Is Jordan Ash the next Isiah Thomas?

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Is Jordan Ash the next Isiah Thomas?

Gene Pingatore has been coaching basketball at St. Joseph High School in Westchester since before the Internet, ESPN, blogging, the 3-point line, club teams and summer leagues. He thought he had seen it all, but he hadn't seen anything like Jordan Ash.

Ash, a 6-foot-2 freshman guard, is being touted as one of the leading prospects in the class of 2015. Pingatore is constantly being asked how good he is, if he'll start on the varsity team as a sophomore, and if he projects Ash to be one of the best players that he's produced. Another Isiah Thomas?

"I don't understand the whole thing. He hasn't played one minute for me," Pingatore said. "People are offering scholarships. He was offered by DePaul in the summer before he enrolled. But he hasn't played a minute on the varsity.

"Not too many kids came in here with the reputation that he has. He is going to be one of the best players to come out of here if everything goes the way it has gone for him. If he continues to grow and develop, he has all the physical attributes to make him one of the top players in the state.

"But what is hard for me to evaluate are his intangibles. You have to know a kid. Does he have mental toughness? Personally, I hate all this early publicity. It puts more pressure on a kid to excel rather than work hard to get to that position. And if he doesn't start for me, then I'm a jerk."

Even before Ash plays his first varsity game at St. Joseph, the press clippings precede him. "Ash clearly is among the top two or three prospects in Illinois in the class of 2015. It is downright scary to think how much better he will continue to get," said recruiting analysts Roy and Harv Schmidt of Illinois Prep Bulls-Eye.

"However, when one considers the rich tradition at St. Joseph and all of the outstanding college products that have come through there, we are going to reserve judgment before we call him the next great player to come out of that school."

Remember Isiah Thomas, Ken Williams, Tony Reeder, Daryl Thomas, Tony Freeman, Deryl Cunningham, Sterling Mahan, Brian Molis, Cliff Scales, Carl Hayes, Brandon Watkins, Amal McCaskill, Demetri McCamey and Evan Turner?

"Ash is a stellar athlete with tremendous quickness. He is creative with the ball and has a first step that can leave defenders in their tracks. In addition, he plays with tremendous poise and confidence," Roy Schmidt said.

"As good as he is, there are still some areas of Ash's game that need continued improvement and refinement, namely the consistency of his perimeter shooting and learning to play more under control. But make no mistake about it, Ash is an elite-level talent which is why high major Division I programs are already in hot pursuit."

It's too early to proclaim that the class of 2015 is blessed with the caliber of talent of the classes of 2013 and 2014. But Ash is at the top of the list with guards Prentiss Nixon of Bolingbrook, Jalen Brunson of Stevenson, Martez Cameron of De La Salle, Glynn Watson and Joffrey Brown of St. Joseph and Luwane Pipkins of Bogan, 6-foot-6 D.J. Williams and 6-foot-4 Brandon Hutton of Simeon, 6-foot-3 Roosevelt Smart of Palatine, 7-foot Tyler
Jackson of Nazareth, 6-foot-7 Evan Boudreaux of Lake Forest and 6-foot-3 Charles Matthews of St. Rita.

Ash, 15, lives in Bolingbrook. His father Jimmy, a Westinghouse graduate of 1981, played with Mark Aguirre in the late 1970s. He chose St. Joseph over Bolingbrook, Nazareth and Benet.

"My father told me: 'Go where you can see yourself going everyday, somewhere you can succeed in the classroom and on the court, where you can progress.' You can always count on getting a good education at St. Joseph," Ash said.

"But there are other things...the tradition, coach Ping, all the better players who came out of there who worked hard and went on to be successful, with hard work and coach Ping's teachings, I can be one of those players.

"I watch Hoop Dreams (the award-winning documentary) all the time. That's how I learned about St. Joseph. Everybody knows about Isiah Thomas and Evan Turner. People go through there and go on to be great and they come back to coach and help kids in their journey and that says a lot about the program. Obviously, something was done right."

Ash started playing basketball at age 3. He played football, too, but basketball became his passion. He played the game year-round. It became part of his life. In sixth grade, at Humphrey Middle School in Bolingbrook, he realized for the first time that he had a special talent for the game.

"It was the first time a lot of kids began to tell me how good I was," Ash said. "Close friends and family said it but people around town were finding out who Jordan Ash was. It motivated me to keep working hard and getting better."

He has offers from DePaul and Purdue and interest from Illinois, Indiana, Northwestern, Michigan and Xavier. He carries a 3.5 grade-point average (on a 4.0 scale) and has a terrific support group that keeps him humble, grounded and level-headed. His mother always checks his grades. Receiving a "C" in Spanish wasn't good enough.

"I haven't done anything major yet so I have to keep working hard and progressing in class, too," he said. "My dad always stressed to be a student first, athlete second. He taught me that many players who are talented but didn't get in the classroom ended up wasting their talent and chance to go to college."

To prepare for his first varsity season--and to pass Pingatore's muster and always skeptical eye--Ash is working to improve all of his skills so he can become an better all-around player. As a point guard, he must be trusted to handle the ball and make the right decisions.

He wears No. 23. His AAU coach, Mike Mullins of the Wolves, issued him the number, mainly because it was Michael Jordan's number. A special number for a potentially special player, Mullins said. And Ash hopes to make it very special before he graduates from St. Joseph.

"No. 11 is hanging in the rafters at St. Joseph. That's Isiah's number," Ash said. "Daryl Thomas' No. 24 is retired, too. My goal is to retire No. 23. In fact, I want to win the state title and see the whole team in the rafters.

"I just see that I am blessed. I'm glad I'm in the position I'm in. I'm motivated to keep working hard and progressing. I'm glad that coach Ping is starting to have trust in me. I want to prove to him that I can play."

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AP

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White Sox willing to overlook 'rough' patches as healthy Carlos Rodon returns

White Sox willing to overlook 'rough' patches as healthy Carlos Rodon returns

The two fastballs that soared to the backstop on Wednesday night should give you a strong indication that Carlos Rodon was far from perfect.

But in making his first start of the 2017 season, the White Sox pitcher also offered his team plenty of signals that his health isn’t going to be an issue.

Rodon returned to the mound for the first time since last September and brought the goods that made him one of baseball’s top pitching prospects several years ago. Given he’d missed three months with bursitis in the left shoulder and the potential value he offers to a franchise only half a season into its first rebuild in 20 years, that was plenty for the White Sox to overlook the rust Rodon showed in a 12-3 White Sox loss to the New York Yankees at Guaranteed Rate Field.

“He started a little rough early obviously, got some high pitch counts,” manager Rick Renteria said. “And then he kind of settled down.

“Having him back in the rotation and getting him back out there on the big league field, coming out of there feeling good, healthy. I'm sure he will continue to get better as he continues to get out there and move forward.”

Renteria said he wasn’t surprised that Rodon struggled with his command as much as he did against the Yankees. The issues the pitcher displayed in uncorking a pair of wild pitches, walking six batters and throwing strikes on only 41 of 94 pitches were also present during Rodon’s four rehab starts in the minors.

But as long as the stuff was there, the White Sox would be OK with any issues that accompanied the performance. Rodon began to alleviate those concerns immediately when he earned a called strike on the game’s first pitch with a 93-mph fastball to Brett Gardner. Featuring a four-seamer with an absurd amount of movement and a nasty slider he struggled to control, Rodon checked all the boxes the White Sox hoped for from a pitcher they believe will be a frontline starter for years to come. Rodon also was pleased by how he felt before, during and after the contest.

“I was pretty excited,” Rodon said. “I was going a little fast in the first. But it was good to be out there. Next time out, it’ll hopefully be a little better. Arm feels good, body feels good, all you can ask for.”

Well, it’s not ALL you can ask for, but it’s pretty damn good out of the gate given how slow Rodon’s return took. His four-seam fastball averaged 94.9 mph according to BrooksBaseball.Net and touched 97 mph. His two-seamer averaged 94.4 mph and touched 95. And his slider, though he couldn’t control it, nor locate it for a strike, averaged 86 mph.

“You could see (Omar Narvaez) going over to try to catch some balls that were having tremendous run,” Renteria said. “That's (Rodon). He's got some tremendous life, he's just trying to harness it the best that he can and being able to execute where he wants to get as many strikes as possible.”

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The strikes were about the only thing Rodon didn’t bring with him. He walked Gardner to start the game and issued two more free passes after a Tim Anderson error allowed a run to score and extended the first inning. Rodon threw 37 pitches in the first, only 15 for strikes.

He also reached a full count to each of the batters he faced in the second inning. Rodon walked two more with two outs in the third inning after he’d retired six batters in a row.

And there were those pesky first-inning wild pitches that resembled something out of ‘Bull Durham.’

But all in all, Rodon and the White Sox ultimately saw enough in the first outing to be pleased.

“Great stuff, great life, but the goal is to put it in the zone and let them swing it to get guys out early,” Rodon said. “That’s not what happened. I’ll get back to that.”

“It’s a tough loss, but it’s better to be with the guys out on the field grinding than sitting on the couch and watching, for sure.”