Seton's "glue guy" keeps team together

600388.png

Seton's "glue guy" keeps team together

Seton Academy basketball coach Branden Thomas and Jordan Foster, his floor leader, were wondering if the Sting was as good as its unbeaten record and how it would handle adversity the first time it was confronted by a very strong opponent in a hostile environment.

They found out last Saturday in Milwaukee.

Trailing by seven points with 1:50 to play, Seton rallied, had a chance to win in regulation time at the buzzer, then bounced back to win 62-59 in overtime over the third-rated team in Wisconsin.

"It said a lot about our kids," Thomas said. "We've been waiting to face adversity and we got it twice last week. Against Crane, we were behind at halftime for the first time and won the game. And then we came from behind to win in Milwaukee. The kids didn't panic. They stayed calm and composed. Last year, we lost five or six games like that. We're more mature this year. I'm watching my team grow up in front of me."

Against Milwaukee Hamilton, Seton had to make some critical stops on defense to trigger its rally in the closing seconds. In the overtime, Kamal Shasi converted two three-point shots from the corner, Christopher Seaton made two free throws and Shasi stole the ball with less than a minute remaining to preserve the victory.

"It showed me the maturity we have that didn't show up last year," Foster said. "We made plays. We did what we had to do to win. And everybody contributed, not just one or two players. We have worked hard and finally got to see it pay off in overtime against a big-time team."

Seton is 10-0 going into Friday's game against St. Francis de Sales in South Holland. Then the Sting will be off until meeting Rich Central in the opening game of the Big Dipper Holiday Tournament at Rich South on Dec. 26.

Thomas, in his second year, returned four starters and 13 of 15 players from last year's 21-8 squad that lost to Hales Franciscan in the sectional final. He believes his 2011-12 squad is deeper than Seton's 2009 state championship team but concedes it doesn't have a superstar comparable to that team's leader, D.J. Cooper.

But maybe that's a good thing. "The fact that we don't have a superstar player makes them believe more in the system rather than rely on one guy when we are in trouble," Thomas said. "In our first seven games, we had a different leading scorer in each game. We have a lot of balance."

How's this for balance? Four players average in double figures, two average between 7-9 and three average between 5-6. The leading scorer is 6-0 junior guard Mark Weems, who contributes 15 points, four rebounds and three assists per game.

Weems is surrounded by 6-foot-4 senior Sylvester (J.R.) Tolliver (12 ppg, 6 rpg), 6-foot-8 senior Russell Robinson (11 ppg, 8 rpg, 3 blocks), 6-foot junior guard Kamal Shasi (12 ppg) and 5-foot-11 senior guard Jordan Foster (9 ppg, 6 assists). Three players who also get a lot of playing time are 6-foot sophomore guard Christopher Seaton (8 ppg), 6-foot-5 junior Tre Patterson (5 ppg, 5 rpg) and 6-foot senior Damon Goodloe (4 ppg, 5 rpg).

"I like our speed and quickness--and I like our confidence," Thomas said. "We're not afraid to shoot. We are averaging 37 percent from the three-point line as a team. And Shasi is shooting 41 percent. Our guys are buying into defense and hard work.

"I am looking forward to seeing how we handle success. It is easier to motivate kids when they don't have attention and people are overlooking you. But no one will overlook us at the Big Dipper. I'm not surprised that we are 10-0. But it's still December. They don't hand out state trophies in December. We are confident now and the kids are locked into what we are doing."

Thomas, 32, took a roundabout route before arriving at the South Holland school. Born in Dallas, Texas, he was 6-foot-6 quarterback in high school who was recruited as a basketball player. He attended Grambling State, earned a degree in education, got married and followed his wife when she got a job in Chicago.

He started teaching at Hales Franciscan in 2004, met coach Gary London, joined London's staff for four years, then became an assistant under coach Ken Stevenson at Seton in 2009. He spent a year with coach Lew Thorpe at North Lawndale, then returned to Seton when Stevenson left and became head basketball coach and dean of admissions and enrollment. He beat out 40 applicants for the job.

"It's a good time to be in the program," he said. "The student body has really rallied around us. The seniors were freshmen when we won the state title so they remember how it was at the time. Now they know they have to keep working hard because we can't sneak up on anyone at this point."

Like his coach, Foster also took a roundabout route to Seton. He played basketball at Oak Park as a freshman and sophomore, then moved to Chicago and transferred to Seton because that's where his mother wanted him to go.
As a junior, he was voted team captain. He averaged eight points, five assists and three steals as the team's floor leader.

"I wasn't there when they won the state title. But I watched them play. I watched D.J. Cooper, a big-time player. I liked his game," Foster said. "What impressed me about the program was the coaches let the kids play through their mistakes. That was cool to me.

"We had a lot of talent last year but we never got enough time to put it all together. This year, we have played together for a year and we have more chemistry. We know each other's games. Everybody has matured into their roles. No one is focusing on being the guy like Cooper.

"I'm not surprised we are succeeding without a superstar. Anybody on the team can make big plays. We don't have to rely on one player. What is my role? I'm the glue guy. My job is to keep the team together. I need to do whatever it takes to win."

Cubs not worrying about a thing after split with Marlins: 'We're right there'

Cubs not worrying about a thing after split with Marlins: 'We're right there'

MIAMI – Jon Jay walked into a quiet clubhouse late Sunday morning, turned right and headed directly toward the sound system in one corner of the room, plugging his phone into the sound system and playing Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds.”

The Cubs outfielder whistled as he changed into his work clothes at Marlins Park, singing along to the lyrics with Anthony Rizzo a few lockers over: “Don’t worry, about a thing, ‘cause every little thing gonna be all right.” 

That’s what the Cubs keep telling themselves, because most of them have World Series rings and the National League Central is such a bad division.

“The biggest thing is to keep the floaties on until we get this thing right,” manager Joe Maddon said before a 4-2 loss left the Cubs treading water again at 38-37. “We’re solvent. We’re right there. We’re right next to first place.”

The Cubs will leave this tropical environment and jump into the deep end on Monday night for the start of a four-game showdown against the Washington Nationals in the nation’s capital.

Miami sunk the Cubs in the first inning when Addison Russell made a costly error on the routine groundball Miami leadoff guy Ichiro Suzuki chopped to shortstop, a mistake that helped create three unearned runs. Martin Prado drilled Mike Montgomery’s first-pitch fastball off the left-center field wall for a two-out double and a 3-0 lead. Montgomery (1-4, 2.03 ERA) lasted six innings and retired the last 10 batters he faced.

“Keep The Floaties On” sounds like an idea for Maddon’s next T-shirt. The 2017 Cubs haven’t been more than four games over .500 or two games under .500 at any point this season. The 2016 Cubs didn’t lose their 37th game until July 19 and spent 180 days in first place.

“That’s what was so special about it,” Rizzo said. “We boat-raced from Game 1 to Game 7 with a couple bumps in the road, but this is baseball. It’s not going to be all smooth-sailing every day. You got to work through things.”

As MLB addresses long game times, why Mark Buehrle’s zippy pace is worth highlighting

As MLB addresses long game times, why Mark Buehrle’s zippy pace is worth highlighting

Sometime in the future, near or far, Major League Baseball will probably begin using a pitch clock to penalize sluggish hitters and pitchers.

The sport without a clock will, someday, have a clock. ESPN’s Tim Kurkjian offered that as one of his predictions for what baseball could look like 20 years from now, which would be one of Rob Manfred’s signature reforms as commissioner. 

This kind of change wouldn’t be necessary, though, if more pitchers were like Mark Buehrle. 

“Buehrle was hyper,” pitching coach Don Cooper said. “He wanted to go, go, go.”

No pitcher since 2007 — when Pitch F/X began calculating “pace” — worked faster than Buehrle, who averaged 16.7 seconds between pitches. Only 56 qualified pitchers since 2007 can be considered to work “fast,” i.e. with an average time between pitches of 20 seconds or fewer (it’s a list that includes fellow former White Sox left-handers John Danks and Chris Sale). And that’s only 12 percent of the 473 qualified pitchers in the last decade.

Buehrle’s 99-minute complete game against the Seattle Mariners in 2005 still is the only nine-inning contest to be completed in fewer than 100 minutes since 1984. There was that memorable 1:53 duel with Mark Mulder and the Oakland A’s in 2003, and both Buehrle’s perfect game and no hitter lasted 2:03. 

Of course, Buehrle didn’t just work quick, he pitched well while zipping through innings. Buehrle finished his career with a 3.81 ERA, made four All-Star teams and threw at least 200 innings every year from 2001-2014. He had a .572 career winning percentage, too, so Cooper knew about Buehrle would give the White Sox a chance to win in about six out of every 10 starts.

“But you also know it’s going to be about two hours and 10 minutes, too,” Cooper added. 

A given game’s length isn’t all about the pace of the pitcher, of course. Batters can slow things down by stepping out of the box and calling for time, and games can feel like a slog with replay delays and mid-inning pitching changes. 

Still, how quickly a pitcher works usually dictates the pace of a game and how long it takes to be completed. Cooper wondered why hitters didn’t step out more against Buehrle to disrupt his rhythm, but perhaps the answer is that everyone on the field gets caught up in the quick pace set by the pitcher. 

“Everybody tells me they were so happy when I pitched for a quick game, but every time I was on the bench in between my starts, it was a 3, 3 1/2 hour game and it wasn't very much fun,” Buehrle said. “I think some of these games do get too long. Pitchers take their time, hitters get out of the box. I don't get all that but that's just the way I worked. I just grabbed the ball and went.”

Maybe adding a pitch clock with penalties affecting the count will force pitchers and hitters to find a quicker rhythm. That was one of the hallmarks of Buehrle’s career, and those snappy starts are one of the reasons why No. 56 was such a popular player on 35th and Shields. 

Former manager Ozzie Guillen, in summing up Buehrle's mentality, also offered some free advice for fixing baseball's pace-of-play problem: “Just throw the ball, get people out and have fun.”