Puckett deserves Hall of Fame recognition

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Puckett deserves Hall of Fame recognition

The Chicago Catholic League Hall of Fame is one of the most distinguished organizations of its kind, overflowing with tradition and pride. But it built its reputation on football, so basketball has taken a backseat over the decades.

An examination of the Catholic League's Hall of Fame roster reveals fewer than 25 former basketball stars, including two NBA players of note, Mount Carmel's Lloyd Walton and St. Francis de Sales' Eric Anderson.

Others are Art Hicks, Sam Puckett, Tom Kleinschmidt, Melvin McCounts, Kevin Boyle, Jim Stack, Steve Krafcisin, Steve Puidokas, Ken Redfield, Donald Whiteside, Jeff Carpenter, Greg Carney, Jack Stephens, Mark Zubor, George Janky, Frank Ehmann, George Bon Salle, Ron Feiereisel and Joe Bertrand.

Interestingly, LaRue Martin of De La Salle, who was the No. 1 choice in the 1972 NBA draft by the Portland Trail Blazers, ahead of future Hall of Famers Bob McAdoo and Julius Erving, hasn't been selected. The 6-11 center played at Loyola and once created a lot of buzz by outplaying UCLA's Bill Walton in a college game, but never caught on in the NBA and retired after the 1975-76 season.

Longtime city basketball observer Shelly Stark rates Stephens, the former Mount Carmel football and basketball star, as one of the five best players he has seen since 1950--along with Public Leaguers Sweet Charlie Brown, Clarence Wordlaw, Paxton Lumpkin, Abe Booker and Jamie Brandon, as well as Catholic Leaguers Greg Carney, Tony Parker, Art Hicks and Sam Puckett.

But, largely because the Catholic League didn't join the Illinois High School Association and didn't begin to participate in the state football and basketball playoffs until 1974-75, many of the Catholic League's great athletes and coaches have been overlooked when the subject turns to Hall of Famers.

When the Illinois High School Basketball Hall of Fame and Museum in Pinckneyville announced its first class last November, only one Catholic Leaguer was among the 60 male inductees--St. Elizabeth's Art Hicks.

The second class was announced recently and not a single Catholic Leaguer was selected among the 20 inductees. Interestingly, the class to be inducted into the Catholic League Hall of Fame on Thursday, May 3 includes one basketball player, Norb "Gooch" Lewinski, who played at Mount Carmel and joined Stephens and Joe Bertrand at Notre Dame.

Sam Puckett is a personal favorite. He is a member of the Catholic League's Hall of Fame, but few high school basketball fans outside Chicago have ever heard of him. He was a legend in the city. Only 5-foot-9, he put Hales Franciscan on the map, locally and nationally, and scored more than 2,600 points from 1967 to 1970.

He led Hales to three consecutive National Catholic championships and to the Catholic League title in 1970 and to second place in 1968. His 1970 team lost to Public League champion Harlan 72-66 for the all-city crown.

How good was Puckett? When future Hall of Fame basketball player Isiah Thomas enrolled at St. Joseph High School in Westchester, he was asked what uniform number he wanted to wear.

"No. 11," Thomas said, "because Sam Puckett wore No. 11, and Sam Puckett was the best player I ever saw."

He was a Parade All-American. He scored 49 points, breaking Austin Carr's record, to win the National Catholic championship in 1970. He is widely regarded as the best under 6-foot player in state history.

Curiously, he was recruited to Hales Franciscan as a 5-foot-7, 110-pound quarterback with Ricky Brooks, who later played football at Iowa. He chose Hales Franciscan over St. Philip and Fenwick because they offered full scholarships--lunch, bus fare, books, tuition--and it was a new school that was trying to establish an identity.

He was recruited by Notre Dame, but also received fliers from dozens of colleges and coaches who expressed interest in him. However he never visited any other campuses besides Notre Dame, even though Cazzie Russell wanted him to visit Michigan. Maybe they were turned off by his size or his 17 ACT score.

He was accepted at Notre Dame and was never told he didn't qualify. He attended classes before the season began, then was informed that he couldn't play. After the winter break, he transferred to Jacksonville to play with Artis Gilmore. But he didn't think it was the place for him and he returned to Chicago, then went to play at an NAIA school in Hawaii for two years, then the University of Hawaii as a senior. He never pursued a chance to play in the NBA. At 24, his basketball career was over.

But he won't be forgotten. He grew up in an era when Cazzie Russell was the biggest name in town, then George Wilson before him. In the mid-1960s, Eugene Ford and Rich Bradshaw were headliners.

"Your reputation depended on who chose you to play, how you performed," Puckett said. "At that time, you made your name before you played for a school. People knew you. I played at Marillac and Gladstone and Garfield Park. And I played in Maywood against Jim Brewer.

"We knew where to go to put your name on the map. I made my rounds. I had to have skills. I had to handle the ball. I got the ball to the open man. I kept everyone involved. There were playground legends and team players, guys who got wrote about and guys who didn't get wrote about."

Everybody knew how to spell Sam Puckett's name.

Hawks Talk Podcast: What's the cause of recent struggles?

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USA TODAY

Hawks Talk Podcast: What's the cause of recent struggles?

On the latest Hawks Talk Podcast, Pat Boyle and Steve Konroyd discuss the latest slump and how much does Artem Anisimov's injury play a role in their struggles?

Konroyd tells us he was surprised by Ryan Hartman's benching in Tampa.

The guys play the game, playoff minutes or press box minutes?  They run through the players who are on the bubble when it comes to postseason play.

They also discuss the Hawks chances of overtaking Washington for the President's trophy.

Plus, Konroyd breaks down possible first round opponents: St Louis, Calgary and Nashville.

No sign Bears locked into drafting a QB in 2017 as Ryan Pace underscores 'best available' tack

No sign Bears locked into drafting a QB in 2017 as Ryan Pace underscores 'best available' tack

PHOENIX – NFL owners meetings, like the Scouting Combine, invariably involve hallway conversations regarding quarterbacks. Why doesn’t Colin Kaepernick have a job? Why does Mark Sanchez have one? Will Jay Cutler take one? This year, despite a 3-13 record last season and a continuing slide toward irrelevance, the Bears are in intriguing part of those conversations, or maybe, whispers.

The reason, beyond the obvious fact that the Bears stand at No. 3 in a QB-lite draft, is because the Bears not only have done significant things at the position – cutting Cutler, signing Sanchez and Mike Glennon, not signing Brian Hoyer – but one NFL source said to keep an eye on the Bears as potentially being involved in at least one future blockbuster after this season.

More on that in a moment.

First of all, every indication is that GM Ryan Pace is absolutely NOT locked into or about to allow himself to be pressured into drafting a quarterback in 2017. Certainly not at No. 3, maybe not at all. Maybe this is pre-draft posturing, misinformation or misdirection, and Pace has said in the past that he wants to draft quarterbacks but hasn’t in his first two Bears drafts. But still:

“We’re going to draft the best players available, wherever that may be,” Pace said on Tuesday. “And if it’s a quarterback, it’s a quarterback. But we’re going to take the best players available. I think now some of those things are unforeseen. You can’t predict some of those things. But right now I like the way Sanchez blends with Glennon and with Connor Shaw.”

Whether the public likes Pace’s moves at quarterback, or whether they’re good, bad or anywhere in between is just offseason speculation for now. The NFL will start giving him meaningful feedback sometime this September. What Pace has in fact done, regardless of analyses at this point, like it or not, is create options for himself and his coaches. And those extend beyond 2017.

Some context here: Even with some measure of job security in the short term, Pace is tasked with winning in the future as well as the present. He has addressed the 2017 quarterback situation, if not spectacularly, with Glennon and Sanchez specifically. But think beyond ’17; because Pace is.

More context: GM’s and head coaches like and need options. Doubts about Glennon, Sanchez, Connor Shaw or some rookie notwithstanding, Pace has the Bears positioned with options, not necessarily good options, but arguably best-available for the most part.

A little more context: Dowell Loggains may not have quelled all doubts about his play calling, but Cutler, Hoyer and Matt Barkley all had their best NFL stretches, albeit short, under his stewardship. 

Pace has effectively positioned the Bears for not one or two, but as many as a half-dozen spins of the quarterback wheel looking for a winner. It is a place the Bears were not in for most of Cutler’s tenure outside of brief Hoyer and Josh McCown bursts.

Within this context, consider the Pace’s chances for a strike at THE priority position for the franchise:

Spin 1: Mike Glennon

Pace announced the former Bucs quarterback as the Bears’ starter. Probably is. But Matt Flynn was the Seahawks’ starter when they free-agent signed him away from Green Bay in 2012. He lost his starting job by the end of training camp to a rookie third-round draft choice, Russell Wilson.

The Bears chose Glennon over Cutler and Hoyer because of upside; if Glennon plays to his perceived ceiling, the Bears have him under contract for two more years.

Spin 2: Mark Sanchez

When all the cynical subsides, consider him a low-risk spin who has been good enough to stand a career 37-35 as a starter. McCown amounted to something and still is after age 30, even with bad teams. Hoyer played some of his best football the past two seasons, after age 30. If Loggains resuscitates Sanchez’s career at age 30… .

Spin 3: The rookie

How, where and even if – make that a big IF – the Bears make their first Ryan Pace draft pick of a quarterback doesn’t come around for another month. But whomever the Bears select, if they select a quarterback this draft, gives Pace another spin of the QB wheel.

Spin 4: Kirk Cousins

CSNChicago.com confirmed that the Bears called on Cousins’ availability, even with the specter of Washington’s franchise tag hanging over him. But as one NFL source noted, Cousins is on a one-year deal ($23.94 million tag guarantee), it is his second and presumably last tag, and he has spurned long-term Washington offers to this point.

Glennon’s contract commits the Bears to $16 million this year. After that, minimal guarantee. Sanchez, one-year deal. Cousins, one-year deal.

Next offseason… . 

Spin 5: Jimmy Garoppolo

The Eastern Illinois quarterback wasn’t deemed worth a No. 3 pick in 2014, in either round one or two. He hasn’t put enough on film to make him worth that pick now.

But if the Cleveland Browns don’t trade for him, or New England hasn’t turned to him and locked him up contractually, he would be an unrestricted free agent next offseason. It will take a long-term market deal but at least he wouldn’t cost a high No. 1.

Spin 6: Connor Shaw

He is already clearly getting a preseason look, as he did last year, and is ahead of evaluations that accompanied David Fales and some other Bears hopefuls. He’s found money if he develops into something, but Warren Moon, Tony Romo and Kurt Warner were all undrafted free agents, too.