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The beginning of the end got off to a great start.
Longtime Warren boys basketball coach Chuck Ramsey announced last week that this season, his 19th as head coach, would be his last hurrah in Gurnee.
Already retired from teaching, Ramsey will ride off into the coaching sunset on the coattails of a team that should again contend for the Class 4A state title. The Blue Devils return many familiar faces, including Division I heavyweights Darius Paul (Western Michigan) and Nathan Boothe (Toledo), from last year's state runner-up squad.
On Wednesday, Warren lived up to expectations in its season opener against Lake Forest Academy in the first round of the Waukegan Thanksgiving tournament.
The Blue Devils got out to a big early lead and coasted to a 54-33 victory.
"We want to send (Ramsey) out on a good note, try to win a state championship," said Paul, a 6-foot-8 forward who was one of three Blue Devils in double-figures. He had 11 points. "We hope we can make that next leap for a championship.
"It will be an emotional season for coach, and the seniors, too."
Ramsey, ever the antithesis of over-hyped and overstated, doesn't want his impending retirement to be a distraction…for him, or his players.
"My thing is to do the best job I can do coaching this team, this year," said Ramsey, who had compiled a 377-138 record over 18 seasons while leading the Blue Devils to nine North Suburban Conference titles, 13 regional championships, 6 sectional titles and two second-place state finishes (1999 and 2011). "This is a tremendous group of guys we have, and that's what I want to focus on … just coaching this team, this year.
"Then, when the season is over, I'll do all the other stuff, like looking back and all that. But right now, I need to stay focused on this. I can't get sidetracked with all that other stuff."
The Blue Devils, who got a game-high 15 points out of 6-foot-6 senior forward Roman Schultz, stayed on track from start to finish against Lake Forest Academy.
They built up a 20-6 first-quarter lead with crisp passing and teamwork. Nine of their 10 baskets were scored in the lane, including four by the 6-foot-9 Boothe.
"We passed the ball really well and early on we got a lot of assisted baskets," Ramsey said. "We got the ball where we wanted to. We also played good defense."
Lake Forest Academy had just 15 points at halftime.
"That's a very good team," Lake Forest Academy coach Matt Vaughn said of Warren. "You can tell they've played together a long time, the way they pass the ball to each other and the way they move.
"They're huge, and they took advantage of that."
Warren was also able to take advantage of the fact that Lake Forest Academy was playing without its best player, 6-foot-4 guard Charles Harris.
He aggravated a knee injury from football this week and could be out for the rest of the season. Interestingly, Harris has committed to play basketball at Western Michigan, just like Paul. The two are longtime AAU teammates.
"He is one of the reasons I decided to go (to Western Michigan)," Paul said. "We've been playing together since seventh grade or so. They (Lake Forest Academy) would have had more scoring with (Harris) out there."
Korl Babineaux led Lake Forest Academy with 13 points and Fanh Ekokitie added 10 points.
"We're very inexperienced and we have very few guys returning," Vaughn said. "Our advantage is in the backcourt with Babineaus and Harris, and to take one of those guys away really hurts us. We just found out yesterday about (Harris) being out. We're kind of still in shock."