Blackhawks

Webber succeeds Ramsey at Warren

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Webber succeeds Ramsey at Warren

It was all a matter of timing. And for Ryan Webber, the timing couldn't have been better.

A few years ago, Warren basketball coach Chuck Ramsey was asked to pick a year to step down. He picked this year. He had retired from teaching in 2007 and felt, after 19 years, with an all-senior team that figured to contend for the state championship, this was the time to retire.

Webber, 32, was looking for a job. After four years and a 78-39 record at Moline, including 23-9 last year, his job security was iffy. He had already survived one budget cut (reduction in staff) that would have put him in the unemployment line with his wife and two children.

Last February, when Webber received another RIF notice for non-tenured employees, friends informed him that Ramsey was retiring at Warren. When the job opening was posted in late March, he applied as fast as he could lick a postage stamp. He was interviewed, brought back for a second interview and hired last week.

"My wife and I are super excited," Webber said. "Knowing the job that coach Ramsey has done (408 victories, two state finals, seven sectional titles) and the basketball tradition of the school...well, at a young age, it's a thrill to be able to have a job of the caliber that Warren presents.

"The timing was right. Warren is a once-in-a-great-while job that you have to go after. I talked to veteran coaches who said you have to throw your hat in the ring. It's one of the top five coaching jobs in the state -- with Simeon, Proviso East, Peoria Central, Peoria Manual, maybe Evanston, Glenbrook North and Peoria Richwoods."

Webber knows all about tradition. A graduate of Galesburg in 1997, he played basketball and baseball with Taylor Thiel, the grandson of legendary Galesburg basketball coach John Thiel. As a senior, he was the starting point guard on a 23-6 team that was led by All-Stater Joey Range and lost to Moline in the sectional final. A year later, Range took Galesburg to the state final.

"I knew the tradition growing up," Webber said. "I grew up in a great time when basketball was everything to kids in Galesburg."

In those days, kids in Galesburg played at one of two outdoor courts. At the fire station near Churchill Junior High School, kids stood in line to play on the one-hoop, blacktop, half-court surface while crowds surrounded the court. Rotary Park offered a full-court but a nine-foot-high hoop and a spotlight to allow kids to play at night.

After graduation, Webber enrolled at Western Illinois but didn't play basketball. He began student teaching at Rock Island in 2003-03 and served as Thom Sigel's varsity assistant. Sigel had been sophomore coach at Galesburg before he went to Rock Falls.

Webber moved on to Rockton Hononegah where he served as varsity assistant to Mike Miller, who had been his varsity coach at Galesburg. At 25, he was hired as Byron's head coach. After three years, he moved to Moline. Now he is ready for another challenge. He still is so young that he often jokes that he still gets carded.

He knows what lies ahead at Warren. He watched Ramsey's last team lose to Rockford Auburn 49-43 in the Class 4A supersectional at De Kalb last March. Warren finished with a 26-4 record but the top seven players were seniors. The cupboard is empty. Gone are standouts Darius Paul, Nathan Boothe and JoVaughn Gaines. Only one junior got any playing time.

"This is an adjustment time for the new coach and the new players," Webber said after meeting his squad for the first time last week. "I will have an observation period during the summer to see the kids, to evaluate their strengths and weaknesses, to see what we can do together.

"I'm a flexible coach, not stubborn. What is my philosophy? Give it some time. I base my offense and defense on the personnel I have. That's how I always have operated. I played man-to-man defense at Byron and the ball-press defense at Moline. Until I see what I have, I'm open-minded."

Webber's wife already has found a new home in Gurnee. But they leave behind some wonderful memories in Moline. He believes his time in the Western Big Six Conference and competing in Moline's venerable Wharton Field House has helped to prepare him for the Warren job.

"I'm a big fan of Illinois high school basketball traditions," he said. "The Western Big Six is a very competitive league with great coaches. I'll miss Wharton Field House. Even when I wasn't playing there, I would spend a lot of hours there, watching film. I have a lot of fond memories. There is no better high school venue than Wharton."

Even though it might take some time to cultivate some talent at Warren, Webber promises that fans won't be disappointed in what they see. "My teams historically play super hard, like Ramsey's. They play the right way, a lot of ball movement, five players playing as one on offense, very competitive,"
he said.

Meanwhile, he doesn't think he and his wife will have any trouble adjusting to their new environment. "We love Chicago. We have a lot of high school friends there, a sister-in-law in Bucktown. Gurnee is a beautiful area. Those were among the appealing things that influenced me to take the job," he said.

Podcast: Blackhawks take 2-1 series lead with amazing 4-3 win over the Oilers

Podcast: Blackhawks take 2-1 series lead with amazing 4-3 win over the Oilers

Host Pat Boyle is joined by 2013 Stanley Cup champion and Blackhawks analyst Jamal Mayers as they discuss the Hawks' 4-3 win over the Oilers in a game that went down to the final 1:16. They discuss Toews' game-winning goal, the commanding lead the Hawks took in the series, and will the Blackhawks be able to close the Oilers out in game 4?

(1:15) - Biggest takeaway from the Hawks' win

(8:09) - Hawks special teams breakdown

(10:20) - Hawks' power play

(15:20) - How will the Oilers respond to being one game away from elimination?

(22:00) - Will the Hawks be able to close out the Oilers in game 4?

Click to download the MyTeams App for the latest Blackhawks news and analysis.

Cubs' Tommy Hottovy: 'Scary part' of COVID-19 is how fast deadly virus spreads

Cubs' Tommy Hottovy: 'Scary part' of COVID-19 is how fast deadly virus spreads

Cubs pitching coach Tommy Hottovy is home in Kansas City for a couple rare days during the baseball season. His mom wants to meet him for lunch, and his sister, a grade-school teacher in town, just had a baby that he hasn’t had a chance to see yet.

“How much would I love to go get to see her and my new nephew?” Hottovy said. “Can’t do it. Just can’t.”

Not this time. Not with what’s at stake. Not when possible threats to health and professional purpose lurk in every unfamiliar hallway, byway and unmasked face while the Cubs navigate their first multi-city road trip of the season.

Don’t believe the risk of spread and large-scale COVID-19 team outbreaks are that sensitive, extreme and potentially swift? Just ask the Marlins and Cardinals, whose outbreaks in the first week of play put their seasons on hold and threatened the status of the league’s season.

Click to download the MyTeams App for the latest Cubs news and analysis.

“I’m not leaving the hotel. I told my family and friends and everybody [in Kansas City],” Hottovy said. “We all signed up for this, to make sure that for this to work we all have to make those kinds of sacrifices. I love my family to death and would love to get to see them, but right now this is our home.”

The Cubs second trip, which started with a 6-1 victory Wednesday in Kansas City and continues to St. Louis before finishing in Cleveland next week, coincides with stepped-up COVID-19 protocols from Major League Baseball following the Marlins and Cardinals outbreaks.

The Cubs already had protocols in place that exceeded MLB’s original mandates and that are in compliance with the new mandates. And a month into the league’s restart they remained the only team without a player having tested positive for the virus.

RELATED: Cubs better prepared than MLB to finish COVID-19 season — which is the problem

In fact, Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant decided on his own to start wearing a protective mask on the bases when the Cubs played last week in Cincinnati, where three Reds players were sidelined either by positive tests or self-reported symptoms as that series opened. And first baseman Anthony Rizzo told ESPN 1000 on Tuesday that he plans to keep a mask in his pocket while in the field in St. Louis and will consider wearing it when somebody reaches base.

“No matter what measures you put in place, when you’re trying to pull off a season that requires travel in the middle of a global pandemic, it ultimately does come down to personal responsibility,” Cubs president Theo Epstein said. “And everyone is at the mercy of the least responsible person because of the nature of the spread of this disease.”

Nobody knows that more than Hottovy and many of the Cubs who watched their pitching coach deteriorate in real time during daily Zoom sessions in May and June until the worst symptoms of his frightening monthlong bout with the virus forced him to hand off his job duties.

Whether Hottovy’s experience led directly to the Cubs’ more extreme safety policies or the individual players’ apparent hyper diligence, MLB’s recent coronavirus outbreaks and other cases at least raise questions about whether some teams and players — or even the league — respect the potential severity of a virus that has killed more than 158,000 Americans in five months.

“I don’t think people underestimate that aspect of it; I think they underestimated how easy it was to spread,” Hottovy said of the outbreaks — including a Cardinals outbreak that reportedly was traced to one asymptomatic, outside individual familiar with the team.

Hottovy called the highly contagious nature of the virus “the scary part of this,” both in terms of the potential to quickly render an organization unable to field a team as well as the subsequent, inherent risk that poses to family members and others who might, in turn, be among those who then become severely impacted by the virus.

And the hardest part, he said, is not letting down your guard within the team bubble when it’s easy to trust that when it’s only teammates in the room that it’s OK to disregard masks, distancing and other safety measures.

“That’s when it gets dangerous,” said Hottovy, whose team talks often about assuming everyone — including each other — has the virus.

So just like in Cincinnati, neither he nor anyone else in the Cubs’ traveling party plans to go anywhere but to and from hotels and ballparks during their trip.

“Listen, you don’t have to search too far for a reason to take it serious,” Cubs second baseman Jason Kipnis said.

“I have three of my close friends who got it, that are over it. But the symptoms are as real as it gets from the sounds of it. And I think you have guys who are risking stuff coming and playing this season, whether it’s Craig [Kimbrel] and his daughter [heart condition] or Anthony [Rizzo] and Jon [Lester] with their [cancer] history.

“You’re paying respect to them and doing your teammate justice by not being the one to kind of go out,” Kipnis added. “It’s one of those years where, hey, you’ve got to buckle down and stay the course. I think everybody’s going through it, so you don’t want to be the one that kind of screws this one up.

The Cubs’ 10-2 start to a 60-game season seems to further incentivize that discipline — some players in recent days even suggesting the discipline in following the protocols has carried into the professionalism on the field.

It’s impossible to know if any of it will be enough for the Cubs to keep their moving bubble secure, much less whether the two outbreaks that MLB seems to have withstood will provide the significant enough wakeup call that MLB and team officials have suggested.

“The vast, vast majority of everyone involved in this enterprise, the players and staff, are doing a solid job so far in making a lot of sacrifices,” Epstein said. “And we just have to get everybody on board. And hopefully these two outbreaks are enough to get everyone to the point where we have essentially perfect execution going forward, because that’s largely what it will take.”

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