Henry's crossover sparks R-B surge

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Henry's crossover sparks R-B surge

A year ago, Riverside-Brookfield's basketball team was 23-6 but Damonta Henry wasn't a part of it. He suffered a broken finger while leaping to block a shot in practice and was forced to sit out until the regional tournament. All he could do was look forward to the 2011-12 season.

"It was pretty frustrating. I couldn't help my teammates. I knew I could help them but I couldn't shoot or dribble," Henry said. "I wanted to work hard in the off-season to get better and help my team go Downstate."

The 5-foot-11 junior point guard dreams of playing in the Big 10. But he said his ball-handling was "kind of shaky," the result of not handling the ball for an entire year. His cross-over dribble wasn't so sharp until he began to watch NBA stars Derrick Rose and Russell Westbrook on YouTube.

"I looked at their moves, then went into the gym and practiced them," Henry said. "I see if I can perfect them and use them against people when they guard me. I work on the in-and-out cross-cover dribble that Rose uses. He breaks a lot of ankles. I practice it a lot.

"I fell in love with it when I first saw it and I practice it like crazy in the gym. I watched him against Tyreke Evans in an all-star game when he was a senior at Simeon. It froze the defense. It really caught my eye. I've been working on it and I do it pretty good."

Henry, who is averaging 17 points and four assists per game, has emerged as Riverside-Brookfield's floor leader. In last Tuesday's 72-44 rout of Elmwood Park, Henry scored 14 points for the Metro Suburban leader. The Bulldogs are 17-4 going into Tuesday's game against Timothy Christian. They will play at Glenbrook South on Friday.

"He is the guy who steers the ship," coach Tom McCloskey said. "We need him to have a great last month of the season. There is a lot of pressure on him but he is capable of handling it. He is very versatile. Potentially, he is a Division I point guard."

Henry takes his playmaking and leadership responsibilities very seriously. "I'm playing pretty good in my state of mind. When I'm off, I find my teammates. It isn't about statistics. It's all about winning and finding my open teammates instead of carrying the whole load," he said.

"Each player isn't afraid to take on a challenge. Even though mistakes might happen, they keep their heads high. Our mindset is to go get it and take no one lightly. If we keep it up, we can take it past the regional and go to state."

It will take more than confidence, of course, to punch a ticket to Peoria. R-B hasn't won a sectional title since the west suburban school opened in 1907. McCloskey has won two regionals in a row. He also won in 2002, the school's first title since 1974.

In his second tour of duty at R-B, McCloskey admits he has a better handle on what it takes to win at a school that traditionally has had to battle such traditional powers as Proviso East, Lyons and St. Joseph in its own neighborhood.

A 1972 graduate of R-B, he coached four losing teams at his alma mater from 1990 to 1994. His last two teams were 4-20. He went to Downers Grove North and Hinsdale Central, then was head coach at Montini for four years before returning to R-B in 2001.

His last three teams were 22-6, 24-3 and 23-6. Last year's team lost to Crane in the sectional final. Two years ago, R-B lost to Marshall in overtime in the sectional. This year's team, which has won 10 games in a row, figures to draw a high seed in the Class 3A sectional at Glenbard South, perhaps the most competitive in the state.

"I came in and had a talented group and had an amazing first year. We beat Lyons twice and they had finished fourth in the state tournament the year before," McCloskey said. "Most of these kids have chosen R-B rather than Fenwick or St. Joseph or Nazareth. Now we're attracting good kids."

R-B doesn't have a large area to draw from--Harlem to Kenman, Ogden to 22nd Street, a few miles wide, top to bottom. But McCloskey has persuaded his players to attend summer camps and participate in the Junior Bulldog program. More kids seem to want to be a part of the success. The school has won 10 conference titles in a row.

"We've put together a nice stretch but we are young," McCloskey said. "We're playing a lot of juniors and we have to work on consistency. We don't put teams away like we should when we get leads. We hope playing the regional at R-B will give us an advantage."

With no starters returning from last year's team -- Henry would have started as a sophomore if he hadn't been injured -- McCloskey wasn't sure what to look for in 2011-12. But after winning three of four games against good competition at the York Holiday Tournament and playing a tough early schedule that included Farragut and St. Ignatius, he saw confidence growing.

Now it all seems to be coming together with Henry, 6-foot-7 junior Miki Ljuboja (14.4 ppg, 8.6 rpg), 6-foot junior Eric Loury (4 ppg), 6-foot-3 senior Luke Nortier (12.2 ppg) and 6-foot-4 senior Louis Marino (5 ppg). Top reserves are 6-foot-2 senior Andrew Hanley (5 ppg) and 6-foot-2 junior Liam Lesniak (4 ppg).

Ljuboja is a budding star who will become a real force when he gets stronger, McCloskey predicts. He is a future Division I prospect who is getting early interest from Loyola and Illinois-Chicago. He scored 12 points in the victory over Elmwood Park.

"Damonta's playmaking and Miki's inside play are the keys for us. And the others understand their roles," McCloskey said, summing up R-B's success story.

Henry also played football when he was young but he stopped playing football after his freshman year to concentrate on basketball. "I was a running back and quarterback. But I like being on the hardwood. It puts a smile on my face. Scoring and doing moves to get my teammates open or to help me get to the basket gives me a big thrill. Nothing in football was comparable," he said.

It finally dawned on Henry that he might have Division I potential when he was playing for the Illinois Hurricanes' AAU team last summer in tournaments at R-B and in Milwaukee.

"I was hitting tough shots and creating and getting through small holes. I knew I could play with the big boys," he said.

Like his coach, he realized his team also had big-time potential at the York tournament. "I didn't play that well. I had a terrible time with my shooting, only 5 of 15 threes. But my teammates picked me up. They knocked down shots when we needed them. They carried the load. I didn't need to. That told me that we are a good team," he said.

More bad news for Cubs: Kris Bryant leaves game with injury

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More bad news for Cubs: Kris Bryant leaves game with injury

WASHINGTON – On a surreal day that already saw the Cubs dump veteran catcher Miguel Montero and visit Donald Trump’s White House, Kris Bryant hobbled off the field with his arms wrapped around the shoulders of two athletic trainers.

At a time when the season already felt like it could be teetering on the brink of a collapse, the Cubs watched the National League’s reigning MVP twist his right ankle on Wednesday night at Nationals Park, exiting the game in the fifth inning. Bryant tracked a Matt Wieters pop-up and awkwardly stepped on third base as he caught the ball.

Bryant is an All-Star third baseman with 16 home runs this year but he fills so many holes – all over the outfield and as a backup first baseman and an excellent baserunner – for a team that already has World Series MVP Ben Zobrist, Gold Glove outfielder Jason Heyward and Cy Young Award finalist Kyle Hendricks on the disabled list.

NBA offseason gone wild as league executives go into overdrive to compete with Golden State

NBA offseason gone wild as league executives go into overdrive to compete with Golden State

NBA free agency doesn't officially begin until 11 p.m. Chicago time on Friday, but league executives have already gone into overdrive in their race to create the next super-team to compete with the Golden State Warriors.

Rockets GM Daryl Morey hinted he had a big move up his sleeve last week, suggesting the Warriors "aren't unbeatable." Well, Morey unveiled that big move on Wednesday, rounding up a bunch of non-guaranteed contracts from all over the league to help him acquire Clippers' All-Star point guard Chris Paul before free agency even begins.

Paul met with Clippers officials on Tuesday, and basically told Doc Rivers he was going to sign with Houston as a free agent, so if the Clippers wanted to get anything for him, they better work out a trade right away. The return L.A. got in the 7-for-1 deal was hardly overwhelming, headlined by Chicago native Patrick Beverley and super-sub Lou Williams, and it showed once again how league executives are powerless if a star player decides he wants a chance of scenery.

Paul and James Harden wanted to play together, and Morey and his staff came up with a creative way to get it done. And, by all reports, Morey isn't done yet. The Rockets are hoping to swing a deal for either Paul George or Carmelo Anthony as a third star in the frontcourt, giving them a shooter's chance against the champion Warriors.

George is one of the biggest chess pieces being moved around boards in executive offices all around the league. Ever since George informed Pacers management he isn't interested in re-signing with the team, GM Kevin Pritchard has been searching for the best possible deal.

The Cavaliers would love to add George as the new third star on their super-team with LeBron and Kyrie Irving and send Kevin Love to the Pacers or to a third team that would provide Indiana with young players and/or draft picks.

Boston is hoping to trade some of Danny Ainge's treasure-trove of draft picks to bring George in, but only after they make a free agent run at Utah All-Star swingman Gordon Hayward, who played his college ball for Celtics coach Brad Stevens at Butler. Remember, making a trade for George carries a lot of risk, since he's eligible to become a free agent next summer and could wind up being a one-year rental.

George has told anyone who will listen he plans to sign on with the Lakers in the summer of 2018, but will new Lakers President of Basketball Operations Magic Johnson get antsy with all the trade interest in George and try to bring him in now? Is it worth it for Magic to give up young players like Julius Randle and Jordan Clarkson if he can just wait a year and sign George without giving up any assets?

We're already hearing reports of George trying to recruit Warriors sharp-shooter Klay Thompson to join him on the Lakers when Klay becomes a free agent in 2019. And, speculation continues about LeBron heading west to join the Lakers if the Cavs come up short of a championship again next season.

So many questions as we approach the start of free agency. Where will Derrick Rose end up after a fourth knee surgery? Will the Clippers be interested in bringing Rose in to play with Blake Griffin and keep Lob City going? And what about veterans like Kyle Lowry, Paul Millsap, Serge Ibaka, Danilo Gallinari, Andre Iguodala, Kyle Korver, J.J. Redick, Pau Gasol, Taj Gibson, George Hill, Jrue Holiday and Jeff Teague? What kind of market will they find with fewer teams having the kind of cap space we saw last summer?

And, where will Carmelo Anthony wind up now that Phil Jackson is out as Knicks President? Jackson might be the greatest coach in NBA history after winning 11 championships with the Bulls and Lakers, but it was clear the Zen Master was overmatched as a front office executive. Phil didn't want to travel to scout top college prospects, didn't stay on top of day to day roster moves around the league, and insisted on saddling his coaches with running an offense that didn't translate in today's game.

Maybe now Jeff Hornacek will be able to run his up-tempo offense that had some success in Phoenix instead of Phil's beloved triangle. But don't count on Anthony being a part of next season's Knicks team. Reports out of New York suggest the organization is still intent on dealing Melo, problem is that nasty no-trade clause that Phil gave Anthony on top of a $127 million contract back in 2014.

In the coming weeks, you can count on hearing all kinds of Anthony-related rumors. Maybe a trade to Houston, Boston or even Philadelphia. And, if Melo is able to convince the Knicks to buy out the remainder of his contract, look for him to join forces with LeBron in Cleveland for a shot at that elusive championship ring.

The Knicks may have rid themselves of Phil’s front office mismanagement, but their roster is still a mess with no easy solutions in sight.

The great thing for NBA fans is the buzz created by all the speculation. NBA offseasons are the most impactful of any sport since the acquisition of a star player can cause a major shift in any team's fortunes. Unfortunately here in Chicago, don't expect any free agent buzz this year, unless you're excited about the possibility of a Dwyane Wade buyout.

Bulls Executive VP of Basketball Operations John Paxson made it clear the Bulls are going in a new direction and will be patient and disciplined in their rebuild. That means no spending on veterans this summer as the front office keeps its power dry for some time in the future when the Bulls are closer to being a playoff contender again.

Player development will be the focus of the next couple seasons as Fred Hoiberg and his staff try to find out exactly what they have in young players like Lauri Markkanen, Kris Dunn, Denzel Valentine, Bobby Portis, Cameron Payne, Paul Zipser, Jerian Grant, Cris Felicio and Niko Mirotic.

Ideally, the Bulls will lose enough games next season to put themselves into position to land a top-3 pick in next year's top-heavy draft. Paxson talked about building a contending team through the draft, and that will require a lot of patience from everyone involved. Adding a Michael Porter, Jr. or Luka Doncic to a young backcourt of Dunn and Zach LaVine and a promising "stretch 4" in Markkanen could be the foundation of the next Bulls playoff team.

So, while the league's top teams engage in a massive arms race to try to close the gap on the Warriors over the next few weeks, all will be quiet in the city of Chicago. The buzzword for Bulls fans for the foreseeable future is PATIENCE.