Where will Jabari go? What will he do?

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Where will Jabari go? What will he do?

Simeon's Jabari Parker wants to win an NCAA championship.To do that, logic says, the best high school basketball player in the nation will have to attend either Kentucky, Kansas, Duke, North Carolina or Michigan State to have the best chance in what figures to be his one-and-only year in college before opting for the NBA draft.Makes sense, doesn't it?Simeon coach Robert Smith isn't so sure. He offers another spin on the "Where will Jabari go?" scenario that surely will be a major subject of debate on many college websites in the next several months."You never know. Jabari is a different kid," Smith said. "His recruitment is wide open. He hasn't narrowed down (his list of schools). But he does want to win a national title. And he is looking at schools that have a capability to win a national title."It is speculated that Parker will follow the path taken by other celebrated players who spent only one year in college before declaring for the NBA draft; Carmelo Anthony, Greg Oden, Derrick Rose, Kevin Durant, John Wall, Kyrie Irving, Anthony Davis and Austin Rivers. Of that illustrious group, only Anthony and Davis won NCAA titles."But remember, Harrison Barnes came back for a second year. So did Jared Sullinger," Smith said. "Jabari fits their mold as well as Derrick Rose and Anthony Davis. I never would be able to say that's what he is going to do. We'll have to sit back and watch."Smith said that at some date in May or June, he will sit down with Jabari and his parents to narrow the list of schools. After the youngster makes some more unofficial campus visits this summer, Smith predicts that the nation's top-rated player will make a decision in the fall prior to his senior season.Smith, who closely observed the recruiting of Derrick Rose, marvels at how well Parker has handled his celebrity. One long-time observer of high school sports in the Chicago area said the only other athlete who handled the pressure and hoopla so well was former Thornridge star Quinn Buckner."It couldn't be me," Smith said. "I would have cracked by now if it was me. There are so many things he has to uphold at such a young age. He is mature. But his home situation is so great. His father (former NBA player Sonny Parker) has been through it. And his mother wants him to stay humble and realize that basketball can be taken away at any time."Jabari realizes he has to respect the game, that when the ball stops bouncing, he must have something else to fall back on. Now he is looking forward to the challenge of next season. He already is talking about it. It will be his team. He must be more of a leader, more vocal. He is up for the challenge. It is his turn. He wants to lead us to a fourth state title in a row."Choosing a college might be more difficult for Parker than winning a fourth state title in a row and repeating as Illinois' Mr. Basketball.He is said to adore Michigan State coach Tom Izzo. But his mother is overly impressed with Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski. And his father admires North Carolina coach Roy Williams.But what about the KentuckyNikeJohn Calipari influence? How can you ignore their recent track record of success? And what if, as one veteran observer of the recruiting wars speculates, Nike offers Sonny Parker a prestigious position in the giant shoe company's hierarchy?In some respects, longtime recruiting analysts Roy and Harv Schmidt of Illinois Prep Bulls-Eye agree with Smith that Jabari is different from a majority of highly touted recruits."Like Rose, he is a very humble, quiet, respectful kid, not full of himself. Yet he is quietly confident and aggressive," the Schmidt brothers said. "But he prefers to let others get involved and ease his pressure. He knows when to take over."His passion for the game and his work ethic are unrivaled. He will put in the hours working on the little things that most people do not notice, including mechanics on his shot and ball-handling. He was born as a team player with the inside knowledge of the team aspects of the game that just cannot be taught."While it can be argued, as Smith insists, that Parker is better than Rose at the same stage of their careers, that Parker is a better all-around and more versatile player, other critics claim he has a way to go before he can be rated ahead of Kevin Garnett and Anthony Davis as high school seniors.

Noise around QB Mark Sanchez misses bigger, far more important goal for Bears ’17 offseason

Noise around QB Mark Sanchez misses bigger, far more important goal for Bears ’17 offseason

The tumult around the Bears quarterback position this offseason – signing Mike Glennon, cutting Jay Cutler, not signing Brian Hoyer, now signing Mark Sanchez – was to be expected. (Well, not all the brouhaha around Sanchez; if there has ever been more hyperventilating around the arriving backup quarterback, it’s escaping my recollections of a quarter-century on the beat.)

All of that, and a lot of the noise around Mike Glennon is really missing a larger point. A couple, really.

GM Ryan Pace established fixing the quarterback situation as a top priority, something it has been just about since Jim McMahon left, with the exception of a few Jay Cutler years. Doing that to any meaningful degree with the castoff options available in free agency or via trades wasn’t ever going to happen. What Pace has done with the quarterback situation, however, is more than a little intriguing.

The quarterback additions and subtractions, coupled with also suggest a draft plan far from locked in on a quarterback. The signings of Glennon and Sanchez don’t mean the Bears have solved their quarterback position, but it does mean the Bears have positioned themselves with the distinct option of NOT taking a quarterback – this year.

But here’s the bigger point.

Even with the optimum quarterback solution unavailable – Pace arguably did go best-available in his and the coaches’ minds with Glennon and Sanchez, all derision aside – Pace’s goal needs to be building a team that can reach a high playoff level regardless of quarterback.

Meaning: defense. And while the 2017 free agent and draft classes did not offer must-have quarterbacks in most evaluations, there are those elite-level defensive talents, and every indication is that the Bears will look there, in the draft, and should be. It had that feeling when the Bears, with ample, money to spend, backed away from day one free-agency runs at a couple of pricey defensive backs. The Bears simply think they can do better for less in the draft.

A perspective: With a defense at its levels during the Brian Urlacher era, the Bears could reach the NFC championship game with what they have at quarterback now. They did, twice, with Rex Grossman and with Cutler. Sanchez got to AFC championship games in each of his first two seasons. The Bears reached a Super Bowl with Rex Grossman as their quarterback. They went 13-3 in 2001 with a solid-but-unspectacular Jim Miller as their quarterback. They reached the 2005 playoffs with Kyle Orton as their starter most of that year, and should have been in the 2008 playoffs with him as well. The Bears reached the NFC championship game in 2010 with Cutler.

There is a common denominator in all of these situations, and it is within Pace’s grasp, and that was an elite defense. Rex Ryan had one with the Jets and Sanchez, Grossman and Orton and Cutler had theirs with Urlacher, Lance Briggs, Mike Brown, Tommie Harris, Charles Tillman, etc.

Forget the quarterback situation for now. Nothing anyone, including Pace, can really do anything about it (other than land possibly Deshaun Watson, based on their turnout at his Pro Day).

But if Pace and his personnel staff do this right, they can lay in the foundation for something elite on defense that will transcend the quarterback, or at least allow the Bears to play more than 16 games in a season even if they do not have a great quarterback. With the Urlacher core defense, the Bears went to postseasons with four different quarterbacks.

The prime directive now for Ryan Pace is to create precisely that model again.

Johnny Oduya feeling better, more up to speed with Blackhawks

Johnny Oduya feeling better, more up to speed with Blackhawks

Perhaps the best thing about the Johnny Oduya trade back to the Blackhawks, for both parties involved, was that Oduya wasn't needed immediately.

It's not that the Blackhawks didn't want the veteran defenseman, who helped them win Cups in 2013 and 2015, back in the lineup as soon as possible. Oduya was coming off an ankle injury, one he re-aggravated and missed about a month when he was with the Dallas Stars. He needed time to fully heal and with the Blackhawks in good shape in the standings and with solid depth at defense, he could.

Now with the playoffs right around the corner, Oduya is feeling more like himself.

Outside of missing two games that were the second halves of back-to-backs, Oduya has been playing steadily since March 9. Oduya's minutes have ranged from around 16 to 21 in games. He said he's now 100 percent healthy from his injury and he's feeling the difference on the ice.

"It makes a big difference," Oduya said on Thursday, prior to facing the Stars for the first time since his trade back to Chicago. "I mean, obviously sometimes you get more or less lucky, depending on what you get and the style of play and what you do or not. Skating is a part of my game I try to use as much as possible to get in good position and try to take away time from the opposition as much as possible.

"Even with battling and things like that, of course it's nice to feel more confident," Oduya added. "In any situation, you're in you want to feel confident on the ice."

The Blackhawks have seen that confidence in previous postseason runs and are looking to see it again in Oduya. Coach Joel Quenneville considers Oduya, "Mr. Reliability."

"You look back at what he delivered for us, not just the regular season, but he's been solid and reliable in the playoffs. He's assumed some important matchups and important minutes," Quenneville said. "Last year, we didn't have him on the back end and watching him this year, it was the perfect fit him coming back."

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The Blackhawks' defensive group hasn't changed much since Oduya's first stint here. The system probably hasn't been altered much, either. Still, Oduya's not taking anything for granted and is trying to get back on the same page quickly.

"Same as the last time I came into a great hockey team and I really just want to get up to speed and up to date as quickly as possible," Oduya said. "Little things that may have changed. I want to fit in as well as I can. That's the idea anyone has coming in late in the year. The guys here make it pretty easy; the coaching staff is familiar with the way I play and helps speed up things a little more."

The Blackhawks are trying to be their best heading into the postseason. So is Oduya. He needed a little extra time to get back to health and he may still need a little time to get back to speed, but he's just about there. 

"I feel pretty good. Of course it's a lot easier when you have guys around you you've seen before, a coaching staff," Oduya said. "It's a work in progress, anyway. I want to be better, I want to evolve with the team and want us to be better, too. It's a work in progress."