Pocic changes his game plan

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Pocic changes his game plan

When Ethan Pocic thought he had prioritized his recruiting and was about to narrow his wish list to 10 finalists, Lemont's 6-foot-7, 290-pound offensive tackle received scholarship offers from Alabama, Auburn, Oklahoma, USC, Florida, Florida State, Oregon and USC.

At the same time, Michigan and Notre Dame, two schools that rated high on Pocic's list, filled their quotas for offensive linemen and no longer were interested in Pocic.

All of a sudden, as fast as Pocic could say "I can't pass up a chance to visit those schools," he revised his game plan--and his travel schedule.

"I've got to make more visits," he said. "I want to visit everywhere so when I make a decision, it will be the right one. I'm not sure of a timetable (to make a commitment), just whenever the time is right."

Over the Memorial Day weekend, Pocic plans to visit LSU and Auburn. During his spring break, he visited Alabama, Florida, Florida State, Auburn, Tennessee and Ohio State.

Pocic, who has 20 offers and is rated as the No. 2 prospect in the class of 2013 in Illinois by most recruiting analysts, said he still wants to visit Wisconsin, Iowa and Ohio State.

USC? Oregon? Oklahoma? "I'm taking it one day at a time right now. I want to take it all in. When the time is right, you'll know," he said.

What is he looking for? "A winning program, good tradition. I want to be comfortable with the coaches and players. I want to have a good relationship with them. I'm a left offensive tackle. I'm looking for a school that can prepare me for the next level," he said.

He learned about the recruiting process from his older brother Graham, the starting center at Illinois. But Graham committed early and Ethan wants to be sure he weighs all of his options before making a decision.

What if he had committed before Alabama, Florida, USC, LSU and Auburn offered?

And what if he had committed to Michigan and Notre Dame, which already were stockpiling offensive linemen? Michigan has commitments from two Illinois products, Kyle Bosch of Wheaton St. Francis and Logan Tuley-Tillman of Peoria Manual. And Notre Dame has a commitment from Colin McGovern of Lincoln-Way West.

Now Pocic is considering Wisconsin, which has commitments from two big tackles from Barrington, senior Dan Voltz and junior Jack Keeler.

"This is a good problem to have," said Pocic, acknowledging that having 20 offers is better than no offers at all. "What I learned from watching my brother go through the process is to take all your visits, as many unofficial visits as you can."

While Pocic's brother was going through the process and Graham was considering Wisconsin, Ethan got a chance to meet All-America tackle Joe Thomas. Ever since, he has been following Thomas, who was the No. 3 pick in the 2007 NFL draft by the Cleveland Browns and is a five-time Pro Bowl selection, the Anthony Munoz of his era.

"I watch a lot of football. I always check out the (offensive) linemen," Pocic said. "I like Joe Thomas. I've always watched him, even when he was I college. He is perfect on pass protection. He shows up every day. If you're a left offensive tackle, that's the kind of player you want to be."

He knows that left offensive tackle is the most important position in the offensive line, the guy who protects the quarterback's blind side. He recalls watching a "Top 10 Linemen Of All Time" segment on NFL Network. Anthony Munoz was No. 1, the best there ever was.

"I don't like to brag on myself," said Pocic, who is rated as the No. 2 prospect in the class of 2013 in Illinois behind Joliet Catholic running back Ty Isaac. "I just want to get better. I've been working on my agility, strength and footwork."

He is missing one thing--a ring, the symbol of a state championship. Lemont has been one of the most successful programs in the state in the last decade. Coach Eric Michaelsen's team has lost only five games in the last four years. Last year's 12-1 squad lost to Peoria Richwoods 34-31 in double overtime in the Class 6A semifinals.

This year? Pocic, 6-foot-2, 265-pound offensive guard Tim McAuliffe, linebacker Connor O'Brien and defensive back Jake Lemming are the most experienced returnees that Michaelsen figures to lean on as he tries to build another state championship contender. McAuliffe has offers from Toledo, Western Michigan, Western Kentucky and North Dakota.

Erik Gustafsson knows landing roster spot with Blackhawks won’t be easy

Erik Gustafsson knows landing roster spot with Blackhawks won’t be easy

Erik Gustafsson looked around the Blackhawks’ room at where fellow defensemen stalls would probably be as the season approached.

“You have Brian (Campbell) back, (Michal) Kempny here, obviously and all the other guys,” Gustafsson said. “It’s going to be tough, but I like it.”

The Blackhawks’ biggest Achilles heel last season was defense, especially after Trevor Daley was traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins. That opened the door for young players, including Gustafsson, to get bigger opportunities. This year the defense should be stronger with Campbell’s return. So for guys like Gustafsson, cracking this lineup just got that much tougher.

During the summer, assistant coach Mike Kitchen talked potential pairings as Duncan Keith-Niklas Hjalmarsson, Campbell-Brent Seabrook, Kempny-Trevor van Riemsdyk. As of now, the team is expecting Keith to be ready for the season opener. Keith has been participating in a practice a day but whether or not he plays in any preseason games is uncertain right now.

If it starts out that way, Gustafsson would be on the outside looking in.

But first things first: Gustafsson is focused on building off experience gained last season — he played 41 games, recording 14 assists — and cleaning up a few errors committed in training camp practices.

“You know all the guys on the team, you know how they want to play over here and in the NHL. Just go out and show them. I didn’t do that [Saturday] but this was the first game,” Gustafsson said. “I felt good with the puck but I have to play more defense in my own zone. Just a couple of small things I have to be better.”

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

Nothing comes easy when you’re trying to make an NHL roster but it got that much tougher for a young defenseman with the Blackhawks this season. Hey, that’s the way it is, and players know it.

“Of course it’ll be tougher,” Gustafsson said. “It won’t be easy to take a spot. You just have to go out there, do your best and see what happens.”

BRIEFLY

- Patrick Kane could play in the Blackhawks’ game against St. Louis on Saturday. Assistant coach Kevin Dineen said, “don’t be surprised to see 88 politicking to get in the lineup. Pretty good chance we’ll see him on Saturday."

- The Blackhawks were off on Thursday. Artemi Panarin, Artem Anisimov, Marcus Kruger and Hjalmarsson were expected to join the team at Friday’s practice

- Alexandre Fortin, who signed a three-year contract on Sunday, played 12 1/2 minutes in Wednesday’s loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins. That included about two minutes of power-play time. Dineen wouldn’t mind seeing Fortin in another game. “He showed himself well all camp and I think [Wednesday] we saw some good spurts out there, and we’ll find that consistency in a young player as we move forward.”

Joakim Noah appreciative of time with Bulls despite 'low blow'

Joakim Noah appreciative of time with Bulls despite 'low blow'

Joakim Noah may be wearing a different uniform, but he's still wearing the same heart on his sleeve.

That much was made clear in his comments made to the New York media on Wednesday.

Noah, who signed a four-year, $72 million deal with the Knicks after eight seasons with the Bulls, was asked about comments Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf questioning Noah's future as a main contributor on a team.

Reinsdorf told the Chicago Tribune earlier this month that Noah was "not a frontline player," referencing the team's decision not to bring him back in free agency.

Noah responded to those comments in classy fashion - while also getting his true thoughts across:

“He’s entitled to his opinion,’’ Noah said. “I feel I have no regrets about my time in Chicago. I gave it everything I had. To me that’s all that matters. I did everything I could for that organization. I thought it was a little bit of a low blow, but at the end of the day I have nothing but respect for that organization. I’m just excited for this new chapter of my career.”

No one would ever question Noah's heart, but it's undeniable that his body is beginning to show wear, and his performance has reflected it.

Noah played in just 29 games last season before a season-ending shoulder injury, averaging career-lows in points (4.3), field goal percentage (38.3%), free throw percentage (48.9%) and steals (0.6). That came on the heels of a 2015 season in which he missed 15 games and averaged 7.2 points, the lowest since his second season in the league.

But the Knicks are hoping a rejuvenated Noah, playing in his hometown, will find some magic in his 31-year-old body and be able to get the Knicks back to the playoffs.

Noah, Derrick Rose and the Knicks will square off against the Bulls at the United Center on Nov. 4.