Is this the year for Whitney Young?

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Is this the year for Whitney Young?

Tyrone Slaughter talked for 30 minutes. The Whitney Young basketball coach talked about his team, his expectations for the 2012-13 season, what he insists is the toughest schedule his Dolphins have ever confronted, the continued development of 6-foot-11 Jahlil Okafor and 6-foot-9 Paul White, the arrival of highly touted transfer L.J. Peak from South Carolina, rising 6-foot-4 sophomore Joseph Toye and other things.

But he never mentioned Tommy Hamilton. Not once.

Hamilton, a 6-foot-9 senior who once was projected to be every bit as good as Okafor and Simeon's Jabari Parker, has moved to IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida. The son of former King star Thomas Hamilton, he has offers from Illinois, Michigan State, North Carolina State and Northwestern.

An underachiever in his three years at Whitney Young, Hamilton hopes to reach his potential in a new environment. He is being coached by Loren Jackson, who once coached at Julian and Boys To Men Academy in Chicago.

But it is apparent that Whitney Young can do without him.

"This team is better than last year. That is not debatable. This team can do things that last year's team couldn't do," said Slaughter, in his ninth year at the Near West Side school.

"With three starters back, this team is talented an experienced, as good as any team we have had. We may not have the sheer numbers of the 2009 state championship team but we feel very good about the quality of this team, one through seven."

Last year's team finished 17-10, losing to state champion Simeon in the sectional semifinal. "We knew going in with the schedule we had that it would be competitive and challenging. We hoped we would do better at the end of the year," Slaughter said.

"But we played great competition. The teams we lost to won state titles and were ranked nationally. And we started three sophomores. It was a successful season when you look at it in the big picture. The benefits of a competitive schedule will pay tremendous dividends this year."

Slaughter said his team will face an even tougher schedule this season. The Dolphins will open against perennial national power DeMatha of Hyattsville, Maryland, on Dec. 1 at Illinois-Chicago's Pavilion.

Later, Whitney Young will play Chester, a Philadelphia team that has won 56 games in a row, in Boston. They will play Melrose Heights in Memphis, Tennessee. They also have dates at the City of Palms Classic in Fort Myers, Florida, and the Beach Ball Classic in Myrtle Beach, Virginia.

Not to forget a grudge match against Simeon on Jan. 26 at Loyola's Gentile Center and a game against Benet Academy in the CitySuburban Hoops event. And, of course, traditional rivals Marshall, Crane, Farragut and Orr in the Public League's Red-West Division.

"It is designed to get us ready for the state tournament," Slaughter said. "When you believe positively about yourself, it allows you to do more things. Last year, we looked at the schedule and said we improved and got more mature. This year, the schedule is more challenging."

To deal with all of that, Slaughter is looking for Okafor, who is ranked No. 1 or No. 2 in the class of 2014 nationally depending upon which recruiting survey you choose to believe, to be his team leader on and off the court. He also is looking for him to be a dominant force on offense and defense, particularly on defense.

"Last year, he averaged 22 points and 12 rebounds per game. I'm not looking for more than that this year. No one can match up to him. But I'm looking for him to be a defensive dominator who makes us better defensively," Slaughter said.

In the meantime, Okafor's recruiting is ongoing. There is no timetable. He has more than 20 offers, including Kentucky, Michigan State, Duke, Illinois, DePaul, Florida, North Carolina, Ohio State, North Carolina State, Louisville, Connecticut, Georgetown, Arizona and Missouri.

Slaughter also expects more of White this season, more than the 11 points and five rebounds per game that he produced a year ago.

"I want to see him become more aggressive on offense. He has great skills. But he must be more aggressive," Slaughter said. "I want 17 points per game and double-digit rebounds. I try to encourage him that it isn't about Okafor but about us winning and he has to produce at a level that he is capable of doing. There is more that he can do and he has got that memo."

Other starters are 6-foot-5 junior point guard Miles Reynolds, Peak and 5-foot-8 senior guard Ausar Madison, a transfer from California. The first four players off the bench will be 6-foot-4 senior Robbie Brettner, Toye, 6-foot-2 junior Erwin Henry and 6-foot-1 freshman Rodney Herenton.

Slaughter looks for more consistency from Reynolds, about 10 points and seven assists per game. "I want him to become a good defender and our floor leader," the coach said.

Peak, a 6-foot-5 junior who is ranked among the top 50 players in his class nationally, figures to average 18-19 points per game. He has offers from Clemson, Florida State, Tennessee, South Carolina, Virginia Tech, Georgia and North Carolina State. He figures to attract interest from Midwestern schools.

"How does he fit in? He is a very good player. He understands the game. He is a well above average defender. And he is a great scorer. We have to get him comfortable with our guys and us with him. I know he can put points on the board. And he also is an outstanding offensive rebounder," Slaughter said.

But is there too much talent on the roster? Will one basketball in the game keep everybody happy? Will the emergence of Toye, who is extremely athletic and skilled, force Slaughter to rethink his lineup?

"The challenge is to put them together, keeping the main theme the main theme, working hard, staying committed to a common cause, being the best team we can be," Slaughter said.

"They enjoy playing together. The common goal is to win and move on to play at the next level. What can they do in the next two years? Could they be one of the best teams ever? They must put it all together."

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.”