The Plan would ever work.

On a sunny, 75-degree day that started to feel like summer for the crowd of 41,555 at Clark and Addison, the Cubs handled the Philadelphia Phillies, improving their best-in-baseball record to 33-14 with a 4-1 win over a young team now in the rebuilding cycle. 

Kyle Hendricks — who's grown up into an outstanding fifth starter for a first-place team ever since Ryan Dempster decided to waive his no-trade rights and agreed to go to the Texas Rangers minutes before the July 31 trade deadline in 2012 — pitched all nine innings and nearly finished off the shutout.

Dexter Fowler — the final item in late February of a spending spree that approached almost $290 million — drilled his 16th career leadoff home run for what's become a relentless offense. Fowler lifted Jerad Eickhoff's fifth pitch of the game, a 92-mph fastball, and it bounced into and out of the left-center field bleachers. 

Mackanin — a Brother Rice High School graduate who grew up on the South Side and has managed in Venezuela, Australia, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico — knows what his Phillies (26-23) are up against here on Memorial Day weekend. 

"Very formidable team," Mackanin said. "These guys have a lot of everything. They got good pitching and defense. They got dangerous hitters up and down the lineup. It's always tough to come in here and play."

Mackanin became the interim guy when Ryne Sandberg abruptly resigned last summer, managing the Phillies during their surprising three-game sweep and a Cole Hamels no-hitter in late July. Since then, the Cubs are 79-33 and haven't lost a Jake Arrieta regular-season start. 

"A lot of it has to do with the entirety of this place," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "Our young guys are different because they don't act like young guys. Their comportment is not like a young man in a baseball sense where they get it. Their work ethic is so good, how they interact, how they attack the day. They don't take anything for granted. They've had a good day — they don't get haughty and proud of it. They just go back out the next day and play.

"These veteran guys that have been involved in championships know that's what it takes. You get the combination of Wrigley Field, the fan base, this facility and a youth-driven good team, that should bring out the best in all these guys," Maddon said. "It should make them feel that way. It's wonderful to come to the ballpark every day to be attached to all of this. 

"It's just the place you want to be, man. You want to be there as a professional right now in Major League Baseball."

Report: White Sox have interest in San Diego pitcher James Shields

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Report: White Sox have interest in San Diego pitcher James Shields

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The White Sox reportedly have spoken to the San Diego Padres about acquiring starting pitcher James Shields.

The San Diego Union-Tribune confirmed an internet report Saturday that the White Sox have interest in the 34-year-old right-hander. Shields is 2-6 with a 3.06 ERA in 10 starts for the Padres this season.

A member of the Kansas City Royals from 2013-14, Shields is in the second season of a four-year, $75-million deal he signed with San Diego before last season. He is owed at least $44 million over the next two seasons. The contract includes a $16 million team option for 2019 with a $2 million buyout. He’s earning $21 million this season and in 2017 and 2018. Shields can opt out of the deal at the end of the 2016 season.

White Sox general manager Rick Hahn has made it no secret he hopes to add to a club that won 23 of its first 33 games in hopes of contending. Though the Sox had lost 12 of their past 16, they entered Saturday with a half-game lead over the Cleveland Indians and a game over the Royals.

The team’s interest in Shields was first reported Saturday on Twitter by @barstoolWSD.