Bulls

5 Questions with...US99's Ramblin' Ray Stevens

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5 Questions with...US99's Ramblin' Ray Stevens

By Jeff Nuich
CSN Chicago Senior Director of Communications
CSNChicago.com Contributor

December 2, 2009

Want to know more about your favorite Chicago media celebrities? CSNChicago.com has your fix as we put the citys most popular personalities on the spot with a new weekly feature entitled 5 Questions with...

Every Wednesday exclusively on CSNChicago.com, its our turn to grill the local media and other local VIPs with five random sports and non-sports related questions that will definitely be of interest to old and new fans alike.

This weekone of the biggest personalities in country music radio history who has made his home on Chicagos WUSN 99.5 FM (US99) for close to two decadeshe co-hosts the Lisa Dent & Ramblin Ray morning show weekdays from 5:30-10:00 AMhere are 5 Questions withRAMBLIN RAY STEVENS!

BIO (from the words of Ramblin Ray himself): I love Radio! I come from a family of construction workers. I knew as a young man working on the big buildings of Chicago on the hottest of the hot and the coldest of the cold days, that when I graduated college there had to be a better way!

I found it in radio! I found it on CBS Radios US99.5 in Chicago. WUSN has been my radio home since 1990. Thats an eternity in this business. (OK, there was a brief respite in 2001 when I was given an extended vacation.)

Currently, I'm co-hosting mornings with Lisa Dent from 5:30 to 10:00 every morning.

I also host the nationally syndicated Country's Cutting Edge on the Westwood One Radio Network. Its a show that profiles new songs by country music's new stars. I have been the host since 1998.

Working in Chicago, for what I think is the crown jewel of CBS country stations, I have formed great relationships with the listeners, and the stars that make our format the best. One minute on our show in the morning you can hear regular hard working people of Chicago, the next it could be the Governor or it could be Keith Urban!

Outside of radio, I enjoy my family (Gina is the boss and I have 3 smaller versions of my wife and me).

I'm really into working out and riding my bike. Last year at 42 I did my first Triathlon! I also ran in a 200 mile marathon from Madison, Wisconsin through Milwaukee and back to Chicago. I think to survive a schedule that has you getting up at 3 am you need to take care of yourself.

My other hobbies include water skiing, anything outdoors, and snowmobiles. I restore and collect vintage sleds and this year I return to racing!

On various Chicagoland weekends you can find me and my media buddies helping out various charities. We do runs, bike rides and kayak races. We mostly work on the behalf of children's charities.

For more information and to read my blog, you can log on @ Ramblinray.com.

1) CSNChicago.com: Ramblin Ray, the sport of NASCAR on an overall national level is extremely popular with sports enthusiasts across the country, especially in the south as we know. As a huge NASCAR enthusiast and supporter living a huge metropolis like Chicago, are you disappointed that NASCAR isnt a bigger sport in major cities such as ours, New York, LA, etc. and what do you think needs to happen for auto racing to gain acceptance in larger urban markets in general?

Stevens: I think NASCAR is one of the coolest things in sports. There will always be those that say its not a sport. Go to a race and witness what the guys in the pits do and you will quickly change your mind! In the south, NASCAR, or NECKCAR as its called, is almost a birth rite. When youre born in North Carolina, your legal name has to have either Dale, Jr., or Sr. as part of your name or your parents will be arrested for treason. Honestly, NASCAR should be bigger in Chicago.

We have a great local race scene and some of the best drivers around. Names like Hoffman and Sontag should be on the national level. We do have Eric Darnell who's from Chicago and is making a name for himself at NASCARs premiere series.

Bottom Line: Chicago is a great ball and stick town. We grow up here worshiping the Bears and our baseball teams, the Hawks and the Bulls. They are all sports that we play as kids. NASCAR has its work cut out in this town. Its hard in a recession to watch drivers who couldn't drive the Stevenson during rush hour make 800,000 a race just to finish 24th (thats the deal they have with the owners, not sponsorship or race winnings). NASCAR will be just fine, but it will never be the 85 Bears.

2) CSNChicago.com: Youve been our link to the country music scene for close to 20 years now. You were also at the recent CMAs in Nashville and witnessed Entertainer of the Year and teen sensation Taylor Swifts opening number of her hit Forever & Always, which was panned by critics nationwide. Was she really that bad and, a follow-up question, do the think the hype of Swift and her pop music crossover success is good for the county music industry?
Stevens: I was at the show with my 15 year old daughtersaying anything bad about Taylor would be like telling a Bears fan that Walter Payton was a mediocre running back. It would be blasphemy. Actually, a lot gets lost on the show. In the audience, she sounded good. I guess over TV it was a little rough. Taylor's talent goes far beyond what we here on the radio or see on TV. She is to country what Ditka was to the Bears.

As far as her crossing over? Anything that brings country music to a larger audience is good for our format. Country music is cool. It provides us with great stories and the best players anywhere. Brad Paisley and Keith Urban play a guitar good enough to make Eddie Van Halen blush.

As far as our station goes, we need to be careful to not play her songs every 15 minutes. Not too many of the guys I hang with listen to Taylor, but to witness what she means to young ladies, such as my 15 year old, is awesome. She's a good role model.

3) CSNChicago.com: With the winter season fast approaching, tell us about your passion of snowmobiling and how you got started, plus any suggestions you can tell CSNChicago.com readers on where to go snowmobiling in our area this upcoming season?
Stevens: I'm a Snowmobile freak! It never ends for me. All year long I restore old snowmobiles. I currently have over 26 sleds, mostly rare sleds I have found and restored. I also have a pretty good race history. I was what they call a cross-country racer in my 20's and 30's. This year, I return to the ice to race a vintage Moto Ski on the Pro Vintage race circuit. I hope to do well as Danica Patrick s dad TJ, who is helping me in the pits. I'm also rolling with Goodwin performance out of Zion, home to Gregg Goodwin, the 91 world champ. I hope to not embarrass myself either. Any winnings go to the kids at St Jude Hospital in Memphis TN.

As far as just going out for a ride, go rent a sled in Wisconsin and be careful! Please pay attention and don't drink and ride. Sleds are fun, but you have to understand that its an extreme sport. If you have kids or if youre a newcomer, a snowmobile safety course from the Illinois DNR is a good plan!

4) CSNChicago.com: Oprah recently announced she is ending production of her show in Chicago. We lost our bid for the 2016 Summer Olympics Games. Major conventions are leaving our city as well. Whats going on around here lately?

Stevens: Chicago is a great city. Remember who we had before the Op? Wally Phillips, Steve Dahl, Brant Miller, oh and this guy named Phil Donahue. I highly doubt we will ever see anything like Oprah again, she is awesome. What she has done for people is amazing, but if Oprah and Mike Ditka were in a room, I would rather sit down with Da Coach and talk football, that's just the way I roll, I'm sure to my wife it would be Oprah, but different strokes

This is a city that has witnessed a Super Bowl recently, a World Series winner and enough NBA rings to make Elizabeth Taylor jealous. I guess what Im saying is this: with or without the Olympic games, this city will be fine. To an outsider, this town is riddled with corruption and greed. To someone that lives here, its kind of normal. But think about how we come across in the International community? Our county board president inherits a job from his father? Friend and family contracts? Thats not exactly the Olympic sprit, but to give it to Rio? Wow, good luck with that. If you attend the games, I have a vest you can wear!

Chicago is a great town. Not one person leaving will have any long term effect, although I'm still not over Phil Jackson, Jordan, Pippen....on second thought, don't go Oprah!

5) CSNChicago.com: Any hints on what you plan on giving your morning show co-host Lisa Dent and producer Lisa Kosty for Christmas this year? We promise we wont tell.
Stevens: What can you possibly give two women who have it all? This year, all I'm giving them is my love.

BONUS QUESTIONCSNChicago.com: Anything you want to promote Ray? Please share it with us

Stevens: Well, every December we have our Country Cares for St. Jude Kids Radiothon. All money raised goes to the kids at St. Jude Hospital who fight a courageous battle with cancer everyday. The good news at St. Jude is the research they do there is shared all over the world and helps kids right here at Chicago hospitals as well.

I'm also involved in planning next years bike ride for Breast cancer research (www.pinkribbonriders.org). Every year I ride from Chicago to Eagle River, Wisconsin to raise awareness. Next year, we ride from Sister Bay back down to Chicago. The ride breaks down to just over 400 miles in four days. Chicago Bear Greg Olsen has also agreed to participate at some level. The following year (2011) there is some talk of a ride across the country to raise money. Its just a matter of CBSUS99 giving me 40 days to do it!

This year, I also return to snowmobile racing. You can follow details at RamblinRay.com. Any sponsorship money or winnings will go to the Comprehensive Cancers research center at Rush University Hospital.

Have a great Holiday season. For me, its Merry Christmas, whatever it is for you, I hope its all you ever wanted!

Ramblin Ray LINKS:

Ramblin Ray Stevens official website

US99Lisa Dent & Ramblin Ray page

Ramblin Rays official blog

Ramblin Ray on Facebook

Bulls take sober approach in draft, satisfied with steady roster growth  

Bulls take sober approach in draft, satisfied with steady roster growth  

It wasn’t an exciting night at the Advocate Center but it was a successful one in the eyes of the rebuilding Chicago Bulls.

And a telling one, from their inaction as they stayed put to select Duke’s Wendell Carter Jr. and Boise State’s Chandler Hutchison with their two first round picks.

They’re not looking to press the fast-forward button on this methodical process, placing unrealistic expectations on themselves that they’re nowhere near ready to embrace.

But perhaps, it was necessary.

Trade offers were around, and the Bulls were enamored with Jaren Jackson Jr. and Marvin Bagley III in addition to their interest in Mohamed Bamba. But the price of swapping picks, along with giving up the 22nd spot and a future first-rounder was too rich for the Bulls, according to sources.

“We’re always looking and probing for opportunity. How close we got, we don’t know,” Bulls general manager Gar Forman said. “We looked into some things. We thought it was more than a six-player draft. And Wendell is a guy we’ve been high on for quite awhile.”

They believe they’ve opted for prudence instead of panic on a night where bold, confident steps are expected.

After a painful march to the end of an unsatisfying season and dropping a spot in the lottery, a trade would’ve been a do-good when many felt the Bulls should’ve been at the top of the draft order.

After all, so much was made of their scouts and staff spending so much time during the year to assess the top talent—nobody wanted to see all that unspoken promise result in a mid-lottery seventh selection.

“We feel we’re in a situation at this time of our rebuild that to give up assets, important draft assets to move up a spot or two, that didn’t make sense to us and the way we’re planning,” Paxson said. “We continue to talk about being patient and disciplined in how we make decisions.”

One can look at it as the Bulls being unwilling to embrace what comes with taking a top-four talent—especially with Jackson being viewed as a long play as opposed to an instant impact prospect—the word “playoffs” would’ve been swirling all around Madison and Wood for the next several months.

Or one can view it as a sober approach, that Paxson and Forman know there’s far too many unanswered questions about their core, that a slightly better-than-expected regular season wasn’t going to seduce them down a costly road.

They don’t seem to be completely sold on Kris Dunn as the unequivocal point guard of the future, unafraid to take Trae Young if he fell into their lap.

Zach LaVine didn’t play to his expectations, the franchise’s expectations and he didn’t look comfortable playing with the Dunn and Lauri Markkanen, in part because they didn’t have the opportunity.

He enters restricted free agency and nobody will know how much the Bulls value him until they put an initial offer in front of him, likely on the eve of free agency a week from now.

As much as the last 12 months were about hitting the reset button and trading Jimmy Butler to put themselves in this spot, the months of October to April didn’t shed as much light as many anticipated—hence the talk from Paxson about patience and not being in a rush with the rebuild right now.

Because honestly, there’s nothing to rush—the last thing this distrusting fan base wants to hear.

Carter can be exactly what the Bulls need—some ways immediately, other ways in time provided the roster construction is competent and not done at a snail’s pace, the biggest fear from this jaded fan base.

Having to sacrifice at Duke once Bagley III reclassified to get to college, his offensive game didn’t develop as much as it could have—and it’s not like he’ll be featured early on in Chicago with Markkanen and LaVine penciled in as main scoring options.

“As much as you wanna talk about the game getting away from bigs, big guys and their ability to score, the way the game’s going,” Paxson said. “He wants to set screens for guys. This is a young man who’s gonna fit into the team concept that we want to have. And Chandler will do the same.”

Carter had to submerge his talents and gifts during the one season he had to showcase it for the greater good. It speaks to a certain emotional maturity the 19-year old has, a sober approach to look at the bigger picture while still making the most of his not-so-plentiful opportunities.

“Wendell is still a young guy,” Paxson said. “Very few draft picks are finished product, especially in our game where we’re drafting so young. He’s got a lot of room to grow. Defensively as a rim protector, he’ll do really well. Verticality at the rim, he’s been taught really well. Smart kid, we think he’s gonna be really good.”

Hutchison isn’t the high-upside talent Carter is, having played four years of college ball, improving each year to the point that the Bulls supposedly made him a promise very early on in the draft process.

Their unwillingness to give up the 22nd pick, whether they like the perception or not, stems from their belief Hutchison can be an impact player.

“We like Chandler a lot,” Paxson said. “We scouted him early, scouted him often. He knew we liked him. He addresses a position of need. We had debates on wings and players at his position. His ability to rebound and take it off the board, those things are really valuable, especially the way we want to play.”

Paxson alluded to tense discussions leading to the draft, where one can surmise there was serious consideration about not just going with the status quo—their reported interest in point guard Collin Sexton should be proof of that—and that should come as a positive sign for Bulls fans, who feel the front office is satisfied with a slow-rolling, low-accountability approach since they aren’t saddling themselves with high expectations.

To paraphrase Forman, the Bulls are “still building up our asset base” and subtly saying they expect to be in a similar position next June.

Soberly saying winning and contention isn’t on the horizon can be refreshing to hear, but they walk a fine line of expressing too much comfort in things staying the way they are.

 

The Bulls make one aspect of rebuild clear: They’re constructing the roster around the face of the franchise in Lauri Markkanen

The Bulls make one aspect of rebuild clear: They’re constructing the roster around the face of the franchise in Lauri Markkanen

The Bulls had a decision to make Thursday night at No. 7.

Staring them in the face was Michael Porter Jr., undoubtedly the biggest risk in the draft but also one of the most talented, and a fan favorite to boot. Both Villanova’s Mikal Bridges and Kentucky’s Kevin Knox presented options who would fill needs on the wing for a Bulls team desperate for a perimeter threat. The team was also reportedly interested in Alabama point guard Collin Sexton during the pre-draft process, and the potential to trade up for a Luka Doncic or Mo Bamba at 3 or 4 was on the table.

Instead the Bulls opted against going high upside, high risk. They passed on filling one of their glaring needs. They didn’t mortgage future assets to move up in a draft they felt was already deep enough. What the Bulls did on Thursday night in selecting Duke center Wendell Carter was make clear one aspect of their rebuild: Lauri Markkanen is the face of the franchise and the man they’re constructing this roster around.

Everything that makes the 19-year-old Carter a great prospect is what detractors felt might hold Markkanen back at the next level. Carter was built to thrive in the paint, an energetic center who posted a better offensive rebounding rate (the percentage of rebounds a player grabs while on the floor) than Texas’ Mo Bamba and his 7-foot-10 wingspan. Carter was one of the best players in the country at scoring off those offensive rebounds, and he did all this while playing alongside Marvin Bagley, the No. 2 pick to Sacramento and the ACC’s leading rebounder.

But Carter is more than just a young Tristan Thompson. Though he rarely had to use it on a Duke team littered with perimeter threats, Carter showed a solid touch in making 41 percent of his 46 3-point attempts. He looks comfortable at 15 to 17 feet, and he passed well from those areas, too. That shooting will come as an added bonus; Carter was the anchor a Duke defense that transformed to zone midway through the season, and the Blue Devils defense was nearly 6 points per 100 possessions better with Carter on the floor.

It's not surprising that the Bulls were reportedly interested in moving up with centers Jaren Jackson and Bamba on the table, more defensive-minded complements to Markkanen, and not Doncic or Porter. It felt as though the Bulls were drafting at 7 not only to grab the best player available, but to maximize Markkanen's potential.

What Carter will be asked to do, at least in the early going with this roster’s makeup – is much of what he was asked to do at Duke. He played second fiddle in the frontcourt to Bagley, who led the Blue Devils in all major offensive categories and won ACC Player of the Year. Carter posted modest 13.5-point and 9.0-rebound averages while doing the dirty work on defense. His 7.6 percent block rate (percentage of shot attempts he blocked while on the court) was impressive considering how often Duke played zone.

“The young man sacrificed a lot in order to be a good teammate. A lot of it speaks to who he is,” Forman said. “We think in really studying his game is, if you look long-term, is a guy that can fit with Lauri and obviously Lauri is a huge part of what we’re trying to build here."

The Bulls are rolling the dice that Markkanen can be the face of franchise. A year ago LaVine was far and away the core piece of the Jimmy Butler trade, and that was while he was rehabbing from ACL surgery. Markkanen was a question mark and a project, and Kris Dunn was a 23-year-old rookie who posted awful numbers in Minnesota. Questions about LaVine's future in Chicago with restricted free agency this summer now linger, and Dunn is going on 24 years old with 50 career starts.

It's Markkanen's spotlight, and the Bulls know it. He showed he was for real as a rookie; he was not, however, Donovan Mitchell or Ben Simmons, a can't-miss, sure-fire star. Yes, he joined LeBron James and Dario Saric as the only members of the 1,000-point, 500-rebound, 140-3-pointer club last year. He put up shooting numbers for a 7-footer matched only by Hall of Fame center Dirk Nowitzki. Questions persist on whether he can make a leap to stardom, but adding pieces like Carter to complement him and cover some weaknesses are a step in that direction.

"You hope you draft players that become stars," Paxson said. "We believe that last year, in drafting Lauri, he has that potential. He has a long way to go, but we believe he has that potential."

That could be part of the reason the Bulls opted against moving up in the draft, like Dallas did in dealing No. 5 and a future first-round pick to grab Luka Doncic at No. 3. Paxson and Forman both hinted at the Bulls being in a state of the rebuild where giving up future assets to attain something greater didn't provide a positive net worth. They're happy and comfortable with where they stand at this stage in the rebuild, with Markkanen, Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn, Bobby Portis and an enormous amount of cap space.

Now they can add Carter and No. 22 pick Chandler Hutchison to that list. The 6-foot-7 Boise State forward was yet another complementary piece to the roster. Like Carter, Hutchison projects as a high floor, low(er) ceiling player. Hutchinson is a four-year senior compared to Carter being a year removed from high school, but the two are similar. Hutchison will provide a physical presence on the wing the Bulls have lacked, and he can cover defensive weaknesses of players like Denzel Valentine, LaVine and even Markkanen.

"We feel these two players complement the team and the roster that we have very well," Paxson said. "One year later we feel like we’ve added five really good young core pieces to build and that's important to us. We’re excited about the future, the direction we’re headed."

The Bulls didn’t need to roll the dice with their 7th pick on Thursday night. They rolled the dice with the same selection one year ago and hit on it. Taking Carter midway through the Lottery is a complement and a compliment to what the Bulls believe Markkanen is and what he will be for a franchise looking to get back in contention.

It's a lot to ask for a 21-year-old Finnish stretch forward. But superstars win in the NBA and the Bulls believe they have one budding at the power forward position. Thursday's decision to play it safe and draft a complementary piece in Carter, one who played a role in college he'll be asked to play in Chicago, only cements that belief.