Coleman: Will Randle pass Parker?

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Coleman: Will Randle pass Parker?

Van Coleman of Hot100Hoops.com, a respected and trusted recruiting analyst who has been evaluating high school basketball players for more than 30 years, is looking ahead to another July evaluation period with a lot of questions that he hopes to answer. Here are 15 of them:

1. Will Julius Randle pass Simeon's Jabari Parker as the No. 1 player in the class of 2013?

Randle, a 6-foot-9 power forward from Plano, Texas, is being recruited by Baylor, Kansas, Texas, Oklahoma, Memphis, Oklahoma State and Texas A&M. He recently had a great week in a big-time tournament in Dallas. He ranked ahead of Parker as a freshman, then fell behind as a sophomore.

"Randle is the only player with a tool set and physical attributes who could have the kind of summer that could challenge a player of Parker's overall abilities. No one else is close," Coleman said.

2. Which school will Parker choose?

Nearly every observer, including Coleman, believes Parker will attend Duke, North Carolina, Kansas, Kentucky or Michigan State because he has made it clear that he wants to win a NCAA championship in what most perceive will be his one and only year in college before opting for the NBA draft.

"The team that has the early lead is Duke. They have been there the longest and Parker has talked about them the most," Coleman said. "I have no gut feeling (about Parker's choice). He is pretty laid back. But the premise is correct. Michigan State also would be a front-runner. Kansas is a darkhorse. And I wonder if Arizona might become a factor."

3. Will Andrew Wiggins hold off Whitney Young's Jahlil Okafor as the No.1 player in the class of 2014?

Wiggins, a Canadian-born 6-foot-7 wing forward who plays at Huntington (West Virginia) Prep, is the leader. But Okafor is closing fast, in Coleman's opinion. Dakari Johnson, a 6-foot-10 center from Elizabeth, New Jersey, and 6-foot-7 Noah Vonleh from Haverhill, Massachusetts, who plays at New Hampton Prep, also are in the mix.

4. What is the perception of John Groce, Illinois' new coach?

"He is a tremendously hard worker. He will beat the paths when it comes to recruiting. He is a tireless worker," Coleman said. "He showed it as an assistant at Ohio State, then upgraded the talent as head coach at Ohio University. He learned from (Ohio State coach) Thad Matta that X's and O's are important but you have to have talent.

"What will sell him to high school coaches in Illinois is he will outwork people. But it remains to be seen if he will be successful. He has proven he can go up against the best recruiters in the country and finish. He was a big part of Thad Matta's success with the class of 2006 with Greg Oden, Mike Conley, Daequan Cook and David Lighty. He also was in early on Jared Sullinger. And he got D.B. Cooper for Ohio.

"The biggest complaint against Illinois has been that they can't close on the great players in the state. It is very important for Groce to get a good relationship with the class of 2014. Jahlil Okafor is a key. Or Cliff Alexander. Groce has enough time to make it happen."

5. Will the class of 2015 emerge as one of the best ever, better than 2013 and 2014?

According to Coleman, the class of 2015 is potentially the next great class in high school basketball. "It is the class that will get mentioned in the same breath with 1979, 1981, 1988, 1991, 2001 and 2007 as the best ever. It has four guards right now who will compare at the top with any four guards of any class. And, remember, two things that make a great class are great bigs and great, great lead guards," he said.

The four guards are 6-foot-4 Tyler Dorsey of Los Angeles, 5-foot-11 Marcus Lovett of Burbank, California, 6-foot-4 Malik Newman of Jackson, Mississippi, and 6-foot-3 Isaiah Briscoe of Newark, New Jersey.

Coleman said he is aware of guard Jordan Ash of St. Joseph, perhaps the best player in the class of 2015 in Illinois. Time will tell if Ash is good enough to rank among the elite nationally.

6. Is Big Ten basketball on the rise?

"The Big Ten has closed the gap and ranks in the top three with the ACC and Big East. The Big Ten has beaten the ACC in the Big TenACC Challenge for the last two years. Indiana is coming back and Michigan is better," Coleman said.

"The question is: will the western wing of the conference--Illinois, Nebraska, Iowa and Minnesota--pick it up? The core of the league--Ohio State, Michigan State, Michigan and Indiana--has bounced back. Illinois and Purdue have to be the other core teams. If Illinois reboots and Iowa continues to improve, the Big Ten will have eight schools that are NCAA worthy in the next four or five years."
7. Why can't Big Ten schools persuade 5-star players to stay home?

"I have no answer for that," Coleman said. "Jared Sullinger stayed home and Ohio State was good for two years. Four-star players are staying home. That's a start. Illinois has a challenge to keep five-star players at home and coach John Groce has time to be in the hunt.

"The trick is that kids are being nationally recruited at such a young age that the local school, everywhere in the country, has to be in on them before they achieve five-star status. That's why Kansas, Kentucky, Duke and UCLA get five-star kids," Coleman said.

"Illinois, Ohio, Indiana and Michigan turn out four-star players in numbers to be competitive in the top 20 if they keep them at home. Then you're in competition for a Sweet Sixteen bid. If you add a five-star player, you have the potential to make a Final Four run. But you have to have a great lead guard like Isiah Thomas or Ronnie Lester."

8. How bad was the class of 2012 in Illinois?
Probably the worst ever. Only four players made the top 200--Simeon's Steve Taylor (72), Rockford Auburn's Fred Van Vleet (100), Crete-Monee's Michael Orris (191) and St. Rita's A.J. Avery (197). It was a down year.

The good news is that 10 players in the class of 2013 are projected to make the top 150 nationally, eight in the top 100. And the class of 2014 could be just as good or better. "It will be a big turnaround, back to what we expect from Illinois," Coleman said.

9. Who are players to watch this summer?

Two players in the class of 2013 who could make a statement and approach Jabari Parker and Julius Randle and could push for top five spots are 6-foot-9 Chris Walker of Bonifay, Florida, a shot-blocking machine with big-time hops, and 6-foot-4 James Young of Troy, Michigan, who made the biggest move of all in the spring. But there is no Anthony Davis in the mix.

10. Who will make the biggest jump on the charts?

Xavier Rathan-Mayes, a Canadian who plays at Huntington (West Virginia) Prep, is a 6-foot-4 wing forward who climbed from No. 75 to the top 30 in the class of 2013 going into the summer. He has 13 offers, including Illinois, Arizona, Connecticut, Texas, USC, Washington, Marquette and North Carolina State. "He may be a McDonald's All-American by the time he is done," Coleman said.

Also 6-foot-4 Sterling Brown of Proviso East, who outplayed Jabari Parker in Illinois' Class 4A championship game last March. "He could be in the top 50 in the class of 2013. He is an explosive offensive talent with an improved jump shot. He has a great motor and a complete game. He has a chance to be special," Coleman said.

11. Are there any big-time big men in the class of 2013?

That's a good question. The three top-rated centers in the class are all 6-foot-9. They are Johnathan Williams of Memphis, Tennessee, Austin Colbert of Elizabeth, New Jersey, and Matthew Atewe of Lithonia, Georgia. They don't sound like Russell, Chamberlain, Olajuwon, O'Neal, Walton and Ewing.

12. Who is a player nobody knows about but will?

Tim Quarterman, a 6-foot-6 swing guard from Savannah, Georgia, is a rising star in the class of 2013.

"I never saw him until he played with his AAU team, the Atlanta Celtics. He was a low mid-major player last year," Coleman said. "But he has done a lot to make himself a quality player. He could rank in the top 50 by the end of the summer. He is the biggest surprise of any player I had seen before but didn't notice. I love guards of his size with his skill set because he can play in college and into the next level."

13. Where is the place to be this summer?

"The NCAA has made it tough to cover a lot of events unless you have a 50,000 budget," Coleman said. "I'll be at the Peach Jam and Las Vegas. The Peach Jam is the best pure tournament of the summer from a standpoint that the players have competed for 20 games against each other prior to getting there and have great knowledge of one another. It's like taking the ACC, Big Ten and Big East and having a free-for-all for the championship.

"But the major events are scheduled so close together. Las Vegas and Orlando are at the same time. But there is a great level of competition...the Peach Jam on July 18-21, then Las Vegas a week later or the Nike Fab 48 and Adidas Super 64. You get Nike's best at the Peach Jam because they had all spring to qualify. Then you see Adidas' best teams in Las Vegas. How do you see a majority of the great teams? How do you see as many players as possible?"

14. Does Illinois have a chance to get Demetrius Henry?

Henry, a 6-foot-9 power forward from Brandon, Florida, wants to play right away. That is why he is looking at schools outside his area and why Illinois is an allure. A long-armed shot-blocker, he could be a priority in the class of 2013.
15. Does DePaul have a chance to get Beejay Anya?

Anya, a 6-foot-8, 250-pounder from tradition-rich DeMatha High School in Hyattsville, Maryland, is described by Coleman as "the best low post scorer in the class of 2013."

"But he knows he has to be a power forward in college. It will take a year or two for him to develop," Coleman said. "Can a coach sell him on making that transition? Playing time isn't the only thing that matters to him. He is thinking about development. DePaul is in the mix."

Bears looking beyond individual players in third preseason game

Bears looking beyond individual players in third preseason game

“The all-important third preseason game… .”

Or is it?

The short answer is yes, because “it'll be the most extended play of the starters we have available will play,” said coach John Fox.

In fact, it has been said that before training camps ever begin, upwards of 45 roster spots are pretty well decided. And the combination of camp time and first two preseason games have taken care of perhaps all but the finest of tunings of roster decisions.

“You know we've got some guys that we've evaluated on a lot of football plays before the third preseason game,” Fox said, “so albeit it is important, we have a pretty good idea about some of our players.”

[MORE: Jay Cutler, Dowell Loggains face deepest test yet in Bears' third preseason game]

So while individual players are tasked with taking steps up in their development – wide receiver Kevin White with just two catches so far, for instance – the focus now shifts from predominantly player evaluation to broader questions of how well whole units are performing together. Each unit has its own challenges in a preseason that is still waiting for the Bears’ first win:

Next step for offense

The shutout at the hands of the Denver Broncos in Game 1 was jolting, preseason or not. The 11 points by the offense in New England was promising.

Now what?

The offensive production last season was disappointing but yet respectable because of the unmatched parts Cutler needed to work with because of injuries at receiver besides losing No. 1 tailback Matt Forte for three full games and most of a fourth. Scoring: 23rd. Rushing yards: 11th. Plus Cutler’s career-best passer composite: 92.3.

That won’t be good enough in 2016. Regardless of the myriad changes ranging from coordinator on through running back, tight end and the offensive line, Cutler himself set the bar by pre-emptively ruling out possible excuses.

“Solely just Year 1 to Year 2,” Cutler said. “I think there’s going to be less thinking. I think we have a better idea of what we like in the offense; what we don’t like in the offense; where we need to improve; what we need to add. I think personnel-wise we’re getting better and better.”

The offense won’t put its entire playbook on display against the Chiefs. But “need to improve” is the mantra, and that extends through the running-back “committee,” the offensive line regardless of who’s on the field, and the receivers from White in his biggest dose of playing time to tight ends tasked with replacing Martellus Bennett as well as contributing to a run game that forms the foundation of the offense.

Defensive dominance, if you please

Upgrading the defense was the foremost priority of the 2016 offseason, beginning with inside linebackers Jerrell Freeman and Danny Trevathan and lineman Akiem Hicks, and on into the draft when the Bears invested seven of their nine draft picks, including two of the first three, on that side of the football.

“I think we have a chance to be a better defense than we were last year, but the proof will be in the pudding,” coordinator Vic Fangio is on record saying. “Practice is the quiz; the games are the final exam. So until we start playing and see exactly what we’ve got, that will determine the true answer to that question. But I think we have a chance to be better.”

The first two preseason games involved the No. 1 defense but not to the degree that Game 3 will. And as of now, no starting quarterback has been sacked by a Bear, and no defensive starter has a sack through two games, although rotation’ers Sam Acho, Jonathan Bullard, Leonard Floyd and Cornelius Washington have at least a partial sack.

The Kansas City offense was No. 3 in rushing average, sixth in rushing yards per game and ninth in points per game last season. The Bears have yet to make a definitive statement that they are close to an elite defense, which is a prerequisite to moving significantly past the 6-10 record in 2015.

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

How “special” are ‘teams?

The Bears were a respectable 12th in the special-teams ranking of Dallas Morning News legend Rick Gosselin, a mix of 22 categories that produces a meaningful evaluation of special teams. But the Broncos’ average starting position was their 32, vs. the Bears’ at the Chicago 21. Based on 12 possessions, that loosely translates into 132 field-position yards the Broncos had on the Bears.

The Patriots’ average start was the New England 32; the Bears’ was their own 24, meaning eight yards average on 10 possessions. However, one New England possession started at the Chicago 15 because of a Brian Hoyer interception, skewing the overall.

Meaning: The Bears improved from Week 1 to Week 2 in gaining field position. That needs to develop into a trend that benefits both the offensive and defensive units.

The overall goal is clear: “Improve from Week 2 to Week 3,” Fox said. “We’re here. It’s not a season; they call it preseason for reasons; it’s to evaluate, put your players in positions, take a look at players.”

White Sox hope pitcher Colton Turner can 'build' on strong season

White Sox hope pitcher Colton Turner can 'build' on strong season

The White Sox acquired minor-league pitcher Colton Turner from the Toronto Blue Jays on Friday in exchange for catcher Dioner Navarro.  

Turner, 25, has a 1.33 ERA in 44 games this season across three levels with 70 strikeouts in 54 innings. The White Sox assigned Turner, who missed all of 2014 after he had reconstructive elbow surgery, to Double-A Birmingham.

“Ever since he got back (from pitching in Australia), he seems to have hit his stride well,” general manager Rick Hahn said. “Fastball/slider mix, good command.

“You can obviously see from the numbers he has done impressive work against righties for a left-handed reliever, which is nice to see.

“We’re going to wait to get to know him better. He’s had a real nice year and we like the stuff, we like the command and we’ll see if he’s able to continue to build on what he has done this year and try to figure out that more in 2017, the role he’ll play going forward.”

White Sox Top Prospects: Zack Burdi thriving in minors

White Sox Top Prospects: Zack Burdi thriving in minors

Zack Burdi hasn't been in the White Sox organization for long, but he's certainly showing why the club drafted him with the 26th pick in this year's draft.

The 21-year-old pitcher is thriving in the minors with a little over two months in to his professional career. Burdi worked his way through four affiliates and is currently in Triple-A Charlotte.

In 22 games and 31.1 innings pitched over four levels, Burdi has a 2.90 ERA with 46 strikeouts and 13 walks. In addition, the Illinois native hasn't allowed a run in the last 18.1 innings pitched with Double-A Birmingham and Triple-A Charlotte.

"One of the things we want Zack to work on is his consistency with his delivery out of the stretch," White Sox general manager Rick Hahn said on Thursday. "The only problem is he’s not allowing any baserunners on, so he’s not really having a lot of opportunity to work on that. We are going to tell him to put more guys on.

"But no, in all seriousness a lot has already been thrown at this kid and he’s responded essentially to every outing, with the exception of the first one at Birmingham was rough. It’s been a lot about the consistency of his delivery and fastball command and fairly simplistic stuff that he’s taken to very quickly and he’s got a world of ability."

[SHOP: Gear up, White Sox fans!]

Burdi was rated as the No. 21 best prospect in Baseball America's top 500 prospects prior to the draft.

Before joining the White Sox in June, Burdi finished off his collegiate career at Louisville. He was named to the All-ACC First Team, USA Baseball Collegiate National Team and Third Team Louisville Slugger All-America.