Mohammed ready for matchup with former team

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Mohammed ready for matchup with former team

For Nazr Mohammed, the Bulls' preseason game Tuesday night against visiting Oklahoma City, his former team, won't be a bitter reunion. However, despite not having any bad feelings toward the Thunder, don't expect him to take it easy on his old teammates.

"It's preseason, no ill will towards them, but I'm a competitor and they're competitors, and we're going to compete like two brothers in the backyard. Sometimes you can't even tell if they're really brothers," he said after Monday's practice at the Berto Center. "It's the same as I take my approach for any other game. I'm going to come out there and play hard, and be physical and I know that I expect the same from them."

The South Side Chicago native is a well-traveled veteran, having played for eight different teams in his 15-year NBA career, but one can see he has a soft spot for the young Thunder. Led by the All-Star duo of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook -- neither of whom reportedly will play Tuesday -- Mohammed views Oklahoma City, the defending Western Conference champions, as one of the league's elite teams, even with many observers already anointing the star-studded Lakers as the best in the West.

"They're going to be a good team. They're going to be very good. They bring all the major pieces back. They're adding a guy like Eric Maynor the team's backup point guard, who was injured last season, who I'm a fan of, just from playing with him. They're going to be really tough out West," he explained. "First off, you've got to look at Kevin and 'Russ,' they're superstars in this game.

"Then, you've got James Harden, who's becoming a superstar in this game. In my mind, he's a superstar already, but I don't know how you guys feel. But you've got three legitimate superstars who can score 30 on a given night and score 30 together, and you've got unbelievable low-post play," he continued. "Kendrick Perkins with the 'D' and you've got the best shot-blocker in the league in Serge Ibaka, who can also knock down jump shots. They've got a strong bench and they can play different styles of play. They can play physical because of Kendrick's ability to play physical and then Serge. Then, you've got Nick Collison, who's my guy. Nick's a great guy off the bench and he just does everything right. So, they've got so many different pieces. They can play an up-and-down style, they can play a physical game and they can play defense, so there's really no holes in their team.

"But at the same time, I don't want to just harp on them. I feel like we can do those same things and I feel like we're a very good defensive team, so I think it's going to be a very interesting matchup."

Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau agreed with his backup center's assessment of the opposition: "They're a very good team. They present a number of different challenges. We just want to keep improving every day. That's what we're striving for. They're a deep team. They have a number of guys who can go off the dribble. They're big, a shot-blocking team, so we're going to have to play well on both sides of the ball," the coach explained.

Thibodeau has been pleased with Mohammed's strong exhibition campaign thus far, but claims that he's not surprised by the 35-year-old's performance.

"I wouldn't say he's playing better because he came very highly recommended, so I was expecting a lot from him and I had spoken with a number of coaches that had him previously, and the story was the same. Every team, they said he's a great worker, totally committed to the team, keeps himself in great shape and he'll be ready. Whatever role you ask him to play, he's going to handle his role great," he said. "You can't play as long as he has played without every coach saying the same thing and also from observing, I know how I felt when he was on the floor when I was coaching against him. I'm very pleased with his conditioning, with his approach, veteran leadership, great teammate. I think he's added a lot to our team."

Mohammed has been similarly impressed with Thibodeau's operation and went as far to compare the coach, only in his third season as an NBA head coach, to the likes of Hall of Famer Larry Brown and the current dean of NBA head coaches, San Antonio's Gregg Popovich, both of whom previously coached him earlier in his career.

"It's definitely an intense training camp. You've got to come in focused and ready to work. We have a fast-paced camp. Coach Larry Brown who coached the Bobcats when Mohammed played in Charlotte was kind of similar; he wants it intense. But we have a fast-paced camp with transition from drill to drill pretty fast. It's pretty consistent, what he asks of every player. It's not like, 'You, I need this. You, I need that.' He wants the same from everybody, which is good and I've got to give credit to guys. Everybody came in shape and everybody came in ready to go, so we haven't had too many 'getting on the line,' running, things like that. Guys are ready to go," he said. "Thibodeau is very similar to Popovich because they have high expectations for the players. They ask for you to work extremely hard and they ask for you to be focused for a long period of time. Mental lapses just aren't accepted, but a guy like me, I like that because I like order. I like to know when I'm wrong and when I'm right, so when you have order, it's easier for guys like me, but everybody's different.

"Training camp is very important, especially when you're going to a new team. There's a lot of terminology thrown at you. New guys, you're trying to get a feel of what they can do and they're trying to get a feel for what you can do because even though you've been in the league and have seen guys on other teams, it's night and day when a guy's your teammate and you kind of inspect his game and see what kind of worker he is," he continued. "It's the most mentally demanding training camp I've been to. As far as physically, it's up there, but once it gets hard, it's hard. There's no 'extra hard'...because you're asked to stay sharp, at a high level, for a long period of time and mentally, not everybody can do that, but I know I'm capable because I'm doing it now. But it's not for everybody to try to do and we've got some great guys who have been doing a great job at it.

"From our standpoint, we know that we can beat any team in this league, but we also know that if we don't come and play the right way, we can also be beat by any team in this league, so we're focused on what Coach wants us to do and we understand where it's at."

White Sox courting of Luis Robert leads to 'Christmas in May'

White Sox courting of Luis Robert leads to 'Christmas in May'

When he learned last November that elite talent Luis Robert could be available by June 15, Marco Paddy didn’t hold back: It was time for the White Sox make their move.

Much like with Yoan Moncada before, the team’s international scouting director had an extensive history scouting Robert, who on Saturday signed with the White Sox after he received a $26 million signing bonus. After watching him for five years, Paddy believed in Robert enough to recommend the White Sox pay several severe penalties to sign a player the franchise thinks could be an everyday center fielder with power.

By signing Robert, 19, the White Sox must not only pay a luxury tax of almost equal value to the bonus, but they’re also unable to sign any international prospect for more than $300,000 in each of the next two classes. But given the limited competition and the unique talent he saw, Paddy let the White Sox know Robert -- a potential top-30 prospect in baseball -- was a player they couldn’t afford to bypass. Thus begun the team’s courtship, one the Cuban cited as having a major impact on his desire to sign with the White Sox. Now, the White Sox not only have Moncada after trading for him in December, but they also have another potential cornerstone to build around.

“From the beginning we were very serious about it,” Paddy said. “Knowing we weren’t going to have 29 other clubs competing against us was a good thing for us because we knew our competition pool was a lot smaller. We went in it with everything we had and if we missed out on some guys that’s fine, that’s the risk you take.

“It’s a dream come true to be honest with you, having those guys with that kind of ability together. There’s still a lot of work that needs to be done. But I saw Moncada about the same age I saw Robert and it’s like Christmas in May.”

The pursuit of Robert -- a player general manager Rick Hahn describes as a “dynamic, potential talent” -- began in December at the winter meetings at National Harbor, Md. Having learned that Robert would potentially be a late addition to the 2016-17 international class, Paddy asked for a meeting with Hahn, executive vice president Kenny Williams and chairman Jerry Reinsdorf. Paddy and Hahn had previously held several similar state-of-the-international-picture meetings to determine when to make a splash on the market.

This was different.

“Marco approached us and said, ‘This is the guy,’ ” Hahn said.

It was still a “what if” proposition because Robert not only had to establish residency, but he also had to receive clearance from Major League Baseball to be part of the 2016-17 class, a critical factor. Under the old Collective Bargaining Agreement, teams could spend whatever they wanted on a player as long as they paid a luxury tax. But under the new CBA, teams are limited to a maximum of $5.25 million for bonuses.

While the White Sox felt Paddy’s familiarity with Robert would give them a chance if he wasn’t eligible until July 2 (the next class), they knew they’d compete against fewer teams for his services under the old rules. Hahn said back in March the White Sox intended to be a player either way. On Saturday, he said it was Paddy’s initial determination that spurred him into action.

“Marco personally was willing to suffer the penalties that it has on his world for the betterment of the organization,” Hahn said. “Marco’s evaluation and presence and willingness to sacrifice potential future signings for this reinforced the notion that this was the right move to make.”

Then everyone else got involved and the White Sox went overboard to recruit Robert.

If Saturday’s pregame presentation is any indication, the White Sox pulled out all the stops.

As Robert was introduced for his press conference, he sat in front of banners featuring current and former White Sox from Cuba, including Alexei Ramirez, Minnie Minoso, Jose Abreu and Moncada.

Once he was on the field to throw out the first pitch, the team played a short video that was filmed Friday night on the scoreboard with numerous White Sox fans welcoming Robert to Chicago. As Robert trotted to the mound to throw his pitch to Abreu, team employees stood atop the home dugout with a sign that read “bienvenidos” and holding Cuban flags.

But the post-signing efforts were nothing compared to the team’s full-court press of Robert last month.

[MORE: Luis Robert will start journey through White Sox organization in Dominican Summer League]

Hahn and Williams brought several showstoppers with them when they traveled to the Dominican Republic for a private workout with Robert last month. Included were a power point production and an iPad with a video presentation that the White Sox communications department put together in six days, Hahn said. Manager Rick Renteria narrated the short video in Spanish and it included personal messages for Robert from Abreu, Moncada and Michael Ynoa, who shares the same trainer (Edgar Mercedes) and worked out with Robert in the offseason.

“It was a beautiful video,” Robert said through an interpreter. “The part (that stood out) the most was when Ricky Renteria was talking straight to me, saying they need me here to win several championships.”

But more than the video, Robert said the desire displayed by the White Sox made his decision easy. Hahn said the White Sox felt confident heading into the final 24 hours that they were in the lead for Robert. Not only had they bid aggressively, Hahn thought the White Sox made a strong pitch. That feeling only increased last Saturday morning when Robert changed his Instagram avatar to a picture of him wearing a White Sox cap.

“The video helps a lot, but the thing that made me make a decision was who was the team that showed more interest,” Robert said. “That was something that made me feel good.”

Paddy had seen enough in five years to feel confident in pushing the White Sox to be a player for Robert.

He first scouted Robert at the under-15 Pan American Championships in 2012 in Chihuahua, Mexico. Paddy’s interest in the 6-foot-3, 175-pound center fielder only grew as Robert matured physically. Paddy suspected that once Hahn and Williams would be on board once they saw the passion with which Robert played.

Robert described himself on Saturday as player who likes to fight and “give all that I have for my team.” Paddy said it wasn’t a difficult call to push Hahn when he considered the player’s tools and makeup, as well as the last opportunity to spend big on an international talent.

“You put all those things together, it becomes easy,” Paddy said. “As I watched him over the years grow, get stronger and get better, it became evident to me that if we had an opportunity to sign this guy, it would be a good thing for the organization.

“The level of ability, the tools that I saw that he had, and the past and now present, it’s something you don’t see every day.”

Tyler Danish gets win in first big league start as White Sox beat Tigers in first game of doubleheader

Tyler Danish gets win in first big league start as White Sox beat Tigers in first game of doubleheader

Usually when a pitcher walks six batters in one game, it’s an outing to forget.

Not the case, though, for Tyler Danish, who will always want to remember what went down Saturday on the South Side.

After making three relief appearances last season, Danish made his first big league start in the first game of Saturday’s doubleheader against the visiting Detroit Tigers. And despite issuing a sextet of free passes, he allowed a goose egg on the scoreboard, earning his first major league victory in the White Sox 3-0 win.

“That's great. I mean you dream as a kid to pitch in the big leagues,” Danish said. “To get my first win in my first career start was special. I'm glad my mom was here, I'm glad she got to enjoy that. It was a very special day, something I'll always remember.”

Danish got into some early trouble and looked like he might’ve been heading for the same type of sky-high ERA that he put up in his blink-and-you’ll-miss-it call up in 2016, when he turned in a 10.80 earned-run average in 1.2 innings. He walked three batters in the first inning Saturday, escaping thanks to a double play and a bases-loaded ground out to end the inning.

Twice more he had multiple runners on base, but he got out of those innings unscathed, too.

“He was throwing enough strikes that with the sinking action, he was able to get that ground ball in the first inning, the double play,” manager Rick Renteria said after the game. “Then most of the game he was still staying down in the zone. He was missing but just missing off on the fringes of the plate.

“I think he was very composed. The first couple of innings he was a little accelerated but he slowed down. In the end we wanted to make sure he was ready to go out and finish it.”

[WHITE SOX TICKETS: Get your seats right here]

Despite the walks, Danish impressed. In addition to throwing five scoreless innings, he allowed just three hits and struck out seven Detroit hitters. Danish became the first White Sox pitcher to throw at least five scoreless frames and give up three or fewer hits in his first big league start in nearly a decade. The last guy to do it was Lance Broadway in September 2007.

“I definitely was nervous in the first inning. I was expecting it,” Danish said. “I came in and tried to pitch as well as I could with that. But I did settle in after the first couple innings and just started breathing a little more. I felt comfortable and the bullpen did a great job, the defense did a great job.

“I think a little bit of nerves. Obviously you don't want six (walks) every game, but I thought I made good pitches when I needed to. Now, go and enjoy this thing and tomorrow we'll be back again.”

Even though offense was hard to come by, the White Sox hitters managed three runs against an otherwise dominant Michael Fulmer. The reigning American League Rookie of the Year yielded just six hits through his first seven innings of work, the lone run in that span scoring on a bases-loaded double play in the fifth.

The White Sox got to Fulmer slightly more in the eighth with runs scoring on a Leury Garcia triple and a Jose Abreu broken-bat bloop single. Fulmer still finished with fewer than 100 pitches thrown in his eight innings, recording every out for Detroit.

The White Sox bullpen was perhaps the most impressive unit of the game. Chris Beck, Anthony Swarzak, Tommy Kahnle and David Robertson threw four scoreless innings and struck out nine hitters, including eight straight at one point.