Paul leads Illinois to Maui Invitational title

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Paul leads Illinois to Maui Invitational title

LAHAINA, Hawaii -- Brandon Paul scored 20 points to lead Illinois to the Maui Invitational title on Wednesday night, beating Butler in a 78-61 blowout that marked its third straight double-digit win.

The Illini (6-0) held off several attempts by Butler to string points together in the second half. Paul was one of four players in double figures, along with Tracy Abrams with 17 points and Tyler Griffey and D.J. Richardson with 14 each.

Illinois shot 48 percent as Butler (3-2) relied almost exclusively on point guard Rotnei Clarke to score. Clarke had 27 points and took nearly one-third his team's shots.

With the win, Illinois topped a Maui field that included No. 9 North Carolina and Marquette, which both lost early-round games.

After the buzzer, the Illini players went to center court to get gray championship T-shirts and kukui nut leis. Paul got a special lei as tournament MVP and held up a basketball-shaped trophy as a contingent of Illinois fans cheered.

Illinois won by outshooting Butler in the first half and countering each Bulldog run in the second.

After the Bulldogs pulled within five points with 12:26 left, the Illini went on a 10-point run highlighted by back-to-back 3-pointers from Tyler Griffey. After Kellen Dunham missed a three on the other end, Griffey took a pass and fired successfully from near the top of the key.

While Clarke scored 16 points in the first half for Butler, his teammates made only four baskets.

In the middle of a nine-point run, Paul gave Illinois a 12-point lead with a straightaway 3-pointer after Clarke missed on the other end. One basket later, the Illini led 37-22 with less than four minutes left in the half.

Illinois and Butler each reached the tournament's title game by winning games on consecutive days.

Butler opened the event with a buzzer-beating win over Marquette, 72-71 after Clarke launched a running 22-foot 3-pointer from the right side as time expired. The Bulldogs then outplayed No. 9 North Carolina in the second round, halting several comeback attempts from the Tar Heels en route to an 11-point win.

Illinois easily won its first two games, beating USC by 30 and Division II Chaminade by 24.

Illinois and Butler had not played each other since 1971.

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Fire midfielder Dax McCarty named to U.S. national team roster

Fire midfielder Dax McCarty named to U.S. national team roster

The Chicago Fire are one of the hottest teams in Major League Soccer and Dax McCarty has been rewarded with a spot on the U.S. national team ahead of the squad's World Cup qualifiers.

McCarty will join the U.S. as part of a 27-player roster for a friendly and a pair of 2018 World Cup qualifiers in June.

Things start with a friendly against Venezuela June 3 at Rio Tinto Stadium, the home of Real Salt Lake. Five days later is the first qualifier, which will take place at Dick's Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City, Colo., against Trinidad and Tobago. The U.S. will conclude the stretch of games June 11 at Mexico in the famous Estadio Azteca.

McCarty was also a part of the roster for the last two World Cup qualifiers, but did not play in either game. He would likely miss two Fire games, June 4 at Orlando and June 10 against Atlanta.

McCarty has already joined the team in Denver.

U.S. MNT Roster By Position (Club):

GOALKEEPERS (4): Brad Guzan (Atlanta United FC), Ethan Horvath (Club Brugge/BEL), Tim Howard (Colorado Rapids), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)

DEFENDERS (11): DaMarcus Beasley (Houston Dynamo), Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City), John Brooks (Hertha Berlin/GER), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City/ENG), Timmy Chandler (Eintracht Frankfurt/GER), Omar Gonzalez (Pachuca/MEX), Matt Hedges (FC Dallas), Tim Ream (Fulham/ENG), Jorge Villafaña (Santos Laguna/MEX), DeAndre Yedlin (Newcastle United/ENG), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)

MIDFIELDERS (8): Kellyn Acosta (FC Dallas), Paul Arriola (Club Tijuana/MEX), Alejandro Bedoya (Philadelphia Union), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Fabian Johnson (Borussia Mönchengladbach/GER), Dax McCarty (Chicago Fire), Darlington Nagbe (Portland Timbers), Christian Pulisic (Borussia Dortmund/GER)

FORWARDS (4): Jozy Altidore (Toronto FC), Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders FC), Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders FC), Bobby Wood (Hamburg/GER)

Jose Abreu relishing opportunity to help mentor Luis Robert, White Sox newest Cuban addition

Jose Abreu relishing opportunity to help mentor Luis Robert, White Sox newest Cuban addition

Call it the White Sox latest Cuban connection.

When news came out of the team pursuing 19-year-old Cuban outfielder Luis Robert, it was pretty easy to guess that Jose Abreu, the franchise’s previous big-time, free-agent signing from Cuba, would be involved.

But not only was Abreu involved in the White Sox courting of Robert, sending a personalized message as part of the team’s video pitch, he’s been a willing participant. And now that Robert is officially signed after Saturday’s much-hyped introduction, Abreu is ready to take on a mentorship role, much like he has with another one of the organization’s Cuban prospects, Yoan Moncada.

In the lead up to Saturday’s press conference, it was Abreu touring Robert around Guaranteed Rate Field, chatting with him in the dugout and taking pictures on the infield.

“I was very excited to have him here, and I’m very happy right now because he’s signing with the team,” Abreu said through a translator ahead of Sunday’s series finale with the visiting Detroit Tigers. “He’s a very good player. I just told him that he has to keep working hard and keep doing the things to get here as soon as he can. He’s a nice guy.

“I’m excited to have that opportunity (to be a mentor). That’s something that I like to do. I like to advise the guys and tell them what to do for their best like I am doing right now with Moncada. I’m just waiting for that opportunity to happen with (Robert).”

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While Abreu arrived on the South Side an older, more experienced player who was ready for the big leagues, Robert’s journey to the majors will be a much different, much longer one. Abreu recognizes that and talked about how tough the transition will be. He also has confidence Robert, who has received glowing scouting reports comparing him to perennial All Stars, can succeed.

“It’s not an easy thing to do to come here straight to play in the majors because this is a very high level and a tough one to play,” Abreu said. “I think the best for him is the decision that he’s making for him, to have some games in the minors and let him develop there. He’s had a long time without playing baseball. Baseball in Cuba is good, but it’s not as good as baseball here in the U.S. and you have to adjust. I think that process for him is going to be perfect in the minors.”

Saturday, Robert talked about the White Sox tradition of Cuban players, mentioning how it helped motivate him to sign with the team. Abreu has been one of the franchise’s most successful Cuban players, a list that includes the legendary Minnie Minoso as well as more recent players like Alexei Ramirez and Dayan Viciedo and Moncada in the minor leagues.

While that tradition might not be the entire or even main reason Robert is now a part of the organization, general manager Rick Hahn talked about how it’s created an environment that will help Robert develop. Banners featuring Minoso, Abreu, Ramirez and Moncada flanked the table where Robert signed his contract.

Abreu said it’s a tradition he’s very proud to be a part of.

“That made me feel happy and proud. Not just for this organization that I’m a part of, but also for my heritage because I know that this is a very good organization and they are trying to take care of the Cuban players,” Abreu said. “I also feel a huge respect for Minnie Minoso because he was the first one who opened this door here with the White Sox.”

Through his mentoring, Abreu could keep that tradition going into the future. Robert and Moncada are huge pieces of the White Sox rebuilding puzzle, and Abreu is helping put those pieces together for the White Sox.