Who was the best of the holidays?

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Who was the best of the holidays?

Roy and Harv Schmidt of Illinois Prep Bulls-Eye are two of the leading recruiting analysts in the nation. For 26 years, they have provided an insightful and comprehensive evaluation of the best high school basketball players in Illinois. During the recent Christmas holidays, they attended seven tournaments from Pontiac to Wheeling. Here is what they saw and how
they saw it:Best team: Simeon. Coach Robert Smith's defense is more effective than his offense. Remember, defense wins championships. But Proviso East has closed the gap. The Pirates have almost as much depth. But do they have a clear-cut difference-maker? Will Keith Carter continue to provide the consistent spark that he did at Proviso West?Best player: Jabari Parker. Even though he didn't dominate every game at Pontiac, he stepped up when his team needed it the most. Steve Taylor was more consistent but Parker stepped up when it mattered the most in the 48-47 semifinal victory over Peoria Manual.All-Holiday Tournament Team: Jabari Parker, Steve Taylor, Kendrick Nunn, Simeon; Keith Carter, Proviso East; Donald Moore, Bloom.Best shooters: Mike Fleming, Stevenson; Mike LaTulip, Prospect. Fleming made significant strides with his game. He was MVP at Wheeling. When they went head-to-head at Wheeling, Fleming scored 28, LaTulip 18.Best rebounder: Steve Taylor, Simeon. As usual, he went to war in every game at Pontiac. He is an ideal 34 forward for Marquette's program.Best shot blocker: Cliff Alexander, Curie. More than anyone else, the 6-foot-9 sophomore has the best natural ability to block shots.Best playmaker: Tyler Ulis, Marian Catholic. He is as good a ball-handler and decision-maker as any point guard in the class of 2014.Best defenders: Kendrick Nunn, Simeon; Keith Carter, Proviso East. Carter did an outstanding job against Rockford Auburn's Fred Van Vleet, limiting the Wichita State recruit to 10 points.Best free throw shooter: Mike LaTulip, Prospect. He converts 90 percent of his free throws.Most intimidating player: Jahlil Okafor, Whitney Young. There isn't a more unstoppable post player at the high school level than the 6-foot-10 sophomore.Best passer: Jalen James, Hope Academy. The Illinois recruit does a tremendous job of pushing the ball up the floor.Best ball-handler: Tyler Ulis, Marian Catholic. Not only does he have great ball-handling ability but has the uncanny knack for lulling defenders to sleep while exploding to the basket.Best coach: Rick Kehoe, St. Ignatius. He did an outstanding job in guiding his team to the championship at the Jack Tosh Holiday Classic at York. He always has his teams prepared and ready to play and wins despite not always having the best talent.Best player you've never heard of: Ore Arogundade, St. Viator. The 6-foot-3 sophomore guard has the potential to be a high-major college player. He was all-tournament at Wheeling. He scored 18 against Naperville Central, 25 against Prospect.Players whose stock sky-rocketed: Sean O'Mara, Benet; Juwan Starks, West Aurora. O'Mara, a 6-foot-9 sophomore, has clearly shown that he is behind only Jahlil Okafor of Whitney Young and Cliff Alexander of Curie as one of the premier post players in the class of 2014. Starks, a 6-foot-4 senior, has firmly established himself as a Division I recruit for the spring signing period.Best game: Simeon 48, Peoria Manual 47, Pontiac semifinal. "The third quarter was possibly the best quarter of basketball action I've seen at Pontiac in 26 years," Roy Schmidt said. "Just non-stop action and intensity."Teams to watch in the New Year: Naperville Central, St. Ignatius, Metea Valley, Plainfield East. Naperville Central beat St. Viator, Libertyville and Stevenson to win at Wheeling. St. Ignatius upset Downers Grove South and De La Salle to win at York. Both proved they can compete against top-level competition but will continue to be tested in their respective conferences.Biggest disappointments: Cliff Alexander, Curie; Homewood-Flossmoor. Alexander wasn't a focal point on offense in any game at Pontiac and relies too much on his athletic ability instead of being a dominant presence. Time is running out on H-F to prove its worth. They have been highly touted for three years and still have trouble getting over the hump in big games.Best playincident I'm glad I saw: At the risk of being redundant, the entire third quarter of the SimeonPeoria Manual semifinal at Pontiac.Best playincident I wish I had seen: Overall good free throw shooting. Do teams even practice free throw shooting anymore? It cost several teams opportunities to win games.Best story: Marshall finished third in the Normandy tournament in St. Louis without its best player, 6-foot-4 senior Milton Doyle, who was forced to stay home with the flu. Corbin McClain, Derrick Miles and Citron Miller stepped up big for coach Henry Cotton's Commandoes, who are 11-2.Best conference: Public League's Red-West. As in the old days, every game in the section will be a war. Orr, North Lawndale, Collins, Crane, Marshall, Farragut and Whitney Young are dominant.Best act of sportsmanship: The Simeon team shaking hands with former Peoria Manual star Howard Nathan, who was sitting in a wheelchair at courtside prior to the SimeonPeoria Manual semifinal at Pontiac.

Cubs: The Aroldis Chapman Show begins at Wrigley Field

Cubs: The Aroldis Chapman Show begins at Wrigley Field

Rage Against the Machine’s “Wake Up” blasted from the Wrigley Field sound system at 9:51 p.m. on Wednesday as Aroldis Chapman trotted toward the mound. Nothing would get lost in translation as the Cubs unleashed their new closer on the White Sox.

Chapman didn’t feel the full rush of adrenaline, because a revived offense scored five runs in the eighth inning, ending the save situation and any real suspense for the crowd of 41,166. The game within the game became looking up at the 3,990-square-foot LED video board in left field for the velocity reading after each pitch and listening to the oohs and aahs.

Chapman made it look easy against the middle of the White Sox lineup, with 13 of his 15 pitches clocked between 100 and 103 mph in the ninth inning of an 8-1 victory. That triple-digit default setting, fluid left-handed delivery and intimidating presence showed why the Cubs made a game-changing trade with the New York Yankees.

The first impressions from Tuesday’s press conference apparently bothered Chapman enough that he initially refused to speak to the reporters waiting around his locker after his debut. There had been questions about his 30-game suspension under Major League Baseball’s domestic violence policy, the off-the-field expectations from chairman Tom Ricketts and where the wires got crossed with coach/translator Henry Blanco.

After taking a shower – and listening to a few associates inside the clubhouse – Chapman agreed to two minutes of questions with catcher Miguel Montero acting as his translator.

“It happened,” Chapman said when asked about his portrayal in the Chicago media. “Don’t want to go further with it.”

The controversy will begin to fade after Chapman struck out Jose Abreu swinging at a 91-mph slider that almost scraped the dirt, forced Todd Frazier into a routine groundball and struck out pinch-hitter Avisail Garcia looking at a 103-mph fastball.

“It’s just entertaining to watch the gun, beyond everything else,” manager Joe Maddon said. “He’s a different kind of a pitcher. You don’t see that every 100 years or so. He’s just that good. Everybody talks about the fastball. How good is the slider? The slider is devastating.

“He was very calm in the moment. He was able to get through the last couple days to go out there. It was almost good it wasn’t a save situation just to get his feet on the ground.”

Picture the drama and the excitement when Chapman isn’t throwing with a seven-run lead and has to get the final three outs in a playoff game at Wrigley Field.

“I’m not impressed – I thought we were getting a guy that threw 105,” winning pitcher Jason Hammel joked. “I’ve never seen anything like it.

“It’s jaw-dropping. To see that type of velocity and command, it’s almost unfair to have a slider and offspeed pitches after that, too.”

This is what the Cubs envisioned when they decided to weather the media storms and absorb the PR hits, how Maddon could reimagine the entire bullpen and the whole team would sense the game-over feeling when the ball is in Chapman’s left hand.

“That’s a confidence-booster for us and it’s a morale kick for anybody out there,” Hammel said. “For the other side, it’s got to be black clouds: ‘Oh man, we can’t let the bullpen get in there.’”

Cubs felt the inevitable sense of trading a big-time prospect like Gleyber Torres

Cubs felt the inevitable sense of trading a big-time prospect like Gleyber Torres

The New York Yankees directed blanket coverage of the Cubs in the weeks leading up to the Aroldis Chapman deal, looking closely at prospects throughout their farm system. Three names figured to be prominent if the Yankees decided to sell and the Cubs wanted to make a blockbuster trade: Gleyber Torres, Eloy Jimenez and Ian Happ.

The Yankees made Torres their headliner in that four-player return from the Cubs, getting the organization’s top prospect and a supremely talented defensive shortstop out of Venezuela. The Cubs invested $1.7 million in Torres during the summer of 2013, the signing formalized the same day as the Jake Arrieta trade with the Baltimore Orioles.

This has been years in the making for Theo Epstein’s front office, building the first-place team that drew 41,116 to Wrigley Field for Wednesday night’s 8-1 crosstown victory over the White Sox, watching Chapman throw 13 pitches in the ninth inning that hit triple digits on the huge video board, understanding that the Cubs had to sacrifice parts of their future for the now.

“That’s the right word – inevitable – just because of the timing of when we thought we were going to be good,” said Jason McLeod, the senior vice president of scouting and player development. “We all knew as we were doing this that there was going to come that time when you trade the player that you not only feel is an impact-type prospect, but the organization just loves the person.

“Gleyber certainly fits that. That was one of the tougher calls I’ve ever had where we’re trading a guy, just because of how much the kid meant to us personally, and just hearing him, too.

“He was – as you would expect (with) a 19-year-old – shaken up and saddened by it, just because in three short years he had dreamt of nothing but being a Cub and playing here at Wrigley. I just told him: ‘You’ll still be wearing pinstripes. They’ll just be a different (color).’”

The Cubs didn’t want to trade core guys off their major-league roster and have a middle-infield foundation with Addison Russell, Javier Baez and Ben Zobrist. So they gave up a high-floor player from Class-A Myrtle Beach while holding onto Jimenez and Happ and seeking out more possible deals before the Aug. 1 trade deadline.

“All of them would have been hard to swallow,” McLeod said. “But we know that’s part of why we try to stockpile as much talent as we can.”

The Cubs can market Happ as another polished college switch-hitter with first-round pedigree, second baseman/outfielder versatility and an early ETA (already at Double-A Tennessee during his first full season of professional baseball).

Jimenez – who got a $2.8 million bonus out of the Dominican Republic during the same signing class as Torres – enjoyed a breakout performance during the All-Star Futures Game in San Diego and almost has a .900 OPS at Class-A South Bend.

At the age of 19, with a 6-foot-4, 205-pound frame and a smooth right-handed swing, Jimenez reminds the Cubs a little bit of Kris Bryant during his freshman season at the University of San Diego, meaning the sky is the limit.

Tonight on CSN: Cubs-White Sox finale from Wrigley

Tonight on CSN: Cubs-White Sox finale from Wrigley

The Crosstown Classic concludes on Thursday at Wrigley Field as the White Sox square off against the Cubs on CSN Chicago. Coverage begins with Cubs Pregame Live at 6 p.m. Be sure to stick around after the final out to get analysis and player reaction on Cubs Postgame Live.

Today’s starting pitching matchup: Chris Sale (14-3, 3.18 ERA) vs. John Lackey (7-7, 3.79 ERA)

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