Streets gives back with Meanstreets

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Streets gives back with Meanstreets

Tai Streets arrived at a crossroads in his life in 2005. One of the most accomplished three-sport athletes in state history, perhaps the best since Centralia's legendary Dike Eddleman in the 1940s, Streets' six-year career in the NFL was over. What direction was he going to take?

Would you believe basketball? He grew up in Matteson and joined coach Ron Newquist's Wolverines, a south suburban AAU team, while he was attending Rich South in Richton Park.

"It was a totally different experience," Streets said. "It was something to do in the summer. I loved competing and I loved playing basketball. We played against the best players in the country. Our goal was to go to the state and national AAU tournaments. The nationals were in New Orleans. I liked basketball more than football at that time."

After transferring to Thornton of Harvey as a senior, he earned All-State recognition while playing on the Wildcats' 1995 team that ousted top-ranked Farragut and Kevin Garnett in the state quarterfinals but lost to Peoria Manual in the state final.

But football punched his ticket to college and the NFL. He was an All-Big Ten receiver at Michigan and caught two touchdown passes in the 1998 Rose Bowl as the Wolverines clinched a share of the national championship. As a senior, he was voted MVP on a team that was quarterbacked by Tom Brady.

Streets played for five years with the San Francisco 49ers as the fourth receiver behind Hall of Famer Jerry Rice, Terrell Owens and J.J. Stokes. Released after the 2003 season, he signed with the Detroit Lions. After one season, he retired.

"In 2005, my knees were banged up. I couldn't do it anymore, too much pain," Streets said.

Fortunately, he had laid a foundation for his future in 2001 when he co-founded with best friend Carlton Debose an AAU team known as the Wildcats. He had been persuaded to launch the project by Newquist, who had too many 14-and-under players and was looking for a way to give them more playing time. "Are you interested in coaching? You should pursue this," Newquist told Streets.

They started their program under the Wolverines umbrella. A year later, they decided to go on their own. They changed the name from Wildcats to Meanstreets, not wanting to think it was a Thornton team. Since then, the program, sponsored by Nike, has grown to involve over 250 boys and girls and has earned a national reputation.

"I wanted to give back," Streets said. "I want to help kids from our area become better people and get to college. It's tough for kids from Harvey to go to college. I wanted to show them that there is a way. That's the reason we did it, why we started our program. We're not trying to get anything out of it except a 'Thank you. You helped me to be a better man and to get me to college.' In our first year, 11 of 12 kids went on to get college degrees."

Streets, who also serves as an assistant on coach Troy Jackson's basketball team at Thornton, admits he is thinking about applying for a head coaching position at the high school level. But he doesn't want to give up his involvement with Meanstreets.

At first, he paid for the club's expenses out of his own pocket. Then Nike came on board in 2005. The advantages are obvious. "The Nike logo helps to get kids. They want to play for a Nike team. They pay for equipment and travel. We still have to raise funds but it helps to have Nike behind you," Streets said.

He admits, however, that the association with Nike and competition with other shoe companies "gets messy at times. Travel basketball is crazy, so many programs, so many tournaments," he said.

"People always are badmouthing AAU basketball on TV. Sure, there are slimy people out there. But don't put everyone under the same umbrella. We're not about that. We're about making kids better people. We get kids off the streets. We deal with kids from Harvey, Gary (Indiana) and Chicago who don't have the best opportunities. We help them to get out of their situation. All of us are in it to help kids."

He fights the AAU stigma all the time. A disciplinarian, he won't tolerate kids who don't do their schoolwork or have bad attitudes or lack character. He won't badmouth other programs. His approach is to talk to parents and tell them what he does and how he can improve their child's game and get him to college.

"The proof is in the pudding," he said. "We produce guys. Many critics say kids who participate in AAU aren't instructed in fundamentals, that coaches just toss the ball on the floor and let the kids run up and down. High school is regimented so they just want to run in the summer, right?

"Well, we try to teach them the proper way of doing things, as in college. We want to get them ready for college. They have to be accountable, be on time, abide by curfews on the road, attend meetings. On the court, we teach the mental part of the game, how to handle certain situations. Why did you do this? This is what you should have done.

"College coaches complain that high school kids aren't prepared, that they lack fundamentals. Our kids are college-ready, more than most programs. They won't be surprised at what happens in college."

Johnny Oduya won't play when Blackhawks face Penguins

Johnny Oduya won't play when Blackhawks face Penguins

The Blackhawks are happy to have Johnny Oduya back in the fold. They just won’t be getting him back on the ice tonight.

Oduya is expected to be here at some point today but will not play when the Blackhawks face the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Blackhawks got Oduya back on Tuesday night, sending Mark McNeill and a conditional fourth-round pick from the 2018 NHL draft to the Dallas Stars.

Coach Joel Quenneville already has designs on re-pairing Oduya and Niklas Hjalmarsson, who formed a great duo during previous seasons. But that's when Hjalmarsson comes off his upper-body injury; on Tuesday Hjalmarsson was placed on injured reserve, retroactive to Thursday.

It's dependent on Oduya's health, too. The defenseman is coming off a re-aggravated ankle injury that cost him more than a month; he was back in the Stars' lineup on Sunday against the Boston Bruins. Quenneville said the Blackhawks will give Oduya as much time as necessary to be 100 percent healthy.

"We'll see how he is and where he's at," Quenneville said. "We're looking forward to getting him on the ice and making sure, coming off this injury, he's more than ready to go."

As for tonight's game, Scott Darling will get the start. Corey Crawford, coming off an illness, skated again this morning and will serve as the backup against the Penguins.

"I felt way better today," Crawford said. "It was a good practice. Just go with the flow, no rush right now. 'Darls' is playing great so that's always good. I just gotta battle, get the timing back in practice and go from there."

Artem Anisimov, who missed Tuesday's practice, skated this morning and will play tonight.

BLACKHAWKS VS. PITTSBURGH PENGUINS

7 p.m.

TV: NBCSN

Live stream: NBC Sports app

Radio: WGN 720 AM

Chicago Blackhawks

Forward lines

Nick Schmaltz -Jonathan Toews-Richard Panik

Artemi Panarin-Artem Anisimov-Patrick Kane

Tomas Jurco-Marcus Kruger-Marian Hossa

Ryan Hartman-Tanner Kero-Andrew Desjardins

 

Defensive pairs

Duncan Keith-Trevor van Riemsdyk

Michal Kempny-Brent Seabrook

Brian Campbell-Michal Rozsival

 

Goaltender

Scott Darling

 

INJURIES/ILLNESS: Niklas Hjalmarsson (upper body).

Pittsburgh Penguins

Forward lines

Chris Kunitz-Sidney Crosby-Jake Guentzel

Carl Hagelin-Evgeni Malkin-Patric Hornqvist

Scott Wilson-Nick Bonino-Phil Kessel

Tom Kuhnhackl-Matt Cullen-Eric Fehr

Defensive Pairs

Brian Dumoulin-Ron Hainsey

Cameron Gaunce-Justin Schultz

Ian Cole-Chad Ruhwedel

Goaltender

Marc-Andre Fleury

INJURIES/ILLNESS: None.

A year after using franchise tag, Bears preparing for post-Alshon Jeffery scenarios

A year after using franchise tag, Bears preparing for post-Alshon Jeffery scenarios

INDIANAPOLIS – About this time last year, Bears general manager Ryan Pace was evincing optimism about progress toward a long-term deal with wide receiver Alshon Jeffery. That eventually faded to black in the form of a franchise tag that secured Jeffery for the 2016 season at a cost of $14.6 million.
 
This year, no optimism, at least not yet. The Bears have not ruled out having Jeffery for a sixth NFL season, but...

...where last offseason was spent deciding upon the best scenario for retaining Jeffery, this offseason is involving scenarios in which Jeffery is not back.
 
"Our approach – starting with [player personnel director] Josh Lucas, [pro scouting director] Champ Kelly, our pro scouts – they've done a great job, and our free-agent board is stacked," Pace said on Wednesday at the outset of the NFL Scouting Combine. "There's options in free agency and in the draft, and we have to see how it'll play out. We'll know a lot more in the coming week; a little over a week from now I'll be able to answer questions a little more directly.
 
"We have plans in place for every one of these scenarios. I feel extremely prepared for this free-agency process that we're about to enter and it gives me confidence with all these different scenarios."

The Bears opted against a second franchise tag, one that would have committed the Bears to $17.5 million for a receiver who missed 11 full games over the past two seasons and portions of others with injuries in 2015. After a season that saw Jeffery total 52 catches and two touchdowns in 12 games, missing four with a suspension for a violation of the NFL's substance policies.
 
Jeffery was not worth what he thought he was last season, based on production vs. cost. While they were unwilling to let the open market factor into Jeffery's value last year, the Bears were not prepared to use the tag again, a move that would have effectively cost the Bears $32 million over two years and still had him head for free agency after 2017 with nothing to show for it.
 
"It was thought-out thoroughly, obviously," Pace said. "I think sometimes when you can't come to a common ground with a player and an agent, sometimes it's necessary to kind of test the market to determine that player's value, and that's really where we're at.
 
"He's a good player and we'll see how it plays out. But I think there are certain instances where testing the market is a necessary part of the process...We're constantly having dialogue with him and that'll continue like it has pretty much always."