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.

Addison Russell planning to become next Cubs superstar

Addison Russell planning to become next Cubs superstar

MESA, Ariz. – Addison Russell earned his manager’s trust by playing “boring” defense, always making the routine plays at shortstop with textbook fundamentals. Even Russell’s agent called him an “old soul,” already serious about his craft and driven by quiet determination and husband-and-father responsibilities.

But the Cubs also know Russell as a moonwalking showman with the freaky athleticism to do Ozzie Smith backflips and make spectacular highlight-reel plays. And you could see the vroom-vroom, fist-pumping celebrations after yet another clutch hit.

“Ever since I was a little kid,” Russell said, “I always wanted to be on the big screen.”

Now Russell will try to make the leap to superstar, as one of the many personalities on a Cubs team that can crossover nationally and live forever in Chicago, just like the ’85 Bears, the way Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo have built their brands.

“We got great ballplayers, beautiful faces on this team,” Russell said. “Just talent galore in this clubhouse, and that’s really cool to see, because these guys handle themselves like real, true professionals.”

The start of spring training is a reminder that Russell has still only spent one wire-to-wire season in The Show. He turned 23 last month and has already become a World Series champion, the youngest player in franchise history to start an All-Star Game and the first Cub shortstop to reach 95 RBI since Ernie Banks in 1960.

Russell’s World Series grand slam helped him accumulate the most postseason RBI (14) in club history – after putting up 11 game-winning RBI for a 103-win team. FanGraphs also had Russell tying San Francisco’s Brandon Crawford for the major-league lead with 19 defensive runs saved at shortstop.

“Really, the sky’s the limit,” manager Joe Maddon said. “This guy is scratching the surface. He is that good. Know thyself – I think that’s what’s happening with a lot of our young guys. They’re understanding themselves better. And as they do, their game’s going to continue to improve.

“So with Addie, listen, he could be an annual All-Star, there’s no question. Beyond that, he’s just such a gifted athlete, so quick, and he cares so much. And he’s really turned out to be a good self-evaluator, so all those are components to creating a superstar.”

Russell said he’s working with Boras Corp. on potential endorsements with Pepsi and Audi. He visited a Nike headquarters in Oregon to help design his custom cleats and custom glove. He also posted images from the White House on his social-media accounts, which have nearly 549,000 followers combined between Twitter and Instagram.

“The opportunities are coming, which is great,” Russell said. “It’s a whole new playing field. I’m glad that I’m getting to see a different side of baseball, where I can actually find a couple talents off the baseball field. It’s all interesting stuff.”

It’s also taken some getting used to, as he almost had trouble remembering how many “Addison Russell Days” there were in Florida, between events at Pace High School and with the Santa Rosa Board of County Commissioners.

“This whole fame thing is really new to me,” Russell said. “Walking everywhere, people want autographs and stuff. Different airports, different cities, it’s very humbling. It’s a great blessing. I’m just a small-town guy, so it hit me pretty hard.”

Like the moment Russell realized what the Cubs just did, after the whirlwind of riding in the championship parade down Lake Shore Drive and Michigan Avenue, standing on stage in front of millions at the Grant Park rally and going to Disney World.

“I remember this past offseason, going into my mom’s room and laying down on her bed,” Russell said. “That’s when all the memories of this past year – all the way from spring training (to) the All-Star Game and then the World Series run – it all hit me at once. It was overbearing, kind of, and I started crying.

“That’s when it sunk in. It was just a magical moment.”

Veteran outfielder Peter Bourjos eyes role with White Sox

Veteran outfielder Peter Bourjos eyes role with White Sox

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- As he surveyed the landscape this offseason, Peter Bourjos thought he and the White Sox would make for a good fit.

Adam Eaton had been traded and Austin Jackson departed via free agency, leaving the White Sox with Melky Cabrera and several young players to man a thin outfield. Bourjos, who lived in Chicago until second grade, pursued the White Sox and last month agreed to terms on a minor-league deal in hopes of earning a spot on the Opening Day roster. Last season, Bourjos, who was born in Chicago, hit .251/.292/.389 with five home runs and 23 RBIs in 383 plate appearances for the Philadelphia Phillies.

“I always liked playing in Chicago,” Bourjos said. “It was a good fit and then spring training is here. I have two young kids. So packing them up and going to Florida wasn’t something I wanted to do either.

“We definitely look at all those options on paper. Evaluate what might be the best chance of making a team and this is definitely one of them. It seems like a good fit on paper.”

If he’s healthy enough, Charlie Tilson will get the first crack at the everyday job in center field. Tilson, who missed the final two months of last season with a torn hamstring, is currently sidelined for 10 days with foot problems. Beyond Tilson, the White Sox have prospects Adam Engel and Jacob May with Cabrera slated to start in left field and Avisail Garcia pegged for right. Leury Garcia is also in the mix.

But there still appears to be a good shot for Bourjos to make the club and manager Rick Renteria likes his veteran presence for the young group. Bourjos has accrued six seasons of service time between the Phillies, Los Angeles Angels and St. Louis Cardinals.

“Bourjy has been around,” Renteria said. “He knows what it takes. He understands the little nuances of major-league camp and how we have so many players and we want to give them all a look. We want to see Bourjos, we want to see him out there.”

Bourjos, who turns 30 in March, has an idea what he wants to do with his chance. A slick defensive outfielder, Bourjos wants to prove he’s a better hitter than his .243/.300/.382 slash line would suggest. He said it’s all about being relaxed.

“Offensively just slow everything down and not try to do too much,” Bourjos said. “I put a lot of pressure on myself and it hasn’t translated. I think last year I got in a spot where I just tried to relax in the batter’s box and let everything go and what happened happened. I had success with that.

“I now realize what that feels like and it doesn’t work. Just take a deep breath and be relaxed in the box and good things are going to happen.”