Pocic changes his game plan

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Pocic changes his game plan

When Ethan Pocic thought he had prioritized his recruiting and was about to narrow his wish list to 10 finalists, Lemont's 6-foot-7, 290-pound offensive tackle received scholarship offers from Alabama, Auburn, Oklahoma, USC, Florida, Florida State, Oregon and USC.

At the same time, Michigan and Notre Dame, two schools that rated high on Pocic's list, filled their quotas for offensive linemen and no longer were interested in Pocic.

All of a sudden, as fast as Pocic could say "I can't pass up a chance to visit those schools," he revised his game plan--and his travel schedule.

"I've got to make more visits," he said. "I want to visit everywhere so when I make a decision, it will be the right one. I'm not sure of a timetable (to make a commitment), just whenever the time is right."

Over the Memorial Day weekend, Pocic plans to visit LSU and Auburn. During his spring break, he visited Alabama, Florida, Florida State, Auburn, Tennessee and Ohio State.

Pocic, who has 20 offers and is rated as the No. 2 prospect in the class of 2013 in Illinois by most recruiting analysts, said he still wants to visit Wisconsin, Iowa and Ohio State.

USC? Oregon? Oklahoma? "I'm taking it one day at a time right now. I want to take it all in. When the time is right, you'll know," he said.

What is he looking for? "A winning program, good tradition. I want to be comfortable with the coaches and players. I want to have a good relationship with them. I'm a left offensive tackle. I'm looking for a school that can prepare me for the next level," he said.

He learned about the recruiting process from his older brother Graham, the starting center at Illinois. But Graham committed early and Ethan wants to be sure he weighs all of his options before making a decision.

What if he had committed before Alabama, Florida, USC, LSU and Auburn offered?

And what if he had committed to Michigan and Notre Dame, which already were stockpiling offensive linemen? Michigan has commitments from two Illinois products, Kyle Bosch of Wheaton St. Francis and Logan Tuley-Tillman of Peoria Manual. And Notre Dame has a commitment from Colin McGovern of Lincoln-Way West.

Now Pocic is considering Wisconsin, which has commitments from two big tackles from Barrington, senior Dan Voltz and junior Jack Keeler.

"This is a good problem to have," said Pocic, acknowledging that having 20 offers is better than no offers at all. "What I learned from watching my brother go through the process is to take all your visits, as many unofficial visits as you can."

While Pocic's brother was going through the process and Graham was considering Wisconsin, Ethan got a chance to meet All-America tackle Joe Thomas. Ever since, he has been following Thomas, who was the No. 3 pick in the 2007 NFL draft by the Cleveland Browns and is a five-time Pro Bowl selection, the Anthony Munoz of his era.

"I watch a lot of football. I always check out the (offensive) linemen," Pocic said. "I like Joe Thomas. I've always watched him, even when he was I college. He is perfect on pass protection. He shows up every day. If you're a left offensive tackle, that's the kind of player you want to be."

He knows that left offensive tackle is the most important position in the offensive line, the guy who protects the quarterback's blind side. He recalls watching a "Top 10 Linemen Of All Time" segment on NFL Network. Anthony Munoz was No. 1, the best there ever was.

"I don't like to brag on myself," said Pocic, who is rated as the No. 2 prospect in the class of 2013 in Illinois behind Joliet Catholic running back Ty Isaac. "I just want to get better. I've been working on my agility, strength and footwork."

He is missing one thing--a ring, the symbol of a state championship. Lemont has been one of the most successful programs in the state in the last decade. Coach Eric Michaelsen's team has lost only five games in the last four years. Last year's 12-1 squad lost to Peoria Richwoods 34-31 in double overtime in the Class 6A semifinals.

This year? Pocic, 6-foot-2, 265-pound offensive guard Tim McAuliffe, linebacker Connor O'Brien and defensive back Jake Lemming are the most experienced returnees that Michaelsen figures to lean on as he tries to build another state championship contender. McAuliffe has offers from Toledo, Western Michigan, Western Kentucky and North Dakota.

From ‘When It Happens’ to ‘Where It Happens,’ Cubs mining next generation of talent

From ‘When It Happens’ to ‘Where It Happens,’ Cubs mining next generation of talent

MESA, Ariz. – The Cubs turned Theo Epstein’s “Baseball is Better” speech from his first Wrigley Field press conference into a marketing pitch that might distract fans for a moment from an awful big-league product.          

The 2017 “That’s Cub” ad campaign actually uses what started organically years ago within the farm system, two words that recognized a great at-bat or a heads-up play or a defensive stop.    

Business vs. baseball is no longer the dominant storyline it had been during the early phases of the Wrigleyvile rebuild. Business and baseball are booming for what’s become Major League Baseball’s version of the Golden State Warriors.

It’s just interesting that a franchise valued at north of $2 billion has found so much inspiration on the back fields of this spring-training complex, where staffers you wouldn’t recognize get to work before dawn and players you’ve never heard of dream about their big break.

It’s not just drafting Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber. And trading for Anthony Rizzo, Jake Arrieta, Kyle Hendricks and Addison Russell. And hiring a manager obsessed with T-shirts. Baseball operations became a marketing department, selling prospects to Cub fans, the Chicago media and the gurus putting together the rankings – and trying to get buy-in from players who all think they belong in The Show.

Minor-league field coordinator Tim Cossins gets credit for “When It Happens,” a theme that didn’t simply revolve around 1908 and the championship drought. Jason McLeod, the senior vice president who oversees scouting and player development, suggested pairing the W flag with that phrase, and it became this ubiquitous idea around the team.   

“We tied everything into it,” McLeod said Sunday at Sloan Park. “When that time comes, when it happens, can you lay the bunt down? When it happens, can you execute a pitch? Can you go in and pinch-run, steal the base when the time comes?

“The big ‘When It Happens’ is when we win, of course, but for us in (player development), it was about everything that we’re going to be asked to do in that moment: Are you going to be ready when it happens?”

Now what? The defending World Series champs are going with: “Where It Happens.”

A bullet point from Epstein’s bio in this year’s media guide references how his first three first-round draft picks with the Cubs “combined to set up the go-ahead run in the top of the 10th inning of Game 7 of the 2016 World Series when Schwarber singled and (Albert) Almora pinch-ran, moved to second on Bryant’s deep fly to center, and scored on Ben Zobrist’s double.”

“We’re never going to forget about the importance of young players,” Epstein said. “There’s definitely a lot of talented, interesting prospects still in the system and sometimes they get a little overshadowed because of the star young players we have at the big-league level and how quickly some of those guys moved through the system. But there’s a lot of talent there.

“We’re going to lean on young players beyond our prospects, not just in trades, but also to provide organizational depth and also to serve as the next generation, the next infusion of talent at the appropriate time.

“But it’s a process. There’s going to be a lot of ups and downs in development for all these guys. And we have a ton of faith in our player development operation to help these guys along the way.”

So Ian Happ will start the season one phone call away at Triple-A Iowa and see if some combination of injuries and his switch-hitting skills and defensive versatility gets him to the North Side at some point. Or used as a trade chip for pitching, the way third baseman Jeimer Candelario and catcher Victor Caratini appear to be blocked.

Joe Maddon already compared Eloy Jimenez – who can’t legally buy a beer in Wrigleyville yet – to a young Miguel Cabrera or Edgar Martinez. The Cubs are practically begging for someone like Eddie Butler to pitch his way into the 2018 rotation.

By Monday morning, when the full squad reconvenes after a weekend trip to Las Vegas, the Cubs could start making cuts and shaping their Opening Night roster. But the Cubs are going to need so much more than the 25 players who will be introduced next Sunday at Busch Stadium. Maddon used 26 pitchers and 149 different lineups last season. This is “Where It Happens.”

“If this particular group of youngsters were in a different organization that had a greater need right now, you’d probably hear a lot more about these guys,” Maddon said. “But the fact that they’re stuck behind a Bryant and a Russell and a Javy (Baez) and a Rizzo and a (Willson) Contreras and a Schwarber, et cetera, et cetera, it becomes more difficult to really push or project upon these guys.

“But I think these young guys have gone about their business really well. If it’s bothering them or if they’re concerned about that, they’re not showing that. I think they’ve put their best foot forward.”

Honda Road Ahead: Bulls continue playoff push against Cavaliers, Hawks

Honda Road Ahead: Bulls continue playoff push against Cavaliers, Hawks

Mark Schanowski, Kendall Gill and Will Perdue break down the Bulls' upcoming schedule in the latest edition of the Bulls Road Ahead, presented by Chicagoland and NW Indiana Honda dealers.

TNT Bulls are back this week as the team heads into a crucial stretch. 

Currently, the Bulls sit half a game back of the Miami Heat for the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference playoff race, and with just eight games remaining on the schedule, each contest is essentially a must-win. 

So, yes, Thursday would be a great time for Jimmy Butler and company to summon their TNT alter ego. The Bulls have sealed 18 straight victories when playing on TNT Thursday, an improbable feat considering those games are usually reserved for two of the NBA's best. 

To continue that run, they'll have to down Lebron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, who are also fighting for playoff positioning -- albeit at the top of the conference. Good thing the Bulls have a tendency to get up for big games. 

"The Bulls play up and down to their competition," Bulls Pregame and Postgame analyst Kendall Gill said. "They've been doing that the whole season." 

After Cleveland, the Bulls get set to battle another playoff squad, the Atlanta Hawks. 

Watch the video above to see Schanowski, Gill and Perdue break down the matchups.