Illini's Paul embraced under Groce's new system

925329.png

Illini's Paul embraced under Groce's new system

ROSEMONT Brandon Paul displayed his star power last January, when he dropped a career-high 43 points in Illinois upset of fifth-ranked Ohio State.

It was the third-highest point total in Illini history, tied for the fifth-highest total in the NCAA last season and was the highest total in a Big Ten game since Glenn Robinson tallied 49 in 1994.

Then things went downhill. The Illini lost 12 of their final 14 games, finishing 17-15 and failing to reach the postseason. Paul was unable to score in double digits in three of his final six games, coming up with only four points against Iowa in the Big Ten tournament. He finished 13th among conference scoring leaders at 14.7 points per game.

Entering a new season with a new coach, the Illini and Paul are aiming for consistency. Sometimes, its showing up both halves, Paul said at Thursdays Big Ten Media Day at Hyatt Regency OHare. I dont want to have a good half and come out next half and not take advantage of that and play harder. As a team, we want to play all 40 minutes. We cant just play 35. We want to control games and we want teams to come in thinking we
have to have conditioned guys and subs. Were hoping to create mismatches.

Paul said the Illini struggled to keep their focus and close out games last season. Senior guard D.J. Richardson said its up to him and Paul to keep the team focused and maintain chemistry. We both had an up-and-down year, Richardson said. Just him personally, we need him to stay consistent. Hell be running a lot of point guard. We need to him take control of the team.

Besides playing shooting guard, Paul will help handle point guard duties for an up-tempo offense implemented by former Ohio coach John Groce, who was hired in March to replace the fired Bruce Weber. As a backup point guard in the past, Paul is looking forward to the role. He said his ballhandling has improved each season. I like that the balls in my hands, he said. I like to make a decision with the ball. I feel Im a passer and I led the team in assists last year. Thats something I want to improve on, more assists and less turnovers.

Groce has been focusing on the mental side with Paul. He asks the senior guard: Who did you help today? He has shared the Pat Riley quote: Coaches will take consistency over greatness any day of the week. I think you do that by understanding every practice matters, every rep matters, every little thing that we do matters, Groce said. Thats how you become more consistent at what you do, and hes embraced that.

In the new system, Groce doesnt want to deter Paul from shooting. He can score more than 40 points a game against a high-ranked opponent, after all. Brandon is a terrific scorer, so the last thing I want to do is put shackles on him, Groce said. Hes got to take plays for us. Hes listened. Hes done a good job. I want him to be aggressive and I want him to attack.

Blackhawks notebook: A busy draft, free agency and RFAs

Blackhawks notebook: A busy draft, free agency and RFAs

Eight draft picks in about 3 ½ hours. It was a busy Saturday for the Blackhawks, and when general manager Stan Bowman talked that afternoon about the team’s Day 2 haul, he came prepared.

“I have my little cheat sheet,” Bowman said of the paper on which he had written the Blackhawks’ eight newest prospects.

After a few days’ worth of moves the Blackhawks focused on the future, taking nine players over two days at the NHL Draft. It was a successful weekend for the Blackhawks, who hosted the draft for the first time and built up assets, especially on the blue line. Five of the Blackhawks’ nine selections were defensemen.

“One of the things we talked about was looking at the market. There’s a high value on defensemen. We’re not necessarily looking at the draft but our team this year and over the next couple of years; those are the assets that are valuable around the league,” Bowman said. “Look at the trade Calgary made [for Travis Hamonic], defensemen are a valuable commodity. That was a priority coming in and we were able to accomplish it.”

What comes next

The Blackhawks got what they wanted at this weekend’s draft but the focus will soon shift, as free agency opens on July 1. It remains to be seen what the Blackhawks will have cap-wise come a week from now. Currently, according to CapFriendly.com, they’re $1.445 million over the $75 million cap. It’s doubtful the Blackhawks apply the long-term injured reserve tag on Marian Hossa during the offseason. It’s possible they could still trade Marcus Kruger to gain some space. Bowman said, one way or another, “there will be some movement.”

“We’ll bring some players in, I don’t know how many, what position or what level,” he said. “This is where there’s a lot of activity, the couple weeks in the middle of June until the middle of July. That’s when the most changes happen. We’ll go to work, now that we’re past this.”

Wait for it

The Blackhawks also have to decide whether or not to qualify restricted free agents Dennis Rasmussen and Tomas Jurco. Bowman said that’ll be decided by Monday.

“I’ve had discussions with both agents,” he said. “I don’t have an answer right now but we’ll have that worked out in the next day and a half.”

Mark Buehrle describes the 'amazing feeling' of having jersey number retired by White Sox

Mark Buehrle describes the 'amazing feeling' of having jersey number retired by White Sox

Mark Buehrle might need time to process everything that took place Saturday afternoon when he was surrounded by friends, family, teammates and fans, showered with gifts and overwhelmed by emotion.

The White Sox officially retired the number of one of the most popular players in team history in front of 38,618 at Guaranteed Rate Field. A banner covering Buehrle’s No. 56 was unfurled during an afternoon ceremony that makes the left-hander one of 11 players in club history whose number has been retired. Surrounded by fellow honoree Frank Thomas among many others, the always humble Buehrle -- who won 161 games in 12 seasons with the White Sox -- said afterward he’s not sure he belongs in the club.

“It doesn’t make sense,” Buehrle said. “It’s going to take time. I don’t know if it’s ever going to sink in and realize there it is.

“Amazing feeling. Can’t really put it into words how you feel. I wasn’t actually as nervous as I thought I would be once I was up there. But obviously glad it’s over with and it’s a special day.”

Buehrle’s list of dignitaries included Thomas, managers Ozzie Guillen and Jerry Manuel, Cliff Polite, Scott Podsednik, Jim Thome, Joe Crede, Jon Garland, John Danks and hitting coach Greg Walker.

White Sox play by play man Hawk Harrelson emceed a ceremony that lasted 30 minutes. Included were speeches by Thomas and White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper as well as an unveiling of a series of gifts. The team presented Buehrle with a new truck, a baseball collage put together by Ron Kittle, a four-seat All-Terrain Vehicle -- much to the enjoyment of his duck hunting club seated on the 400 level -- as well as the flip-through-the-legs ball from Opening Day 2010. Club chairman Jerry Reinsdorf also spoke during the ceremony, dropping in a series of one-liners.

“I’ve never seen him upset,” Guillen said. “I’ve never seen him overreact. Day in and day out he was the same guy. That’s what makes him so special. His teammates loved him.

“Buehrle did something: outsmart people. People don’t have stuff like him they think I’m smart, I can do this and fake it. Buehrle just grabbed the ball and threw it.

“To survive for so many years and have your number retired, there’s not that many people up there.

“It’s amazing with the stuff he had. I’ve seen a lot of better pitchers with better stuff. You don’t see too many guys with the same heart.”

Buehrle said Friday that he anticipated he’d be an emotional wreck for the event. The man beloved by the public isn’t much for public speaking. Throw in all of his friends and family present and Buehrle just hoped to get through his own speech. He said the sight of seeing his number unfurled almost put him over the edge.

“Emotions and trying to breathe deep and don’t start crying, tearing up,” Buehrle said. “I was trying to hold my emotions together. But just looking up there and seeing that. I can’t put it into words.”

When it was his turn to say the words, Buehrle spoke the way he pitched: tidy and efficient. Wearing a suit and sunglasses in case he teared up, Buehrle spoke with his wife and children at his side. Aside from his family, Buehrle said he avoided naming names during the 4-minute, 19-second speech because he had too many people to thank for the journey from 38th round draft pick to all-time great.

Buehrle said he wouldn’t be able to pick out his favorite part until he watches the ceremony again later.

“When I watch it back in a couple hours and realize what happened and what really went on,” Buehrle said. “It’s kind of hard to hear out there, but it’s just everything. I had Frank Thomas and Jim Thome behind me. They’re here for my day. It doesn’t make sense to me.”