White, McClendon spark Evergreen Park

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White, McClendon spark Evergreen Park

White, McClendon spark Evergreen Park

By Taylor Bell

Evergreen Park is a Class 4A school (enrollment: 838) in a conference filled with larger schools representing Class 6A and 7A. But college recruiters don't need a road map to find Jaquet McClendon. They always seem to know where talent is.

McClendon, a 6-foot-2, 220-pound junior wide receiver and outside linebacker, is a rising star in the class of 2014. Northwestern, Northern Illinois and other MAC schools have contacted him. But his stock figures to keep climbing and more Division I schools will join the hunt.

"He is the best player I've coached," Evergreen Park coach Dan Hartman said. "He is being recruited as a receiver and outside linebacker. But he is best at receiver. He has 4.5 speed. He also is a basketball player. He doesn't have much football experience. He is still developing."

In a recent game, McClendon caught four passes for 165 yards and two touchdowns. He has rushed for 300 yards and amassed 500 yards via pass receiving.

His close friend, quarterback Brandon White, offers a comprehensive scouting report:

"How good is he? Pretty good if he has the right mind. Sometimes he gets down on himself if things aren't going well. But he was in a good mood last night (in Evergreen Park's 23-7 victory over North Chicago in the first round of the Class 4A playoff).

"We're real close friends. We live a block away from each other. I try to put him in the right state of mind if he has a negative attitude toward things. If he drops a pass he gets down on himself and then he'll shut down unless I talk to him. He realizes how good he can be. I tell him if he stays focused he can be a real great athlete and go to a nice Division I school. He wants to go to Northwestern. He's a real smart kid."

As good as McClendon is, however, the key to Evergreen Park's success is White, a 5-foot-11, 190-pound senior. The three-year starter has passed for 1,320 yards and 16 touchdowns and rushed for 600 yards and 10 touchdowns in Hartman's spread option offense.

"Our quarterback will carry us," Hartman said. "Going into this season, we felt we could do some damage if our quarterback and receivers and defensive ends stepped up and became our leaders."

Last year, Evergreen Park finished 8-4 and lost to Richmond-Burton in the state quarterfinals. Ironically, the Mustangs will play at Richmond-Burton on Saturday in the second round of the Class 4A playoff.

"Last year was a new experience for our kids. They hadn't been to the playoff since 2006 and hadn't won a game in the playoff since the late 1990s. It was something to hang our hats on. That positive experience has helped us to prepare for the playoff this year," Hartman said.

The turning point was the Tinley Park game in Week 8. Evergreen Park was 4-3 and everybody understood that they needed to win two of their last three games to qualify for the playoff.

"We were at a crossroads in the season," Hartman said. "We had our ups and downs. We had injuries. We had battled through them and against the bigger teams in our conference each week. We had been in physical games before. We beat them (26-14) on our home field."

Hartman counts on White, McClendon, 6-foot-1, 280-pound senior wide receiver Mike Reuter, 5-foot-10, 165-pound junior running back Keyshawn Carpenter, 5-foot-11, 230-pound senior tackle Andy Piet, 6-foot-1, 295-pound senior linebacker DaQua Gatewood and 6-foot-2, 220-pound senior defensive end Kyle Ven Huizen.

Reuter has caught 27 passes for 500 yards and eight touchdowns. Carpenter has rushed for 650 yards. Gatewood is the team's leading tackler.

White was a basketball player before he fell in love with football as a sixth grader. "I loved the contact of the sport. I like to make big plays to win big games," he said.

He played cornerback and wide receiver in grammar school. As a freshman, he was moved to quarterback because coaches knew he was a pitcher and had a strong arm.

"I liked the idea. I like to be in charge," White said.

He quarterbacked the freshman team to a 5-4 record. After two games on the sophomore squad, he was promoted to the varsity. He started at linebacker, then started the last three games at quarterback. Last year, he guided Evergreen Park to an 8-4 record, most wins since 1994.

"We had a good team last year but it was more of a running team. We are more balanced this year," White said. "This is a better team. We have more players who contribute off the bench. What is our edge? We are focused on getting to the state final."

With White throwing and McClendon and Reuter catching, Evergreen Park's passing game has picked up this season.

"We didn't have that kind of a threat last year," White said.

He attended three passing camps last summer to improve his mechanics. He has become more accurate and more proficient at reading defenses. "I wanted to improve my game. Now I stay on top of the ball and use my legs. I used to throw with just my arm. Now I feel I'm much better at what I'm doing," he said.

Morning Update: Dwyane Wade comes up clutch in close win vs. Kings

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AP

Morning Update: Dwyane Wade comes up clutch in close win vs. Kings

Dwyane Wade gets a little help but saves the day defensively vs. Kings

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Dwyane Wade gets a little help but saves the day defensively vs. Kings

Dwyane Wade gets a little help but saves the day defensively vs. Kings

It was a gift and the Bulls weren't going to look it in the mouth as Dwyane Wade was poised to finish off another one of his sterling defensive plays with a breakaway dunk with the game tied and Arron Afflalo and DeMarcus Cousins trailing.

Lightly touched by the small of his back by Cousins, Wade miscalculated his liftoff and missed the dunk but was bailed out by the refs for a foul with 14 seconds left.

Then, he bailed the Bulls out.

Wade had his fifth fourth-quarter defensive play, stripping Cousins on a steal on the ensuing possession with the Sacramento Kings having a chance to win, leading to a Michael Carter-Williams dunk and finishing a 102-99 win Saturday night at the United Center.

It was a clock-turning performance for Wade on both ends of the floor, even if his missed dunk is a reminder that he is 35 years old. 

"I took off too far as I look at the instant replay," Wade said. "I should've took maybe one more dribble. Can't say I felt 35, I just took off too far (laughs). But hey, sometimes you get calls, sometimes you don't. I'm a person who hasn't gotten a lot all year so I'm not gonna apologize for nothing."

Stripping Cousins on his spin move was the finale, but he swatted an Arron Afflalo corner triple in the fourth, smothered Ty Lawson at the rim twice for blocked shots to end the third and tortured Lawson again in the fourth for another steal that led to him following up a Jimmy Butler missed layup with a follow and foul.

"Just a read," said Wade on stripping Cousins. "We knew he was gonna go to DeMarcus at that point. Once we forced him left, I knew he had to come back to the right hand. And being in the right place at the right time, the ball was right there for me."

Wade played like a desperate and motivated man, putting up 30 with six rebounds and four assists on the second night of a back-to-back is proof positive he took Friday's loss to Atlanta personally and used his play to back up those feelings.

He took to twitter to apologize for the poor effort against the Hawks, producing his best all-around performance as a Bull.

"We've been good in desperate moments," Wade said. "We haven't been good in non-desperate moments, when we win three in a row or playing a team that we should beat. But (in) the desperate moments I like us."

He scored 13 in the fourth, along with the last of his four blocked shots and all three of his steals took place in the final 12.

"I thought he was terrific," Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. "He was aggressive all game long, taking the ball to the basket, getting to the line 15 times. He came up with two big plays."

Hoiberg threw out different lineups and rotations, playing Paul Zipser as a sixth man and having the second-round draft pick close the game. Zipser took advantage, hitting three triples and scoring 13 points.

"I thought it was night and day from last night," Hoiberg said. "Our energy was really good all night long. We got just enough stops to find a way to win."

Cousins dominated the game with 42 and 14 rebounds in 35 minutes, the only Kings player in double figures all night.

"He was pretty much unguardable for the majority of the game, Taj did a solid job on him," Hoiberg said. "When Robin was on him, they put him on the perimeter and let him shoot threes. He's a monster."

Back-to-back triples from Cousins gave him 40 and tied the game at 97, as a third one rimmed out with a little under two minutes left.

Cousins dominated the start of the third quarter, hitting midrange jumpers over Lopez and taunting the Bulls bench after hitting a jumper to put the Kings ahead, 70-63 midway through the third.

But the Bulls stayed close, with Hoiberg choosing to sit Rajon Rondo for the second half after playing him six minutes in the second quarter, using Wade as a point guard and going with Carter-Williams for defense, along with Zipser, who didn't look scared of the moment.

"I like the wrinkle coach put in there, putting him in early," Wade said. "He gave him an opportunity and he helped us big time."

Butler scored 23 with seven assists and five rebounds in 39 minutes, didn't have to play the hero for once and made fun of Wade's apology tweet.

"He was due for a big night," Butler said. "He can tweet again if he can come out again and give us 30 and some big steals and big dunks."

"I think that's what called of him, to score baskets and guard. It's kinda sneaky. You never really expect it until it happens."

It looked like the worst was over when the Bulls made a short run to end the third, surviving the onslaught from Cousins — and surviving their own experimenting with Zipser instead of going with Denzel Valentine, switching things up altogether.

But the tone was set by the leaders, who can only manufacture but so much urgency on a nightly basis.

"I like this team when we're desperate," Wade said. "A desperate team, we're not bad."