Simeon 'moving in the right direction'

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Simeon 'moving in the right direction'

Jabari Parker may be the best player on Simeon's top-ranked team. Or Steve Taylor. Or Kendrick Nunn. But coach Robert Smith wants everybody to know that the Wolverines' indispensable and undisputed leader is 5-foot-10, 160-pound senior point guard Jelani Neely.

When highly rated Jaylon Tate transferred from De La Salle to Simeon last summer, many observers immediately penciled him into the starting lineup. They shook their heads in disbelief when Smith said Tate would be his team's sixth man, that Neely would remain at point guard.

"Jelani came to Simeon because it fit his way of playing," Smith said. "He is a traditional point guard. He controls the game. He is at 85 percent and that's more than most point guards. He runs the team, doesn't score, gets the ball into people's hands and knows what we have to do in situations."

Most of all, Smith said Neely "understands the game the way I want it played. He is in my head all the time, like Derrick (Rose) was here. Talent doesn't always get you the win. He isn't the most talented player but he understands Simeon basketball and no one on the team knows it better than him."

Which is why Simeon's offense struggled early when Neely was sidelined from July to Nov. 25 with a partial ACL tear. At the Pontiac Holiday Tournament, when Simeon barely got past Peoria Manual 48-47 in the semifinals, Smith juggled two guards in a vain attempt to fill Neely's leadership qualities.

Now Neely is back at almost full strength and Smith believes his team is "moving in the right direction, playing real good basketball and playing the Simeon way" as the defending two-time state champion seeks its first Chicago Public League championship since 2007.

They will meet Orr Wednesday in the semifinals at DePaul. In the other semifinal, Marshall will meet Bogan. The two winners will duel for the Public League title on Friday at Chicago State.

"It has a lot to do with Neely back," Smith said. "After our (75-50) loss to (nationally ranked) Findlay Prep on TV, our kids realized we have to go back to playing the way I want them to play. We haven't played badly since. But we still haven't put four quarters together. It would be scary when we do."

No matter how valuable Neely is to Simeon's success, however, he isn't above Smith's disciplinary rules. When he stepped over the line prior to Sunday's quarterfinal game against Marshall, he was forced to sit out with one other starter, Kendrick Nunn, and three reserves.

"Discipline is the big thing," Smith said. "You can't do anything without discipline, on and off the court, at all times, in the classroom, at home. If you are going to be successful in life, not just in basketball, you must have discipline. Doing it their way is what I won't tolerate. We have built a program to do it the Simeon way and that's the only way it will be done."

With the talent and depth at hand, Smith is calling for his players to press and apply even more pressure than in past seasons. He wants to speed up the game at both ends of the floor to take advantage of his team's athleticism. "This is a more up-tempo team than ever before in Simeon history," Smith said.

"I like what we're doing on defense. Sitting in a zone isn't cohesive to what we have. And I like that we're sharing the ball, moving the ball, not doing a lot of dribbling, moving the ball from side to side. Jabari doesn't have to score 30 points for us to win.

"Our kids have finally figured out the way to play. They are having a lot of fun. You can look at practice. They are so much more intense. They value every possession, even in practice.

"They know where we are and where we're trying to get to. If we don't win it all, it won't be a great season. We wouldn't have accomplished all of our goals."

Cubs down to only one All-Star starter in voting update

Cubs down to only one All-Star starter in voting update

The Cubs are down to only one starter in next month's All-Star Game in Miami: reigning MVP Kris Bryant.

Jason Heyward lost his grip on the final starting outfielder spot to Marlins star Marcell Ozuna in the latest All-Star balloting update released by the MLB:

That may be for the best, as the Cubs are currently banged up (Heyward. Ben Zobrist and Kyle Hendricks are on the disabled list) and slogging through a season where they've hovered around .500. So maybe four days off in a row would be beneficial for the defending champs.

Heyward is 29,270 votes behind Ozuna and Zobrist is 118,248 votes behind Heyward. It appears as if Washington's Bryce Harper and Colorado's Charlie Blackmon are sure things for the top two outfielder spots in the NL.

Bryant is only 58,082 votes ahead of Nolan Arenado at third base. Anthony Rizzo trails Ryan Zimmerman at first base, Javy Baez comes in well behind Daniel Murphy at second base and Buster Posey has more than twice as many votes as runner-up Willson Contreras at catcher.

Addison Russell is third among shortstops. Kyle Schwarber — despite being demoted to the minors last week — is eighth among NL outfielders.

It's a far cry from 2016, when the Cubs made up all four infield spots in the NL starting lineup.

Voting ends in four days. Fans can head to MLB.com to vote.

If Nationals are playoff preview, what should Cubs do at trade deadline?

If Nationals are playoff preview, what should Cubs do at trade deadline?

WASHINGTON – Cubs pitching coach Chris Bosio has perspective after sitting through the darkest days of the rebuild, the sign-and-flip cycles and moments like “Men Playing Against Boys,” the way ex-manager Dale Sveum once sized up the team during a 2012 series against the Washington Nationals.

Bosio trusted future “World’s Greatest Leader” Theo Epstein, general manager Jed Hoyer and the rest of a growing front office would deliver talent during the 101-loss season that led to the Kris Bryant No. 2 overall draft pick and the Ryan Dempster/Kyle Hendricks buzzer-beater deal at the trade deadline.   

So while Bosio is a hardened realist who understands the banged-up Cubs haven’t played up to their potential, he also knows these are first-division problems. 

“If Theo and Jed can find a way to make our team better, you can bet they’re going to do it,” Bosio said. “But at the same time, they’re not going to sacrifice our future. They know that the team (here has) a lot of holdovers from the World Series club. There’s a lot of holdovers from the team that went to the National League (Championship Series in 2015). We’ve been through that. And when it comes crunch time, we produce.”

With that in mind, a look at where things stand five weeks out from the July 31 trade deadline as the defending champs begin a potential playoff preview on Monday at Nationals Park:

• If Max Scherzer flirts with another no-hitter or a 20-strikeout game on Tuesday, the questions will start all over again about adding a hitter. Javier Baez even let this slip over the weekend after a win over the Miami Marlins: “Pretty much not having a leadoff guy right now is kind of tough.” But shipping Kyle Schwarber to Triple-A Iowa is not necessarily the start of an offensive overhaul.

“Our focus is going to be on pitching,” Hoyer said. “I would never say never to something like that, because I don’t know what’s going to present itself as we get closer to the deadline. I will say this: When it comes to our offense, I really do see it as these are our guys. We’re as deep with position players as any team in baseball. These guys have performed exceptionally well. Most of these guys have won 200 games over the last two years.

“We believe in them for a reason. We don’t have rings on our fingers without all these guys.”

• With Jake Arrieta and John Lackey on the verge of becoming free agents, the Cubs feel like they should start working on their winter plans this summer and begin remodeling the rotation. The 38-37 record makes you wonder how ultra-aggressive the front office will be to win a bidding war for a frontline starter, but the Cubs are only 1.5 games behind the Milwaukee Brewers, a first-place team for now that was supposed to be rebuilding this year.   

But the Cleveland Indians got to the 10th inning of a World Series Game 7 with Trevor Bauer, Josh Tomlin and Ryan Merritt making nine playoff starts combined, because they had Corey Kluber and a dynamic bullpen.

The primary focus will have to be on the rotation, but adding another high-leverage reliever to work in front of lights-out closer Wade Davis would shorten games and help preserve Carl Edwards Jr. (170 pounds) and Koji Uehara (42 years old).   

“At some point, you’re going to assess your own team,” Hoyer said. “Sometimes strengthening a strength can work. You see teams that sometimes have a good offense – and add another good hitter – and all of a sudden we’re going to beat you in a different way.”

• Without making this summer’s blockbuster deal for a closer – the way the Cubs landed Aroldis Chapman – Washington risks wasting Bryce Harper’s second-to-last season before free agency and another year of Scherzer’s $210 million megadeal.

Six different Nationals have saved games for a 45-30 team and the bullpen ranks near the bottom of the majors with a 4.88 ERA. Can’t blame that on Dusty Baker, who has notched more than 1,800 wins as a manager and guided four different franchises to the playoffs.

But it won’t be easy to find a quick fix for the Washington bullpen or Cubs rotation. The American League opened for business on Monday with only three of its 15 teams more than three games under .500, and one being the White Sox, who are (obviously) not seen as a realistic trade partner for the Cubs.

“The American League is incredibly jumbled up,” Hoyer said. “That’s why a lot of deals don’t happen this time of year, because people are still sorting it out. The next five weeks of baseball will determine a lot of that. Some of those teams that are in the race now will fall back.

“There’s a lack of teams right now that have a true sense of sellers. I think there are a lot of teams right now that are close enough that they’re not going to admit it that they’re going to be sellers. That five weeks will determine a lot about who ends up on which side of the fence.”