Jabari Parker, Kendrick Nunn and Jahlil Okafor were among the 14 finalists named to the 2012 USA men's U17 World Championship Team Sunday.The list was cut down from 28 players, and will be cut down againto a finalized12-man rosterearly next week.The players have trained and worked out all week at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo., and willbe thereJune 17through June 20 for training camp.Parker, the No. 1 recruit in the 2013 class, was the MVP of the 2011 FIBA Americas Championship a year ago with the U16 team. That team went a perfect 5-0 in the tournament, defeating Argentina 104-64 in the championship game.Parker finished the tournament with averages of 15.4 points and 6.4 rebounds per game. He scored 27 points against Brazil in the preliminary round, a USA U16 record.Parker also gave an update on his highly anticipated recruitment. He told SNY's Adam Zagoria he will make a decision on which college to attend in November, prior to his senior season at Simeon.He has a current list of 14 schools: BYU, Connecticut, DePaul, Duke, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisville, Michigan State, Missouri, North Carolina, Northwestern, Ohio State and Washington.Parker told Zagoria he hopes to narrow his list down to "about eight" sometime over the summer before making his decision.Nunn, Parker's teammate at Simeon Career Academy in Chicago, was also a member of the 2011 FIBA Americas U16 championship team. The 6-foot-2 lefty averaged 9.6 points, 3.8 rebounds and 2.0 assists in five games.Okafor, a 2014 recruit out of Whitney Young High School in Chicago, averaged 14.6 points and 9.2 rebounds in five games for the U16 team last year. He shot better than 71 percent from the field and better than 82 percent from the free throw line.The Chicagoans are three of eight finalists who also played on the undefeated U16 team.Conner Frankamp (Wichita North H.S. Wichita, Kan.), Tyus Jones (Apple Valley H.S. Apple Valley, Minn.), Beejay Anya (DeMatha Catholic H.S. Gaithersburg, Md.), Dominique Collier (Denver East H.S. Denver, Colo.) and Johnathan Williams (Southwind H.S. Memphis, Tenn.) were named finalists who also played on last year's U16 team.Joel Berry (Lake Highland Prep School Apopka, Fla.), Stephen Domingo (Saint Ignatius Prep San Francisco, Calif.), Rondae Jefferson (Chester H.S. Chester, Pa.), Dakari Johnson (Montverde Academy, Fla. Brooklyn, N.Y.), Stanley Johnson (Mater Dei H.S. Fullerton, Calif.) and Justice Winslow (St. John's School Houston, Texas) round out the group.Preliminary round games will be held June 29 through July 4 in Lithuania, with the U.S. team competing against Australia, the Czech Republic, Egypt, France and China.The quarterfinals then begin on Friday July 6, the semifinals July 7 and the finals July 8.
As Cubs players and generations of fans celebrated Christmas in October, Jon Lester had to be The Grinch for a moment. Sure, the Cubs would party from Saturday night into Sunday morning, probably get “a little bit” drunk and enjoy the franchise’s first National League pennant in 71 years. But the reality of the Cleveland Indians would set in once the Cubs got rid of this hangover.
“We ain’t done anything yet,” Lester said during the Wrigley Field celebration after the Cubs eliminated the Los Angeles Dodgers. “Nobody likes second place.”
There are enough Boston Red Sox connections in this World Series that Lester already knows what to expect, starting with Indians manager Terry Francona, who became a father figure as he dealt with a cancer scare as a rookie.
There are ex-teammates from those championship teams in 2007 (Coco Crisp) and 2013 (Mike Napoli, Andrew Miller) at Fenway Park. There is the accumulated experience from throwing 119 postseason innings (2.50 ERA) and becoming one of the best big-game pitchers of his generation.
“I don’t want to sound like a smart-ass, but we got a long ways to go,” Lester said. “I know that manager on their side’s going to be prepared. I know their coaching staff’s going to be ready. I know their players are going to be ready, just based on one player alone, and that’s Mike Napoli. I know what he brings to the table. He helped transform our 2013 team.
“Come Tuesday, we got to put the gloves back on. We got to get ready to fight and grind and do what we’ve done well all year. We got four more games to win.”
After limiting the Dodgers to two runs in 13 innings, and being named the NL Championship Series’ co-MVP along with Javier Baez, Lester should be a worthy Game 1 starter opposite Corey Kluber, the 2014 American League Cy Young Award winner.
This is why Lester took a leap of faith with Cubs bosses/ex-Red Sox executives Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer and chairman Tom Ricketts’ family and what had been a last-place team in 2014.
Two seasons into the $155 million contract that signaled the Cubs would be serious about contending – and not just in the Baseball America/Baseball Prospectus prospect rankings – the franchise has won 200 games and four playoff rounds and remained in position to dominate for years to come.
“Theo and Jed and the front office and Tom and all these guys had a belief,” Lester said. “I believed in that belief. The talent here speaks for itself. I didn’t do anything – I came here because I wanted to win in Chicago. I’m just happy to be here and be a part of this and get to this point.
“(But) we’re four hard wins away from doing what we set out to do in spring training.”
As bright as the future looks on the North Side, Lester will be 33 next season and his left arm has already accounted for more than 2,000 innings during his decorated career. John Lackey turned 38 on Sunday. Jake Arrieta only has one more season before becoming a free agent.
The Cubs built their franchise around young hitters, with the idea that they can figure out the pitching later with free agents, change-of-scenery trades and bounce-back guys. Easier said than done. They have a true No. 1 starter now in Lester, who as a free agent watched a recruiting video that imagined what it would be like when the Cubs win the World Series.
“This isn’t it,” Lester said. “It’s been a tough playoffs for us to this point and it’s only going to get tougher. We’re going to enjoy it. We’re going to show up Tuesday in Cleveland ready to play. We’ll see what happens.”
Positives were difficult to find in last Thursday’s 26-10 loss to the Green Bay Packers. So maybe the place to look for improvement lies in just getting rid of a few negatives.
As far as positives, Leonard Floyd would be the obvious one, with two sacks, one a strip and fumble recovery for a TD. Ka’Deem Carey would be another, with 10 carries for 48 yards, his second straight game with high-impact running; Jordan Howard has been shackled for two weeks, so the Bears have needed another backfield-committee member contributing. Jeremy Langford may have trouble finding work when he comes back from his ankle injury.
But negatives have far outweighed positives, which is how you get to 1-6. Fixing three of those will go a long way toward improving their chances against a Minnesota Vikings team that appeared eminently beatable in losing at Philadelphia on Sunday:
Stop the penalty hemorrhaging
For the third straight game the Bears had 10 penalties walked off against them. This "streak" started after eight infractions in the win over Detroit. The 10 in Green Bay cost the Bears 108 yards in a game where their offense netted just 189. Seven of the penalties were charged to the defense, six of which gave the Packers first downs.
The three offensive penalties were mental. A wide receiver (Alshon Jeffery) lined up offsides. The quarterback (Matt Barkley) drew a delay flag. An offensive lineman (Ted Larsen) was illegally downfield.
All of which point to a discipline problem getting worse, not better. Whether the fault lies with players losing focus or coaches not instilling a mindset is a debate, but meaningless if the problem is not addressed. “There were a lot of penalties out there,” said cornerback De’Vante Bausby, who committed three of those penalties. “We had a good scheme and plan but we just didn’t finish in the second half as a group.”
Stop the dinking
While Brian Hoyer replacing Jay Cutler scaled back the downfield element of the offense, the loss of an emerging Kevin White should not be understated. The de facto rookie may not have gotten in the end zone but he was leading the team in receptions before he suffered a broken leg in the win over Detroit.
Since the loss of White, however, the offense has shrunk. The Bears averaged 7.5 yards per pass attempt through four games with White. Without White the average is 7.0, and that is including the blip in Indianapolis, which stands as a complete anomaly. The average was 5.9 in the Jacksonville loss and 5.0 in Green Bay.
Hoyer’s ball-security orientation has been a positive, but also a limiting factor. Cutler last year had one of the best ball-security seasons of his career, yet the offense was able to average 7.5 yards per attempt.
The Bears scored two of their three rushing touchdowns in games with White, who may not yet be the field-stretcher his 4.35 speed but the prospect of White arguably made for a more threatening offense than even with the contributions of Cam Meredith.
Stop the Vikings
The Minnesota Vikings have suffered injuries at a rate like the Bears’ but have overcome them. Until Sunday in Philadelphia, when the Eagles sacked Sam Bradford six times and hit him more than a dozen other times. The Vikings never sacked Carson Wentz, who wasn’t special but was good enough while Minnesota was self-destructing.
The Vikings have beaten the Bears the last three times they’ve met, the first time that’s happened since 1999 and 2000, which is also the last time the Bears started 1-6. And the Bears have lost three straight.
The Bears were able to end the first three-game skid by focusing on one game: the Lions. The result was shutting down a very good offense, the lowest yardage-allowed (263) of the season and the firmest commitment to the run game (29) attempts.
Morale inside the locker room can only be revived by a win. One game. This game.