5 Thoughts On The Illini Basketball Schedule

illiniFriday’s column from CBS Chicago

(CBS) Its first game doesn’t tip off until November, but the picture of the 2014-’15 Illinois basketball team became clear this week.

Or, at least, the picture of the Fighting Illini’s schedule did.

On Thursday, the Big Ten unveiled this coming hoops season’s conference slate, filling in the blanks behind the Illini’s previously released nonconference games. With the full array of games now available for public consumption, I chewed on it overnight and had a few thoughts.

Road warriors – and home sleepers

Before the Big Ten season even begins at Michigan on Dec. 30, Illinois will have already traveled a whopping 8,338 miles all over the map with games in Las Vegas (against Indiana State and Baylor or Memphis), Miami (against Miami), New York (against Villanova), Chicago (against Oregon) and St. Louis (against Missouri).

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Mork from Ork and other famous Chicagoans

From the Saturday, Aug. 16, editions of The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.) …

mork_350_092712The WISCH LIST

By Dave Wischnowsky

Today, Chicago is home to 2.7 million people. Over the decades, it’s been the birthplace of many more – some of them quite famous, although their Windy City roots may not be as nearly well known as they are.

Earlier this week, when the news broke that beloved comedian and actor Robin Williams had died from an apparent suicide, it came as a shock. But what also came as a surprise to me was that Williams was born in 1951 at St. Luke’s Hospital in Chicago, a fact that, if I’d ever known it, I’d long since forgotten.

Curious, I did some digging this week about other famous actors who hail from Chicago, and here are a few of the most interesting ones.

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Reality Of Cubs’ ‘Plan’ Is Taking Too Many Hits

Chicago Cubs v Colorado RockiesToday’s column from CBS Chicago

(CBS) When I was a kid during the 1980s, there were few TV shows I enjoyed more than the “A-Team.”

And during each week’s episode, there were few moments I enjoyed more than when, after pulling off yet another improbable mission, Hannibal – the A-Team’s cocksure leader – would inevitably chomp on a cigar, flash a toothy grin and utter the phrase, “I love it when a plan comes together.”

Someday, I’d love to hear Theo Epstein – the Chicago Cubs’ Hannibal, if you will – say those same words while he puffs on a celebratory stogie following a World Series championship at Wrigley Field. But if Epstein does pull off his own improbable mission by winning it all with the Cubs, what exactly will “The Plan” have truly entailed?

Because right now, it’s being misrepresented.

As the rebuilding process on Chicago’s North Side has slowly unfolded since team president Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer joined the Cubs following the 2011 season, fans have heard reference to “The Plan” time and time again.

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Chicago’s British café and grocer is a jolly good time

From the Saturday, Aug. 9, editions of The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.) …


By Dave Wischnowsky

On Wednesday afternoonspencers, the cheapest round-trip flight I could find online from Chicago to London would have set me back about $2,500.

Instead, I found walking to Southport Avenue in Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood to be much more economical – and nearly as British.

Now fully settled into its new location at 3755 N. Southport Ave. a few blocks south of where it originally opened in 2012, Spencer’s Jolly Posh is a British and Irish grocer and café that’s unlike any other establishment in Chicago – and about as close as you can come to enjoying Jolly Old England without actually traveling across the pond.

“The other location was something we fit ourselves into,” Jolly Posh’s British proprietor Nick Spencer, 36, told me on Wednesday while comparing his original shop on Irving Park Road to the larger one he moved into earlier this summer. “With this place, we were able to design it to fit what we want.”

And as the Brits might say, it’s a proper fit. Not to mention, a delightfully unique and delicious one.

Seven years ago, Spencer moved from England to New York for love. In 2009, after marriage, he and his wife relocated to Chicago to be closer to her family. Looking to change careers upon his arrival (he had previously worked in risk management consulting), Spencer was struck by a desire to provide Chicagoans – and ex-pats from the UK – with authentic British meats, goods and experiences (such as a regal afternoon tea) that were difficult, if not impossible, to find in the Windy City.

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By Not Yet Naming QB, Beckman Making A Smart Call

BeckmanFriday’s column from CBS Chicago

(CBS) He’s already been compared to Tom Brady. He’s already been projected as the Big Ten’s leading touchdown passer for 2014. And he’s already become the biggest name on the University of Illinois football roster without even playing a game.

But Wes Lunt hasn’t yet been named a starting quarterback.

That he hasn’t is actually one of the more savvy decisions that coach Tim Beckman has made during his Illini tenure.

With an unsightly 6-18 overall record – and a downright brutal 1-15 mark in the Big Ten – following his first two years in Champaign, Beckman’s job security hangs in the balance as he prepares his team for its season opener against Youngstown State at Memorial Stadium on Aug. 30.

While it may well be desperate times during training camp for Beckman, he’s not behaving like a desperate coach. If he was, then he surely would have already named Lunt – the strong-armed 6-foot-5, 228-pound redshirt sophomore transfer from Oklahoma State – as his starting quarterback.

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To Redeem Image, Groce Needs To Seal Deal

GroceToday’s column from CBS Chicago

(CBS) Down at the University of Illinois, John Groce doesn’t have a coaching problem.
But as the Fighting Illini basketball coach preps for his third season in Champaign this fall, he does appear to have something of an image dilemma.

Earlier this summer, when an ESPN panel released its list of the top 50 coaches in college basketball, Groce didn’t make the cut, while six others from the Big Ten did.

After two up-and-down seasons with the Illini, that omission couldn’t be considered a huge surprise. However, the fact that Groce was also left off ESPN’s list of 25 additional “coaches who just missed” was.

After all, included among ESPN’s top-50 list were Minnesota rookie coach Richard Pitino at No. 49 and Iowa’s Fran McCaffery at No. 33, despite the two having respective Big Ten records of 8-10 and 30-42 that are no more impressive than Groce’s 15-21 conference ledger. Fellow Big Ten peers Tom Crean of Indiana and Matt Painter of Purdue were listed in the “just missed” category even though both coaches missed the postseason completely last year.

The secondary list of 25 also included a bevy of mid-major coaches with relatively slim resumes, but Groce – who led Illinois to the NIT last season, won a NCAA Tournament game with the Illini in 2013 and boasts a Sweet 16 appearance from his days as coach at Ohio – was snubbed completely.

I’m guessing in large part that’s because he was snubbed so badly on signing day last year.

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Warm up to fun in Chicago throughout August

BudFrom the Saturday, Aug. 2, editions of The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.) …


By Dave Wischnowsky

Summers are cool in Chicago.

These days, that’s both figuratively and literally.

One year ago, we experienced an unseasonably brisk June, July and August, and this time around both June and July have followed suit.

Now, perhaps August will break the trend, but whether the weather truly gets hot or not, summer is still the best time of the year in Chicago. And this month offers plenty of opportunities for you to find fun.

Bud Billiken Day Parade
Aug. 9

In 1929, Robert S. Abbott, founder of the Chicago Defender newspaper, came up with the character of Bud Billiken, named after the Billiken – the guardian angel of all children, according to Chinese legend.

He then launched a parade named after his brainchild, which has since grown to become the nation’s second largest parade and a fixture in Chicago’s African-American community.

Focused as always on the message of “Back to School,” this year’s parade begins at 10 a.m. at Martin Luther King Drive and Oakwood Boulevard in the city’s Bronzeville neighborhood and continues south to 55th Street at Washington Park, which is the site of a celebratory picnic.

For more information, visit budbillikenparade.org.

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Rose Puts The Ball In His Own Court

Chicago Bulls v Portland Trail BlazersFriday’s column from CBS Chicago

(CBS) When it comes to the Chicago Bulls’ championship hopes this coming season, there’s no player more important to the franchise than Derrick Rose. That would be the case even if Carmelo Anthony were joining him in Chicago this fall.

Anthony won’t be, of course. And according to Sun-Times writer Joe Cowley’s revealing interview on Thursday with a surprisingly candid Rose, that’s apparently just the way the Bulls star wanted it.

Even if the Bulls didn’t.

After speaking with Rose this week about the long-rumored rift between his own camp and the Bulls, Cowley wrote that, “Tensions hit a peak when Rose, who has a five-year, $94.8 million contract, seemed to blatantly resist helping build the roster in a new NBA where stars increasingly double as recruiters. The latest example was the Bulls’ pursuit of free agent Carmelo Anthony.

“Looking back, it’s clear Rose wasn’t all that interested in teaming with Anthony, who chose to return to the New York Knicks. Rose was much more aggressive in the Bulls’ pursuit of free agent Pau Gasol, not only asking for the veteran’s phone number, but giving a hard sell to the big man on joining the Bulls.”

Beyond all the hubbub about the supposed sniping between Rose’s handlers and the Bulls’ brass – all of which Jerry Reinsdorf attempted to dismiss via statement Thursday night – what struck me as the most significant insight from the Sun-Times story was that Rose apparently isn’t against recruiting.

Rather, it seems he was against recruiting Carmelo Anthony.

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5 Thoughts From A Weekend In Cooperstown

2014 Baseball Hall of Fame Induction CeremonyToday’s column from CBS Chicago

(CBS) The Chicago White Sox aren’t known for drawing a crowd.

In fact, they’re often known for not drawing one.

But after this past weekend in Cooperstown, N.Y., perhaps that should change. Because fans of the South Siders showed up in droves Sunday to cheer on favorite son Frank Thomas as he was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, and the much-maligned fan base deserves big kudos for their Big Hurt turnout.

I too spent this past Sunday in Cooperstown, along with my family, soaking in the history – and sunshine after the region’s morning showers blessedly evaporated. Coming into town, however, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect in terms of a fan turnout.

With a great induction class of Thomas, Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Bobby Cox, Joe Torre and Tony La Russa, I was certain that the crowd would be huge – and it certainly was at an estimated 48,000, Cooperstown’s the third largest ever – but I was unsure of how it would be broken down.

Would Braves and Sox fans show up like they should? Just how many from the Cubs’ and Cardinals’ passionate followings would turn out? And was Torre alone a big enough draw to lure in Yankees fans?

As it turned out, Braves boosters – another fan base often maligned for its lack of support – showed up in impressive force to support their two former aces in Maddux and Glavine and ex-manager Cox.

White Sox fans, however, weren’t far behind the Atlanta masses, and their numbers paced well ahead of the contingents wearing Cardinals, Cubs and Yankees apparel, all of which had solid showings.

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Maddux, Thomas inductions quite a haul for Chicago


From the Saturday, July 26, editions of The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.) …


By Dave Wischnowsky

Four summers ago, my dad, my brother and I, clad in our Chicago Cubs T-shirts and jerseys, sat on the grassy lawn in Cooperstown, N.Y., and cheered loudly as former Cubs slugger Andre Dawson was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

As a Montreal Expo.

This weekend, we’re back in upstate New York – along with my mom, sister-in-law and 1-year-old nephew – as we prepare to celebrate former Cubs ace Greg Maddux’s induction into the Hall of Fame.

Not as an Atlanta Brave.

In what’s shaping up as Chicago’s best baseball weekend of the summer – both in spite of and because it involves no games – Maddux and fellow Windy City legend Frank Thomas will be enshrined in the Hall on Sunday. Thomas’ plaque will show him wearing a Sox cap, while Maddux’s will feature no logo, a wonderful nod to the pitcher’s deep affection for the Cubs despite having enjoyed most of his Hall-worthy years in Atlanta.

With Tom Glavine, Joe Torre, Bobby Cox and Tony LaRussa also set for induction, as many as 50,000 visitors are expected to descend upon Cooperstown on Sunday. I’m sure that many of them will be from Chicago, and hopefully for one day at least, Cubs and Sox fans can actually applaud each other.

After all, neither group has much else to cheer for this season.

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