H-F, Hill know how to handle publicity

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H-F, Hill know how to handle publicity

Homewood-Flossmoor coach Jim McLaughlin rolled his eyes. It was the kind of thing every coach dreads to see--two full-page stories on his team on successive days in a daily metropolitan newspaper. Too much publicity can often lead to inflated egos, petty jealousies and overconfidence. And that isn't good.

But McLaughlin, in his eighth season at H-F, thinks his 2012-13 squad is mature enough to handle it. The No. 4 ranked Vikings are 7-0 going into Friday night's game against Lincoln-Way East. Then they'll meet Ellison on Dec. 22 in the opening round of the Proviso West Holiday Tournament.

With three starters and nine players returning from a 22-8 squad that lost to Bloom in the sectional final, McLaughlin had every reason to believe that this team could be comparable to his 27-2 team in 2008 or his 28-4 team in 2006 or former coach Roy Condotti's 31-3 powerhouse with Julian Wright that lost to Peoria Central and Shaun Livingston in the Class AA state championship in 2004.

"We have some pieces," he said. "We have size, two 6-foot-8 kids, a 6-foot-5, 220-pound power forward, big people who an move and get up and down the floor. And we have guards who are long and lanky and have speed. Size and length with quickness. Potentially, we will be very good.

"We saw it last year in practice. The junior class was a unique group. They competed and played hard. They pushed the seniors. They never backed down. When we got them together in the summer for 25 days, they won some tournaments and beat good teams. We saw they were a unique group."

The leader is 6-foot-5, 220-pound senior power forward Maurius Hill, who averages 12 points and 10 rebounds per game. "He is our hardest worker, a great competitor. He brings his lunch bucket every day," McLaughlin said.

Other starters are 6-foot-4 senior point guard Rashaan Surles (16 ppg), 6-foot-8 senior Lamar Wofford-Humphrey (8 ppg, 4 rpg), 6-foot-4 senior Ricky Bullock (5 ppg) and 6-foot-4 senior Jason Scott (7 ppg, 4 rpg). Tai Odiase, a 6-foot-8 junior, contributes eight points and five rebounds off the bench.

"I like how hard they work every day," McLaughlin said. "They are committed to defending. Even on bad nights you can find a way to win when you play good defense. We have the pieces to apply a lot of pressure on people and execute in a half-court setting."

It all revolves around Hill. McLaughlin said he had circled last Sunday's game against Curie and 6-foot-9 Cliff Alexander on his calendar. H-F scored only two points in the last 5:33 but still managed to win 42-40 as Hill had 14 points and 12 rebounds. For his effort, Hill was named Athlete of the Week by the Chicago Sun-Times. Two back-to-back full-page stories with color pictures to boot.

"The players saw it. The coach mentioned it but he didn't make a big deal of it. He said to be humble and continue to play with the same intensity," Hill said. "I feel it is like taking baby steps. The bigger prize is out there. I don't want it to make my head big. I'm the Athlete of the Week. I'm handling it pretty well. I enjoy the moment but I don't let it go to my head. I feel I can do better."

Hill admits he doesn't mind the spotlight. "Some friends gave me a lot of grief. But some congratulated me. I would like to have more of those days," he said.

And fewer of the kind of days he experienced last season. "It was a disappointment. It wasn't a failure but a learning experience. Some kids didn't work as hard as they should have. The seniors had too many egos. It showed us that nothing is handed to you. You have to earn it. You can't let egos get in the way. You have to be together on and off the court," he said.

"This is my team. My role is to keep everybody together, to keep everybody on the same page. Everybody knows what is going on. Everybody has a clue. I have to make sure everyone is dedicated to working hard. My personal goal is to get my team Downstate."

Hill said what he likes most about this team is the players all get along on and off the floor and push each other in practice. Every day, they play a game called 'war,' a box-out drill designed to prevent opponents from getting rebounds.

"There is a lot of intensity," he said. "You have to box out and not foul in the drill. There is a lot of pushing and shoving, a lot of cuts and bruises, very physical. It gets us ready for games."

But McLaughlin admits it isn't all roses. There is one dandelion in the garden. His team has a shortcoming that he hopes to remedy during the two weeks his team has to prepare for the Proviso West tournament.

"We must become smarter on offense, what is a good shot for us, where to take it from, get the right guys I the right spots," he said. "We have guys who want to be coached. They are quick learners. Proviso West is a big test every year. We have touched every trophy at Proviso West but only won once (2003). Our goal is to play our best basketball when we get to March."
   
"Other teams weren't as focused to go Downstate. This group is focused," Hill said. "The last time H-F was Downstate was the Julian Wright team. This team can do it. It would be a big disappointment if we don't do it. We have the pieces to get there."

Cubs Talk Podcast: Breaking down the World Series hangover

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Breaking down the World Series hangover

Do the Cubs have a World Series hangover?

On the latest edition of the Cubs Talk Podcast, NBC Sports Bay Area Giants Insider Alex Pavlovic joins CSN's Patrick Mooney to talk about the World Series hangover, how last year's playoff loss lingered in San Francisco, Johnny Cueto's quirks, the legend of Madison Bumgarner and Jeff Samardzija's ups and downs.

Plus Kelly Crull, Jeff Nelson and Tony Andracki break down the Cubs’ defensive struggles this year compared to an historic 2016 and how Ian Happ fits into the Cubs’ lineup in both the short and long term.

Listen to the latest episode below:

What does Caleb Swanigan's departure for NBA mean for Purdue and the 2018 Big Ten title race?

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USA TODAY

What does Caleb Swanigan's departure for NBA mean for Purdue and the 2018 Big Ten title race?

Caleb Swanigan, unsurprisingly, is heading to the NBA.

Last season’s Big Ten Player of the Year announced Wednesday that he’ll pass up the final two seasons of his NCAA eligibility for a paying gig at the professional level, an awesome opportunity for a kid who battled obesity and homelessness to become one of the best basketball players in the country.

But Swanigan’s departure from West Lafayette means a heck of a lot to the Big Ten.

Without the league’s most dominant big man, what becomes of Purdue’s chances at winning a conference title? Similarly, with a weakened — though still strong — group of Boilermakers, what does the Big Ten race look like going into 2017-18?

First, Purdue. Matt Painter’s program is plenty healthy, and while there’s no doubt that losing Swanigan is a big deal, the Boilers got some really good news, too, Wednesday when Vincent Edwards announced he’ll be returning for his senior season. Seven-footer Isaac Haas also made the decision to return to West Lafayette, meaning the towering frontcourt hasn’t been completely decimated just because tha man called “Biggie” is gone.

Purdue will also return Carsen Edwards, who had an impressive freshman campaign, and Dakota Mathias, a terrific defender and 3-point shooter. Two more important pieces — P.J. Thompson and Ryan Cline — are back, as well. And Painter will welcome in freshman Nojel Eastern, a highly touted guard from Evanston.

So the Boilers are still in very good shape. There will be a big magnifying glass on Haas, who despite his physical attributes hasn’t always found consistent on-court success. But there have been plenty of flashes of brilliance from the big man. A big step forward in his game would go a long way in easing the blow of losing Swanigan and could keep Purdue as one of the frontrunners for a conference title.

That brings us to the Big Ten race. Ever since Miles Bridges, the conference’s reigning Freshman of the Year, announced he’d be returning to Michigan State for his sophomore season, the Spartans have been the near-unanimous favorite. Only something like Swanigan deciding to stay at Purdue could’ve changed that. And with Swanigan expectedly heading to the NBA, Michigan State remains the preseason pick to win the conference crown.

Like any good year in the Big Ten, though, there will be challengers.

But Michigan State is the popular choice to win it because of Tom Izzo’s insane 2016 recruiting class is returning completely intact: Bridges, Nick Ward, Cassius Winston and Joshua Langford are all back. And Izzo brings in one of the top 2017 recruits in forward Jaren Jackson.

But Sparty isn’t the only one with an impressive returning group. Purdue’s experienced roster has already been covered. Northwestern, a surprise contender in 2016-17, should be even better as Bryant McIntosh, Vic Law and Scottie Lindsey enter their fourth year playing together. Dererk Pardon, a shot-blocking whiz at center, is also back, as is sharp-shooter Aaron Falzon, who sat out the 2016-17 season with an injury after starting during his freshman year in 2015-16.

There will be big shoes to fill for some perennial contenders like Maryland — which must replace Melo Trimble — and Michigan, which watched eligibility run out on Derrick Walton Jr. and Zak Irvin before D.J. Wilson decided to head to the professional ranks Wednesday. But those teams have plenty of talent returning, too. The Terps will have all three of their fab freshmen — Justin Jackson, Anthony Cowan and Kevin Huerter — back for sophomore seasons, while the Wolverines have Moe Wagner back in the fold alongside Xavier Simpson and Duncan Robinson, among others.

And what of last year’s shocking contender, Minnesota? The Golden Gophers didn’t lose too much this offseason and will return almost every main player from last year’s 24-10 squad: Amir Coffey, Nate Mason, Reggie Lynch, Jordan Murphy, Dupree McBrayer and Eric Curry.

There are up-and-comers to think about, too, such as last year’s freshman-heavy squads at Iowa and Penn State. And could new head coaches Brad Underwood and Archie Miller make instant splashes at Illinois and Indiana, respectively?

If it sounds a little too much like the annual coach speak that “any team can win on any night” in the Big Ten, that’s because there is a good deal of truth to that oft-used phrase.

There are definitely tiers to this thing, though. Even without Swanigan, Purdue is still in one of those upper tiers. But there might be no team besides Michigan State at the very top of the heap, something underscored by Swanigan turning pro.