Illini Have The Talent, Now Need The Consistency

GroceToday’s column from CBS Chicago

(CBS) On Sunday night, after his Illinois basketball team blew the doors off Coppin State in a 114-56 romp at State Farm Center, coach John Groce said that he knew which version of his Illini would show up for the game.

Even if the rest of us didn’t.

“I woke up this morning and I told my wife, ‘They’re going to play today,’ ” Groce told reporters. “They played.”

With a record-tying 15 three-pointers helping to spark runs of 16-0, 14-0, 15-0 and 12-0, they certainly did. And by doing so, the Illini looked like the polar opposite of the squad that just two days earlier had struggled throughout a shaky 80-71 victory over Georgia Southern in the season opener.

Now, as for who the Illini truly are this season, well, that probably falls somewhere in between these two yin-yang performances. It’s too early for us to really tell.

But this much we do know for sure: If Groce is to meet expectations in his third year and truly cement himself as the guy to elevate the Illinois progam, then Jekyll and Hyde are going to have to stop suiting up for his Illini.

Because they’ve been in the lineup way too often the past two years.

Continue reading at CBSChicago.com

The driving Force behind George Lucas’ lakefront Museum

LucasFrom the Saturday, Nov. 17, editions of The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.) …

By Dave Wischnowsky

The WISCH LIST

As the saying goes in Iowa, “If you build it, they will come.”

But if you don’t in Chicago, will they still?

As the creator of Star Wars and Indiana Jones, George Lucas had nothing to do with that famous line from “Field of Dreams.” But the movie mogul’s museum of dreams along Chicago’s lakefront has everything to do with the subsequent question.

Last week, plans were unveiled for the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art, which is slated for a controversial 17-acre parcel of land between Soldier Field and McCormick Place that currently is home to surface parking lots. The museum’s initial design by Chinese architect Ma Yansong was highly disappointing as it looked like a futuristic man-made mountain that was plucked from the set of one of Lucas’ sci-fi flicks.

The plans were widely panned by both architecture critics and the public – and for good reason. After all, Chicago already has one space-age mistake along its lakefront with Soldier Field’s UFO-dropped-inside-the-Parthenon look. It hardly needs another right next door. But while Yansong’s design needs major work, I still believe that the Lucas Museum can be a positive for Chicago, and that its planned location along the lakefront makes it all the better.

Others, however, disagree. This week, the Friends of the Park, a Chicago group dedicated to stopping any private development east of Lake Shore Drive, announced that it is filing a federal lawsuit to block the museum’s construction. Previously, the group stated that it prefers to instead see the lots on the proposed museum site converted into parkland.

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Where Veterans Day is every day in Chicago

From the Saturday, Nov. 8, editions of The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.) …

PritzkerBy Dave Wischnowsky

The WISCH LIST

If you want to find world-class art in the city of Chicago, you know you can walk inside the Art Institute and be exposed to a universe of it. If it’s natural history that you’re hungry to explore, well, naturally you’d head to the Field Museum.

If delving into the science of everything is instead your desire, then you’ll deduce that the Museum of Science and Industry would be your logical destination. And if it’s Windy City itself that has you curious, then it only makes sense to blow on through the Chicago History Museum.

But what if you want to find the history of America’s military?

Well, as we approach Veterans Day on Tuesday and honor our those who have served, there is a place in Chicago that’s dedicated every day to veterans both living and passed – and is also something of a hidden gem among the city’s diverse museum community.

Established in 2003 by Col. J.N. Pritzker of Chicago’s billionaire family, the Pritzker Military Museum & Library is located right in the thick of things in Chicago’s Loop across from Millennium Park. But perched above street level on the second and third floors of the historic Monroe Building at 104 S. Michigan Ave., it’s also quite easy to miss.

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For Cubs, Acquiring Cole Hamels Is A Loaded Issue

HamelsToday’s column from CBS Chicago

(CBS) The Chicago Cubs are loaded.

They’re loaded with cash after years of penny-pinching and with all those gaudy outfield ads on the way. They’re loaded with young talent, both on the big league roster or coming soon. And now, they’re both locked and loaded for free agency with new manager Joe Maddon ready to help lure others into the Wrigleyville fold.

But how exactly the Cubs plan to spend their riches this offseason is also a loaded issue – and Theo Epstein and Co. need to be careful with how they handle it.

Earlier this week, news broke that the Cubs reportedly have an interest in Phillies left-hander Cole Hamels, who they claimed on revocable waivers in early August before Philadelphia pulled him back following brief trade talks between the teams.

At 30 years old with a career record of 108-83 to go along with a 3.27 ERA, Hamels is an intriguing option for the Cubs, who are in serious need of front-line starting pitching. But is he their best option too?

Continue reading at CBSChicago.com

The master of the Midway

From the Fall/Winter 2014 issue of the Kellogg School of Management Alumni Magazine …

ted_phillipsBy Dave Wischnowsky

When he took a job at the accounting firm Ernst & Whinney in 1979, Ted Phillips ’89 had no idea he would one day end up with a career in the National Football League.

“I didn’t have a vision that I’d get into pro sports,” Phillips said. “I thought I’d end up as a partner at a public accounting firm.”

Then life called an audible. After two years as the firm’s tax client, the Bears hired Phillips in 1983 as controller. Over the next 16 years, Phillips worked his way up from director of finance to vice president of operations. He made history in 1999 when he was named the first Chicago Bears president and CEO who was not a member of the Halas and McCaskey clan — the family that has owned the NFL franchise for 94 years.

“It was an overwhelming feeling,” Phillips said. “I still look at every day as a blessing to have that unbelievable trust put in me. It’s very humbling.”

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In Chicago, the holidays are coming on strong

CATW_GrandTree_2011_608From the Saturday, Nov. 1, editions of The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.) …

By Dave Wischnowsky

The WISCH LIST

These days, once Labor Day hits, the holidays never really stop.

As soon as you pack up your picnic gear and bid summer its unofficial adieu, the Halloween costumes begin popping up in stores. And now that Halloween is over and your sugar coma has set in, Thanksgiving is on the mind – although Christmas keeps finding new ways to leapfrog it.

And no place has more holiday stuffing this month than Chicago, as Thanksgiving and Christmas duke it out for November supremacy while even Halloween isn’t quite ready to leave the ring.

Here’s how you can enjoy holiday revelry this month in the Windy City.

Vodou at Field Museum

All Hallow’s Eve may have passed, but at the Field Museum, the spookiness has just begun.

Through April 26, the museum at 1400 S. Lake Shore Dr. is hosting a new special exhibition called “Vodou: Sacred Powers of Haiti,” which looks beyond the voodoo stereotypes of zombies, evils spells and dolls stuck with pins to examine “a vital spiritual and social force in the daily life of Haiti.” It’s all still pretty creepy though, if you ask me.

For more information, visit fieldmuseum.org.

Christmas Around the World

Christmas doesn’t arrive until Dec. 25, you say?

Well, that’s not the case as the Museum of Science & Industry (5700 S. Lake Shore Dr.), where it commences on Nov. 13 with the debut of “Christmas Around the World and Holidays of Light,” a holiday spectacle that dates back to 1942 when a singe decorated tree was dedicated to the Allies of World War II.

This year, the museum’s 45-foot Grand Tree will again take center stage in the Rotunda, surrounded by more than 50 smaller trees decorated to represent Chicago’s varied ethnic communities. The celebration runs through Jan. 4.

For more information, visit msichciago.org.

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Don’t Weep For Rick Renteria

RenteriaToday’s column from CBS Chicago

(CBS) Winning a franchise’s first World Series title in more than a century is some tough business.

And so is being a Major League Baseball manager.

Rick Renteria learned a harsh lesson on both counts this afternoon when the Chicago Cubs finally confirmed the worst-kept secret in baseball by officially firing their manager after just one 73-89 season, during which he led the team to seven more wins than a year prior and did nothing wrong except not be Joe Maddon.

As team Cubs president Theo Epstein explained in a difficult-but-classy statement released by the franchise: “Rick deserved to come back for another season as Cubs manager, and we said as much when we announced that he would be returning in 2015.

We met with Rick two weeks ago for a long end-of-season evaluation and discussed plans for next season. We praised Rick to the media and to our season-ticket holders. Those actions were made in good faith.

“Last Thursday, we learned that Joe Maddon – who may be as well suited as anyone in the industry to manage the challenges that lie ahead of us – had become a free agent.”
And the moment that the superstar skipper of the Tampa Bay Rays entered the job market, it spelled the end of Renteria’s ever-so-brief tenure on the dugout bench at Wrigley Field.

Continue reading at CBSChicago.com

Taveras Tragedy Evokes Memories of Cubs’ Hubbs

St Louis Cardinals v Miami MarlinsToday’s column from CBS Chicago

(CBS) In sports, as in life, there’s no more haunting question than, “What if?”
That’s something, of course, that fans of the Chicago Cubs know all too well.

What if the Cubs hadn’t fallen apart down the stretch in 1969? What if Greg Maddux had never left for Atlanta? What if Moises Alou had managed to keep his cool? What if Alex Gonzalez had turned a routine double play? What if Mark Prior and Kerry Wood had stayed healthy?

And before any of that, what if Ken Hubbs hadn’t died?

“What if,” Keith Hubbs said to FOXSports.com this past February on the 50th anniversary of his brother’s untimely death in 1964. “If, if, if.”

Back in 1962, after a stellar debut season on the North Side, Cubs second baseman Kenny Hubbs was named the National League Rookie of the Year and became the first rookie in history to earn a Gold Glove after he set a major league record with 418 consecutive fielding chances without an error.

He was only 20 years old.

Less than two years later on Feb. 15, 1964, Hubbs took off from Provo, Utah, piloting a small Cessna that he owned. Bound for southern California, he never made it as the plane crashed into Utah Lake just outside Provo, killing both Hubbs and his passenger.

He was only 22 years old.

Continue reading at CBSChicago.com

In Illinois, our sports teams are more tricks than treats

This week’s Wisch List newspaper column from The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.) …

Atlanta Falcons v Chicago BearsBy Dave Wischnowsky

The WISCH LIST

It’s still almost a week until Halloween, but here in the Land of Lincoln, we hardly need to wait until Oct. 31 to experience a scare.

After all, our local sports teams have been doing that all year long.

(Don’t even get me started on our local politicians.)

And as we approach All Hallow’s Eve with hollow records for both the Chicago Bears (0-3 at home) and Fighting Illini football (0-3 in the Big Ten), here are some of the individuals, teams and ballparks that have me the most spooked.

Jay Cutler

If Jay Cutler was a football coach instead of a quarterback, wouldn’t he have been fired by now?

After nearly a decade in the NFL, Cutler has still played in only two playoff games, and won just one (reaching another this year isn’t looking promising). Just as frightening for Bears fans – if not more so – in 10 career games against Green Bay, Cutler is 1-9 with 19 interceptions and a 67.0 QB rating that’s the lowest against any team he’s faced more than twice.

If you’re looking to scare somebody next week, forget the costume. Just wear those statistics on a sign around your neck.

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Groce, Illini Still Just Missing On Big-Time Recruits

Illinois v WisconsinToday’s column from CBS Chicago

(CBS) It’s a tough time to be an Illini fan.

The football program has lost 24 of its last 25 Big Ten games. The basketball program has missed four of the last seven NCAA Tournaments. And on Tuesday, Illini hoops coach John Groce ended up on the short end of yet another high-profile recruiting stick when 6-foot-9, 245-pound banger Elijah Thomas chose Texas A&M over Illinois, SMU, LSU and Oklahoma State.

While quite disappointing for Illini fans in dire need of a pick-me-up, five-star power forward Thomas’ decision was also quite understandable. Thomas’ close friend Admon Gilder just committed to the Aggies, and Champaign is located 400 miles further away from his hometown of Lancaster, Texas, than his next most distant finalist (LSU in Baton Rouge).

Despite naming Illinois as his leader last month following an official visit to campus, home ultimately was where Thomas’ heart was. And as a result, his failed pursuit was yet another case of the Illini hearing, “It’s not you, it’s me,” following in the recent footsteps of Villanova recruit Jalen Brunson (family ties to Philadelphia), Oklahoma State recruit Jawun Evans (proximity to his hometown Dallas), Louisville freshman Quentin Snider (cold feet prompted him to stay home) and Kansas freshman Cliff Alexander (the Jayhawks’ cachet provided the biggest ego boost).

With this ultimately unfruitful string of big-time recruitments, it’s not that Groce has done anything wrong, but rather it appears that for a variety of disparate reasons with each kid, nothing has turned out to be quite right.

Continue reading at CBSChicago.com