Scheyer finds a home in Israel

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Scheyer finds a home in Israel

After failing to find a home in the NBA and recovering from eye surgery, former Glenbrook North and Duke basketball star Jon Scheyer decided the best path to continue his professional career would lead him to Israel.

Last June, he signed a two-year contract for a reported 450,000 to play for Maccabi Tel Aviv, the European League's 2011 runnerup and five-time champion. He began playing for his new team on Oct. 1. A month earlier, Scheyer, who is Jewish, obtained Israeli citizenship.

"I am really excited to take the next step in my basketball career and go play for Maccabi Tel Aviv," he said. "I am looking forward to the opportunity to play for a team with such great tradition."

Scheyer's reputation preceded him. The 6-foot-5 shooting guard led Glenbrook North to the Class AA championship as a junior in 2005, finished as the fourth-leading scorer in state history with 3,034 points and was acclaimed as Illinois' Mr. Basketball. In one of the most celebrated performances in state history, he scored 21 points in 75 seconds in a quarterfinal game of the Proviso West Holiday Tournament, an entertaining clip that has been viewed more than 160,000 times on YouTube.

After choosing Duke over Illinois, Arizona and Wisconsin, Scheyer averaged 12.2, 11.7, 14.9 and 18.2 points per game in four years under coach Mike Krzyzewski. As a senior, he became the second player in Illinois history to win a state high school title and an NCAA title, following former Thornridge and Indiana star Quinn Buckner.

Despite his many awards and achievements -- he was a consensus second-team All-American, one of six finalists for the Bob Cousy award as the nation's top point guard, one of 10 finalists for the John Wooden Award as the nation's top player and the only player in Duke history to record at least 2,000 points, 500 rebounds, 400 assists, 250 three-pointers and 200 steals in his career -- Scheyer wasn't selected in the 2010 NBA draft.

Although Krzyzewski said he would be "a little bit surprised" if Scheyer wasn't on an NBA roster for the 2011-12 season, NBA scouts and coaches weren't convinced. Not physical enough, some argued. Not athletic enough to defend on the perimeter, others said.

Scheyer pursued his dream with the Miami Heat's summer league team, attended the Los Angeles Clippers training camp and played with the Houston Rockets' Developmental League team. But a serious, life-changing eye injury eventually led to surgery and, after originally turning down several offers to play overseas, he finally decided to go to Israel.

"We always thought that Scheyer had a legitimate shot at making the NBA due to his work ethic and basketball IQ. But we are not all that surprised that he is playing overseas instead," said recruiting analyst Roy Schmidt of Illinois Prep Bulls-Eye.

"Actually, that is where we thought he would end up and it is not a bad option at all. You can make good money, play against good international competition and live well.

"What is unfortunate is that Scheyer does not fit the mold of the prototypical NBA player in the eyes of professional scouts. While he is a smart player who is also skilled, he lacks the things that are perceived as being automatic ingredients for NBA stardom -- size and athleticism."

Glenbrook North coach Dave Weber, Scheyer's high school coach, believes the decision to play in Israel is a good step.

"He should be in the NBA. But he had eye surgery. He would have been in the NBA if he hadn't gotten injured," Weber said. "He is a smart point guard. He will fight through it. How good is he right now? How is he playing now? Maybe some day he will get to the NBA."

For the time being, Scheyer is enjoying his experience in Israel and battling to earn more playing time. Playing against Real Madrid, Hapoel Tel Aviv, Anadolu Efes and Partizan in Group C of the Euroleague might not sound like prime-time matches with North Carolina, Kentucky, Ohio State and Kansas but Scheyer concedes it is a tough transition.

"Every team is coming at us every night. It's just like Duke," Scheyer told Tablet magazine in Tel Aviv last week. "When I was going to Duke, you know it's going to be such a high level. But you don't know what to expect until you get to your first practice. No matter how many times you watch or your teammates have told you, you just need to experience it. The game is played differently. It takes a little time to get adjusted."

Longtime Euroleague and Maccabi Tel Aviv observers point out that starring immediately in Tel Aviv would be akin to earning All-American honors as a freshman at Duke -- not even Scheyer did that -- and the transition to Israeli basketball hasn't been as glamorous as his Albert Pujols-hyped arrival. He has yet to play in Maccabi's two Euroleague games and he has averaged about 10 minutes per game in the Adriatic and Israeli leagues.

At 24, he knows he has time to put his game in order and achieve his goal of playing in the NBA.

No guarantees, but Ben Zobrist believes Cubs can live up to ‘super-team’ hype

No guarantees, but Ben Zobrist believes Cubs can live up to ‘super-team’ hype

CINCINNATI – Flooded with offers, Ben Zobrist turned down the New York Mets, San Francisco Giants and Washington Nationals – three teams the Cubs could potentially face in the playoffs – because he believed in The Plan, closing a four-year, $56 million deal by the winter meetings for the chance to make history in Chicago.    

Zobrist has been exactly what the Cubs wanted, a patient switch-hitter to set an example for a young lineup, a versatile defender who can play all over the field and an insightful clubhouse presence. But that contract should really pay off in October, the way the Kansas City Royals added dimensions to last year’s World Series winner with a trade-deadline deal for Zobrist.

“Talent really doesn’t mean a whole lot,” Zobrist said. “Every team that’s going to be there is talented. But that talent makes less of a difference when you’re playing against those caliber teams. It really comes down to execution.

“The teams that execute – the teams that make the pitch, make the play, have the good at-bat when they need it – are the teams that win. Regular season is what it is. We’ve had a great season. We know that we’re probably the best team that’s out there regular season. But that doesn’t guarantee us anything for the postseason.”

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One week out from the roar at Wrigley Field and the playoffs Cubs fans have been waiting for since the Mets swept last year’s National League Championship Series, Camp Joe Maddon crossed another day off the bizarro spring-training calendar with Friday night’s 7-3 win over the Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ball Park   

There aren’t many conclusions to be drawn from a 102-win machine rolling over a last-place team, but Zobrist did end Josh Smith’s perfect game by leading off the fifth inning and drilling a ball into the right-field seats. The crowd chanted “Let’s go, Cubbies!” in the eighth inning after Zobrist blasted his 17th home run out toward the same general area.

It’s one thing to have a strong relationship with Maddon and believe the recruiting pitch from team president Theo Epstein. It’s another to see the vision come to life across 160 games, in an industry where the teams that win the offseason typically buckle under the pressure.

Zobrist – who played in six postseason series with Maddon’s Tampa Bay Rays and put up an .880 OPS in 16 games during Kansas City’s World Series run – believes the Cubs have what it takes to become that special team.  

“For sure,” Zobrist said. “Just based on the mix of personalities and character and players that we have in this room individually.

“You know that when you put them together, it’s a ‘super-team’ of sorts. We really have to prove our record right, prove people right that we can do it when it counts. And that’s going to be the most important thing going into the postseason.”

Carlos Rodon sets White Sox, AL record with seven straight strikeouts to open game

Carlos Rodon sets White Sox, AL record with seven straight strikeouts to open game

White Sox pitcher Carlos Rodon tied an American League and a team record when he started Friday night’s contest with seven consecutive strikeouts against the Minnesota Twins.

Rodon, who struck out 11 in his previous turn on Sunday, matched the mark set by White Sox hurler Joe Cowley on May 28, 1986 in a loss at the Texas Rangers.

Of Rodon’s seven strikeouts, two were on called third strikes by plate umpire Tripp Gibson. Twins outfielder Logan Schafer snapped the streak with a one-out double in the top of the third inning.

Houston’s Jim Deshaies (1986) and the New York Mets’ Jacob de Grom (2014) hold the major league record with eight straight strikeouts to start a game.

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Doug Fister set the AL record with nine consecutive strikeouts in 2012 and Tom Seaver holds the MLB record with 10 straight in 1970.

Combined with Sunday’s start, when he struck out the side in the eighth at the Cleveland Indians, Rodon whiffed 10 straight batters. Rodon’s run is the longest consecutive strikeout streak in the majors since Los Angeles Dodgers reliever Eric Gagne struck out 10 in a row in May 2003.