St. Viator's Walsh combines academics, basketball

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St. Viator's Walsh combines academics, basketball

Kevin Walsh would have enrolled at Prospect High School in Mount Prospect if he hadn't chosen St. Viator in Arlington Heights. But St. Viator was a no-brainer. His father went there. So did two older siblings. And his younger brother will follow him next year. It was inevitable.

There were two other reasons:

He was looking for a good education. He wants to study business or marketing or sports management in college. He ranks in the 93.23 percentile of his class and scored 33 on his ACT.

He wants to play basketball in college, too. The 6-3 senior has interest from Division II and II schools but he is hoping to attract looks from Division I schools.

Before enrolling, he was aware that St. Viator didn't have a reputation as a basketball power. Two years ago, the Lions lost to Chicago Marshall in a Class 3A supersectional, the farthest the school has ever advanced in the state tournament, only the third time beyond a regional.

"I had been going to St. Viator games since sixth grade and I knew they hadn't been very successful. But we're trying to change the mold. We hope to turn around the program with our class," Walsh said. "We have good chemistry on and off the court. We had talent two years ago but this team is potentially as good."

Coach Mike Howland said he is sold on his 7-0 team, which will face a major test against once-beaten Marist Friday on its home floor, then will host Hersey on Saturday. After playing Palatine next Tuesday, St. Viator will compete in the Wheeling Holiday Tournament.

"I know how good we are," Howland said. "I want the final game (of the regular season) on Feb. 25 at Notre Dame to be for the conference title. I want the kids to keep working hard every day to get better. We are extremely talented but at some point we will run into somebody more talented than us and that's when our experience, execution and hard work will pay off."

In his first year, Howland is anxious to make history and establish a basketball tradition at his alma mater. A 1998 graduate of St. Viator, the 31-year-old Howland once was the East Suburban Catholic's player of the year and served as assistant coach for eight years before landing the top job.

"I inherited a great group at all levels," he said. "We returned four starters from a 14-13 team. Our sophomore team was 23-1 last year. A lot of young kids are playing well. And we have a talented freshman and sophomore on the varsity. This team has the potential to be the best ever at the school."

Howland is excited because his team has depth (10 deep), scoring balance, athleticism and weapons at every position. The Lions are averaging 65 points per game while allowing only 44.

"I'm excited about the team and the start we have gotten off to," he said. "I was a point guard growing up. I liked to get up and down the floor. It's fun for the kids. And we play such a good pressure man-to-man defense that teams have trouble scoring against us."

Where is the talent coming from?

"We're getting good kids coming into school. Our feeder program is doing a great job of developing kids. Our talent pool is pulling in more kids at different ages," the coach said. "We're playing an exciting brand of basketball--up-tempo on offense and getting after people on defense. Kids are watching and want to be a part of our exciting style of play. We're playing with emotion. It's fun to watch and fun to be a part of."

Those who are providing the fun are Walsh (14.5 ppg), 5-10 senior point guard D.J. Morris (10 ppg, 5 assists), 6-3 sophomore Ore Arogundade (14 ppg, 6.5 rpg), 6-5 senior Chris Myjak (6 ppg, 8 rpg), 6-2 senior guard Dan Ford (6 ppg) and 5-11 freshman guard Mark Falotico (5 ppg).

Myjak is a three-year starter, Ford is the defensive stopper while Falotico is the sixth man.

"We have to continue to defend as we have been and we have to continue to be unselfish with the ball," Howland said. "We are hard to guard because we have five or six kids who can go for 20 points on any given night. Teams can't key on one or two of our players."

Another advantage is opponents will discover that the Lions are tougher than they look, thanks to strength coach Matt Seay, who came from Illinois-Chicago. Under Seay's guidance, the players went through extensive and intense four-day-a-week off-season workout sessions.

"Those basketball workouts have paid off," Howland said. "(Seay) has gotten our kids excited to get in the weight room. We set the tone from a physical standpoint. We don't get pushed around or pushed off the ball. We rebound well and we are prepared for the wear and tear of the season."

Meanwhile, Howland believes his team's success will enhance Walsh's college opportunities. Walsh wants to play at the highest level he can, hopefully Division I. He has worked hard to test himself against quality competition, to see if he could play in college.

"We underachieved last year," Walsh said. "Now we put as much pressure on the ball as we can. It's not too difficult to buy into defense. We know it is a key component in the game. We know the offense will hit cold streaks, times when shots aren't falling, when we are making poor choices, not scoring as much as usual. Then you have to lean on defense."

He relates his keen intelligence to his leadership responsibilities on the floor. His parents are college graduates who understand the importance of a good education. From the get-go, they pushed their son to be a better-than-average student. And he learned to use his smarts on the basketball court.

"In film study, I watch other teams and learn to read defenses and study plays, where players should be on the floor," he said. "I have to make sure everyone is in the right spot. If they are struggling, I tell them to keep their head up. We have to work as hard as we can to fulfill our potential."

Freak of nature: Kris Bryant wows again with insane healing ability

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USA TODAY

Freak of nature: Kris Bryant wows again with insane healing ability

For the second time in the last month, the reigning MVP has avoided serious injury and returned ahead of schedule.

Kris Bryant continues to impress everybody with his magical healing abilities.

He is in the lineup for Saturday's game against the St. Louis Cardinals after injuring a finger on his left hand while diving into third base during the first inning of Wednesday's game in Atlanta. Bryant was immediately removed from that game, had the off-day Thursday, was held out Friday and expected to be sitting again for the second game of this Cubs-Cardinals series.

But that's not the case. Bryant is once again hitting second and playing third base after missing only 17.5 innings with a finger issue that looked awfully scary when it initially occured.

Bryant also rolled his ankle when he stepped awkwardly on third base in Washington at the end of last month, but returned ahead of schedule then, too.

When discovering Bryant was returning to the lineup so soon, one Cubs staffer shook his head and described the superstar as a freak of nature.

"Some good supplements right there, man," Joe Maddon said. "That's that good fish oil. Yeah, it's nice that he came back so quickly. It happened with the ankle, too.

"I talked to him on the bench [Friday] and we just decided to wait 'til today to decide whether or not he can play or not. Texted [Cubs trainer PJ Mainville] this morning as I was doing the lineup. I sent a preliminary lineup [Friday night] possibly with him and then all of a sudden, he's fine.

"He took some BP in the cage. Of course, it's still a little bit sore — it's not 100 percent — but he's ready to go, so we put him out there."

The Cubs need Bryant in the lineup as often as possible right now as they attempt to claw their back into first place following a subpar first half. The Cardinals have also righted the ship as of late and the Cubs need every win they can muster up against National League Central foes right now.

But of course, the Cubs also want to be playing into November again this seasoon and absolutely need Bryant healthy and producing.

So how do they manage the desire to play him now while also looking out for his well-being two or three months down the line?

"There's a difference between pain and soreness," Maddon said. "If a guy's actually in pain, you don't want him to play. If he describes it as being sore, then it's OK to go ahead and play him.

"So it's more of a soreness as opposed to a pain, so in those circumstances, it's up to the player himself. Of course, we want him out there and we would not put him at risk. At the end of the day, the conversation between him and the trainer and then what I can glean of it, you try to make your best decision.

"But for me, the player has to understand the difference between pain and soreness. Soreness plays."

With Kyle Hendricks back in the mix, Cubs set rotation for Crosstown series with White Sox

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USA TODAY

With Kyle Hendricks back in the mix, Cubs set rotation for Crosstown series with White Sox

Kyle Hendricks is finally making his return to the Cubs' starting rotation.

Hendricks, last year's ERA champ who's been on the disabled list since June 5 with tendinitis in his right hand, will start Monday's series-opener with the White Sox at Wrigley Field, the first game of this season's Crosstown series.

Hendricks' return should provide a big boost to a rotation that struggled to find consistency during the Cubs' sub-.500 first half. Combined with the acquisition of Jose Quintana and the better-of-late pitching of Jon Lester and Jake Arrieta, Hendricks' return should make for a formidable starting five as the Cubs enter what could be a knock-down, drag-out, months-long race for the National League Central crown.

Hendricks' 2017 hasn't looked much like his 2016 — something that could be said for many Cubs players during this slow-to-get-going quest for a World Series repeat — with the righty boasting a 4.09 ERA in his first 11 starts. After finishing third in NL Cy Young voting last season, he surely won't come close to that this time around, but the Cubs are hoping simply for a return to normalcy, which would go a long way in stabilizing that starting staff, the inconsistency of which was likely the team's biggest problem through the season's first three months.

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That rotation lines up like this moving forward: After Hendricks pitches against the White Sox on Monday, it will be John Lackey in the second game on the North Side, with Arrieta and Lester pitching the two Crosstown games Wednesday and Thursday on the South Side. Quintana won't pitch against his former team, throwing Sunday's series finale against the Cardinals and then, presumably, the first of next weekend's three-game set against the Milwaukee Brewers.

With Hendricks returning to strengthen the rotation, the bullpen also gets a boost with Mike Montgomery returning to the relief corps. He'll be available out of the 'pen as soon as Saturday, manager Joe Maddon said before the Cubs' second game against the visiting St. Louis Cardinals. The bullpen also received the addition of Felix Pena, called up from Triple-A Iowa on Saturday, with infielder Tommy La Stella sent down. The bullpen could use an immediate influx of assistance after Friday's nightmarish eighth inning, in which Carl Edwards Jr., Hector Rondon and Justin Grimm combined to yield nine runs.

Between Kris Bryant returning to the Cubs' lineup Saturday, Hendricks returning to the rotation Monday and the team's recent six-game winning streak that has them a game out of first place, things are starting to look a little more like they were expected to look for the defending champs.