Chicago basketball report: Bulls clinch play-in spot, Sky stars in overseas playoffs — and UIC hires a new men’s coach

The Chicago Bulls solidified a place in the NBA play-in tournament, but their grasp on the ninth seed continues to slip after a loss to the Atlanta Hawks on Monday. Bulls legend Toni Kukoč questioned the dominance of Nikola Jokić in the history of European players in the NBA.

Chicago Sky stars faced off in the Turkish league playoffs as WNBA training camp nears.

And the coaching carousel continued to spin for DePaul and UIC this week with two new hires.

Every Wednesday throughout the season, Tribune writers will provide an update on what happened — and what’s ahead — for the Bulls, Sky and local basketball.

Bulls clinch play-in season tournament position

The postseason is officially set for the Bulls, who will return to the play-in tournament for the second consecutive season. The Bulls secured a spot in the tournament despite losing to the Atlanta Hawks on Monday — a small milestone that reflects the shaky status of the team as they struggle to hold on to the ninth seed.

After losing Monday’s matchup, the Bulls are only a half-game ahead of the Hawks with six games remaining in the regular season. The Bulls are almost locked into one of the bottom-two play-in seeds as they currently sit 4 1/2 games back from the Philadelphia 76ers, who should regain Joel Embiid by the end of the week.

The Bulls hold the regular season tiebreaker over the Hawks, which means they will claim the ninth seed as long as they finish with a level record to Atlanta. But this is an incredibly tenuous foothold for any team to enter into the postseason.

If the Bulls beat Atlanta in the opening round of the play-in tournament, they will advance to play either the 76ers or the Miami Heat (if current standings hold). But if they lose, their postseason will come crashing to an even quicker end than last year.

Chicago Sky stars face off in Turkish league playoffs

Marina Mabrey and Elizabeth Williams faced off against Dana Evans last week as Mersin took on Beşiktaş in the Turkish league playoffs. Mersin won both games to advance to the Turkish league finals and will also play in the EuroLeague semifinals on April 12.

In the first meeting, Williams logged 23 points, eight rebounds and two blocks for Mersin while Mabrey added 12 points, nine assists and nine rebounds. Evans led Beşiktaş with 19 points. Evans again led Beşiktaş with 20 points in the second leg of the semifinals, but her scoring was not enough to outlast Mersin. Mabrey tallied 19 points and seven rebounds in Mersin’s second semifinal victory while Williams recorded 11 points, five rebounds, three blocks and two steals.

With Beşiktaş eliminated from the Turkish league tournament, Evans will remain in Europe to compete in the EuroCup Final.

Training camp will begin on April 28 after the WNBA draft takes place on April 15 in New York City.

Due to new prioritization rules created by the WNBA, all players with three or more years of experience in the league must report to camp by May 1 or risk a full-season suspension.

Toni Kukoč questions Nikola Jokić’s dominance

Nikola Jokić is broadly considered one of the most dominant European players in the history of the NBA. But Chicago Bulls legend Toni Kukoč pumped the brakes on comparisons to fellow Balkan greats during an interview with Sportski žurnal, a Serbian sports newspaper.

“Despite the statistics, Jokić isn’t at the level of (Vlade) Divac and Dino (Radja) in the center position,” Kukoč said.

Divac and Radja are both Hall of Famers based on their dominant careers in Europe and stints in the NBA. Divac played four years with the Boston Celtics in the late ’90s while Radja was a staple of the league with the Los Angeles Lakers, Sacramento Kings and Charlotte Hornets from 1989 to 2005. But neither player reached the statistical prowess in the NBA of Jokić, who has won back-to-back MVP trophies and earned six consecutive All-Star honors over his nine-year career with the Nuggets.

Kukoč noted that Jokić “has improved a lot and can improve his game a lot” and praised his prominence as a center in the league.

“Jokić is not an athlete, he doesn’t run as fast as American college players, but he has an incredible ability to get the game into a rhythm that suits him,” Kukoč said. “He scores, assists, catches balls, all in his own ‘mode.’ When he gets the game into a rhythm that suits him, then he can do what he wants.”

But he does not believe Jokić has yet earned the title of the greatest Serbian center.

College coaching carousel continues

UIC has found its next men’s basketball coach, while a familiar name is returning to Chicago to join Chris Holtmann’s DePaul staff.

Rob Ehsan, the former head coach at UAB and most recently an assistant at Stanford, was introduced Monday as UIC’s new coach. Ehsan, 41, replaces Luke Yaklich, who was fired last month after the Flames went 47-70 during his four seasons.

UAB was 76-57 during Ehsan’s four seasons as head coach (2016-20). He was Stanford’s associate head coach and offensive coordinator the last three seasons and also has served as an assistant at Maryland and Virginia Tech.

DePaul, meanwhile, announced the hiring Monday of Bryan Mullins as an assistant coach for the men’s team. The former Downers Grove South and Southern Illinois standout was fired by SIU last month after posting an 86-68 record in five seasons as head coach.

Mullins, 37, spent six seasons on Loyola’s staff — including the 2018 Final Four run — before returning to his alma mater in 2019. His father, Mike, founded the Illinois Wolves AAU program.

“Bryan is a talented coach and someone who has deep connections in the state of Illinois,” Holtmann said in a statement. “The Mullins name has been an important part of basketball in this state for many years.”

Number of the week: 202

When Coby White scored a pair of 3-pointers against the Atlanta Hawks on Monday, he passed a new threshold — scoring more than 200 3-pointers in a single season.

White has now tallied 202 3-pointers this season, drawing within two baskets of Zach LaVine’s franchise record (204) that was previously set in 2023. With six games left in the regular season, White is well-positioned to break that record.

Week ahead: Bulls

  • Wednesday: Off

  • Thursday: Off

  • Friday: New York Knicks, 7 p.m., United Center, NBC Sports Chicago

  • Saturday: Off

  • Sunday: @ Orlando Magic, 5 p.m., Kia Center, NBC Sports Chicago

  • Monday: Off

  • Tuesday: New York Knicks, 7 p.m., United Center, NBC Sports Chicago

What we’re reading this morning


“I see it all the time where Twitter go crazy on us, say we the most confusing team.” — DeMar DeRozan on the Bulls’ up-and-down final weeks of the season