5 Questions with...Sun-Times' Neil Hayes

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5 Questions with...Sun-Times' Neil Hayes

By Jeff Nuich
CSN Chicago Senior Director of CommunicationsCSNChicago.com Contributor

Want to know more about your favorite Chicago media celebrities? CSNChicago.com has your fix as we put the citys most popular personalities on the spot with everyones favorite local celeb feature entitled 5 Questions with...

On Wednesdays, exclusively on CSNChicago.com, its our turn to grill the local media and other local VIPs with five random sports and non-sports related questions that will definitely be of interest to old and new fans alike.

This weeks guestone of the hardest working beat writers in town who covers one of the best, if not THE best team in the NBA: the 2011-12 Chicago BullsBulls fans are hoping this guy keeps covering games for the next two months as the Bulls strive to bring the city its first NBA title since the Jordan erawhat are we waiting for, its playoff time for crying out loud!...get ready for 5 Questions withNEIL HAYES!

BIO: Neil Hayes returned to his native state in 2006 after spending 15 years covering the San Francisco Bay Area sports scene. Since being hired at the Sun-Times, he has covered Northwestern football, Notre Dame football, the Bears & Bulls, while also producing features and columns on other local and national sports stories. He is the author of When the Game Stands Tall: The Story of the De La Salle Spartans and Footballs Longest Winning Streak. His book inspired the ESPN documentary, 151: The Greatest Streak, which he also wrote. Hayes is also the co-author of The Last Putt: Two Teams, Two Dreams and a Freshman named Tiger. In 2005, he was named one of the Top Ten sports columnists in the nation in the 100,000-250,000 circulation category by the Associated Press Sports Editors.

The Northern Arizona University and Rochelle Township High School graduate grew up in a home where Bears Sundays were sacred. He also spent countless summer nights trying to make out shadowy White Sox players in what appeared to be a snowstorm on UHF Channel 44.

1) CSNChicago.com: Neil, with NBA Playoff time upon us once again, the thrilling prospect of another NBA championship returning to Chicago is on everyones mind, especially within the legions of die-hard Bulls fans in our city and around the globe. Optimism runs high among fans this time of year, especially with the teams solid starting line-up and very deep bench. Simple question: should we be optimistic about them winning it all this year? Your thoughts.

Hayes: After what this franchise has been through since Michael Jordan retired, youd be crazy not to. The Bulls, Heat, Spurs and Thunder are all championship contenders in my mind with the Celtics, Lakers and Pacers being potential dark horses. The Bulls are going to need some sort of advantage to get past the Heat, whether it be a Heat player being slowed by poor performance or injury or some lights-out shooting by Kyle Korver andor Rip Hamilton, but it can definitely be done. Derrick Roses health is the key, obviously, and Luol Deng and Carlos Boozer will have to step up as well. Coach Tom Thibodeau also needs to find a way to use his bench as effectively in the postseason, when rotations are shortened, as he has during the regular season.

2) CSNChicago.com: If the stars align and both teams advance through the first two rounds as they are expected to, an Eastern Conference Finals re-match against LeBron & Co. seems very likely to occur once again. What are your top 3 on-court key elements that the Bulls need to accomplish to get past the Heat this year?

Hayes: They are going to have to match the Heats physicality. That was an issue in the regular-season finale between these two teams, when the Bulls were bullied by LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. Assuming Rose is healthy, they will also need Carlos Boozer to win his matchup with Chris Bosh, not only when it comes to scoring, but rebounding as well.

The Bulls ability to dominate the boards is a great equalizer, and they were out-rebounded in the last game in Miami.

Finally, they are going to need the Bench Mob to really step up and make a difference, by which I mean make some shots. It may be Taj Gibson, who can make an impact on both ends of the court, or perhaps Korver, as I mentioned earlier, or even John Lucas III hitting some timely threes. Omer Asik was injured in the Eastern Conference Finals last season. Many inside the Bulls organization believe not having Asik to defend the rim when Noah was on the bench was a huge factor in that series.

3) CSNChicago.com: As youve naturally already read, GQ recently published an interview with Bulls superstar Derrick Rose. In that interview, Rose stated hes still not used to the limelight and all the well-deserved attention he receives on a daily basis. He also discussed how Michael Jordans six titles with the Bulls drives him and makes him work even harder. In your opinion, is it even fair to put that kind of pressure on D-Rose at this early point in his career to compare him to MJ?

Hayes: I dont think anybody puts that pressure on Derrick. He puts it on himself. Hes a very driven individual and that drive is largely responsible for where he is today. It defines who he is. As far as handling fame, Derrick is one of the most unique athletes Ive ever covered. Ive never meet anybody -- inside or outside of sports -- who is as genuinely humble and sincere. Thats why the story about him going to management and asking them to trade Carlos Boozer for Pau Gasol earlier this season didnt make sense to me. If you know Derrick, even a little bit, you know hes not capable of that type of manipulation. Hes just not wired that way. Hes an introvert in a very extroverted world. He will grow more accustomed how he will have to live his life, but he will never be comfortable being the center of attention anywhere other than a basketball court.

4) CSNChicago.com: As someone who has interviewed countless pro athletes in the NBA, NFL and many other sports over the years, whos been your favorite athlete to interview and why?

Hayes: Interesting question. I used to have great conversations with ex-49ers quarterback Steve Young. He was the most down-to-earth superstar Ive been around. He was one of the highest paid athletes in sports and was living in a loft he was remodeling himself. He even changed his own oil. I remember a long conversation with him about handling fame. He said, Fame is an elaborate hoax the world plays on you. He went on to say if an athlete wants to get noticed, hell wear the most expensive clothes, sunglasses and be ushered into private dining rooms with his entourage. He found the best way to go unnoticed was to put his name on the restaurant's waiting list, sit down and wait like everybody else. I thought that was a refreshing perspective.

As far as Chicago guys, Paul Konerko is everything you think he is. Hes as thoughtful and humble as it gets. his Bulls teams might be the best collection of athletes in one locker room Ive ever worked with, and that extends to general manager Gar Forman and vice president John Paxson. What they say about hockey players is true, too. Most come from blue-collar backgrounds and are amazingly level-headed and easy to deal with. For the most part, they dont worry about spinning things. They are the most accountable group of athletes youll ever be around.

5) CSNChicago.com: Lastly, and this one is hard-hitting Neil so get ready: tell us your favorite basketball-themed movie(s) of all-time. Interviewers note: TVs The White Shadow is an acceptable answer.

Hayes: I loved "The White Shadow" as a kid. I never missed an episode. Ironically enough, Thomas Carter, who played James Hollywood Hayward during the three-year series run, is now a Hollywood director who has signed on to direct a movie based on my first book, When the Game Stands Tall. I havent yet had a chance to pick his brain about his days on the set of "The White Shadow," but I will. Im also a sucker for "Hoosiers." Its not only a great basketball movie, but one of the great sports movies of all time. Hoop Dreams was also excellent.

Hayes LINKS

Chicago Sun-Times Sports official home page

Neil Hayes on Facebook

Neil Hayes on Twitter

The complete 2016 Big Ten football preview

The complete 2016 Big Ten football preview

Welcome back, college football. We missed you.

With the 2016 college football season officially upon us, we come to the culmination of CSNChicago.com's outrageously comprehensive Big Ten football preview.

Take a look at some of the big-picture pieces previewing and attempting to predict what will happen in the conference this season, and go team-by-team for the biggest storylines on all 14 of the campuses throughout Big Ten Country.

Games start this week, so be sure to get your reading in now. You'll be an expert by kickoff.

Why all 14 teams will/won't win the Big Ten this season

Five games that will decide who plays for the Big Ten title

Who wins the Big Ten Championship Game in 2016?

A third straight College Football Playoff appearance for the Big Ten?

The @CSNBigTen preseason All-Big Ten Team

Illinois Fighting Illini

Illini have bought in to Lovie, a positive sign for recruiting

In his final season, Wes Lunt looks to lead Illini through more change

Will Ke'Shawn Vaughn flourish as Illini's go-to back?

Video: CSN goes 1-on-1 with Illini coach Lovie Smith

Video: Wes Lunt on Illinois' offense for 2016

Video: Lovie Smith: "There's a rebirth to our program"

Video: Lovie Smith talks about recruiting process with Illini

Video: Whitman is "confident" Illini will see progress under Lovie

Video: Illinois football impact players ready for the 2016 season

Indiana Hoosiers

To take Hoosiers higher, Kevin Wilson needs to finally fix defense

Devine Redding next to run wild for Hoosiers

Iowa Hawkeyes

Can Hawkeyes turn in worthy encore performance?

C.J. Beathard looks to lead another strong campaign for Hawkeyes

Can Desmond King be even better for Hawkeyes?

Video: C.J. Beathard: "Now we know what it's going to take" to win

Maryland Terrapins

Can DJ Durkin build up Terps in loaded Big Ten East?

Will Likely looks to impact all phases of game for Terps

Can Terps fix woeful quarterback play from a year ago?

Video: Maryland football coach Durkin: "We can recruit with anyone"

Michigan Wolverines

Harbaugh's turnaround yields huge expectations for Michigan

Lewis, Peppers to star for Michigan defense (and everywhere else)

Michigan's pass-catchers should make life easy for new QB

Video: Michigan players on what Jim Harbaugh brings

Michigan State Spartans

Overlooked again, perennial-power Spartans don't sweat lack of hype

Connor Cook leaves big shoes to fill at QB for Michigan State

Malik McDowell and the Spartans defense look to wreak havoc

Video: Michigan State prepared for Big Ten season

Minnesota Golden Gophers

Tracy Claeys continues Gophers on path Jerry Kill started

Can Gophers' Mitch Leidner live up to surprising NFL Draft buzz?

Video: Leidner, Claeys talk Gopher QB's NFL Draft buzz

Nebraska Cornhuskers

After six-win season, can Huskers find normalcy under Mike Riley?

Can Tommy Armstrong better get the ball to Huskers' offensive weapons?

Northwestern Wildcats

To contend for title, Northwestern needs to win the big games

In Year 2 as starter, Clayton Thorson looks to improve Cats' passing game

Lighter load for Justin Jackson could prove big for Northwestern

Losing several starters, Northwestern reloads on defense

Video: Pat Fitzgerald talks about Northwestern's 2016 season

Video: Fitzgerald reacts to nine-game Big Ten schedule

Video: Who is Chicago's Big Ten team? Fitz responds

Ohio State Buckeyes

Even after losing so much to NFL, Buckeyes don't rebuild, they reload

J.T. Barrett primed for big year as the Buckeyes' only QB

Can Mike Weber follow in Ezekiel Elliott's footsteps?

Video: J.T. Barrett talks talented but inexperienced Buckeyes

Penn State Nittany Lions

Penn State hopes to see sanctions-impacted decisions pay off

Is Penn State's Saquon Barkley already the Big Ten's best back?

Will new coordinator, new QB fix ailing Penn State offense?

Video: James Franklin: "I think you're going to see progress"

Video: Penn State thinks Saquon Barkley is the best running back

Purdue Boilermakers

Can Darrell Hazell turn optimism into results at Purdue?

Will another season bring another QB quandary for Purdue?

Rutgers Scarlet Knights

In Chris Ash, Rutgers has the change it desperately needed

Janarion Grant an all-around weapon for Rutgers

Chris Ash using Meyer, Bielema influence at Rutgers

Video: Hamilton: Chris Ash "everything you look for in a coach"

Wisconsin Badgers

Healthy Corey Clement ready to break out with Badgers' experienced RB corps

Badgers face daunting schedule in and out of conference

Can Badgers continue defensive success under new coordinator?

Video: Vince Biegel on Badgers' defensive coordinator switch

Viewers' Choice: Vote for High School Lites Week 2 Coverage

Viewers' Choice: Vote for High School Lites Week 2 Coverage

Who wants it more?

We are putting High School Lites, Chicagoland’s top prep sports show, in the hands of area football fans in our “Viewers’ Choice Game of the Week.” Fans will get the chance to pick one game that the @CSNPreps crew will cover on Friday night. We will send our cameras to the game that gets the most votes; highlights of that game will appear on that night’s “High School Lites” broadcast at 11:00pm—just after White Sox baseball. The show also live streams at csnchicago.com. High School Lites will also have broadcast replays at 7:30am and 8:30am the following Saturday. This week, we head back out to “The Region,” as fans will choose between the following Northwest Indiana games:

Crown Point at Merrillville, 7 p.m.

Lake Central at Portage, 7 p.m.

Polls open Monday at noon and close Thursday at 4 p.m. Fans are encouraged to vote more than once! Vote now right here.

Be sure to follow @CSNPreps for updates on the “Viewers’ Choice Game of the week,” along with other football news, scores and highlights this season.

Rules: official votes are tabulated exclusively on Twitter and Facebook via the link above. “Re-Tweets” and “Likes” do not count. Also, the original wording of the Twitter/Facebook voting prompt (including hashtags) cannot be manipulated in any fashion. However, feel free to add emojis, numbers, etc. at the end of an official vote’s text, provided there is a space after the final hashtag. Automatically timed-interval (“bot”) votes will also not count.

Big Ten preview: The @CSNBigTen preseason All-Big Ten Team

Big Ten preview: The @CSNBigTen preseason All-Big Ten Team

It's pretty hard to project who will be the best players in the Big Ten.

But thanks to last year's success and high hopes for their teams, we can cobble together a preseason all-conference roster.

It will surely look different in December than it does right now — and hopefully we didn't come up with too glaring an omission — but here it is, your @CSNBigTen preseason All-Big Ten Team.

Offense

Quarterback: J.T. Barrett, Ohio State

Running back: Justin Jackson, Northwestern

Running back: Corey Clement, Wisconsin

Wide receiver: Amara Darboh, Michigan

Wide receiver: Jordan Westerkamp, Nebraska

Tight end: Jake Butt, Michigan

Offensive line: Dan Feeney, Indiana

Offensive line: Pat Elflein, Ohio State

Offensive line: Erik Magnuson, Michigan

Offensive line: Brian Allen, Michigan State

Offensive line: Billy Price, Ohio State

Defense

Defensive line: Malik McDowell, Michigan State

Defensive line: Chris Wormley, Michigan

Defensive line: Dawuane Smoot, Illinois

Defensive line: Ryan Glasgow, Michigan

Linebacker: Anthony Walker, Northwestern

Linebacker: Raekwon McMillan, Ohio State

Linebacker: Vince Biegel, Wisconsin

Linebacker: Hardy Nickerson, Illinois

Defensive back: Jourdan Lewis, Michigan

Defensive back: Desmond King, Iowa

Defensive back: Jabrill Peppers, Michigan

Defensive back: Will Likely, Maryland

Special teams

Return specialist: Janarion Grant, Rutgers

Kicker: Griffin Oakes, Indiana

Punter: Cameron Johnston, Ohio State