Nothing much has changed about the way Chuck Ramsey spends the majority of his evenings during basketball season.
Perched high in the stands of the high school gyms in Lake County, Ramsey watches, and studies. He did that hundreds of times over the course of his career as the head boys basketball coach at Warren High School.
Known as a relentless preparer, Ramsey would scout opponents multiple times prior to playing them. His routine was to take copious notes on legal pads, including diagrams of plays that his team would need to quickly master.
"The one change now is that I don't really need my clipboard anymore," Ramsey laughed. "I'm just there to watch individual players now.
Ramsey ended his illustrious 19-year career at Warren at the end of last season with more than 400 wins. He is now the head men's coach at the College of Lake County, where he is looking to add some stability to a program that is on its ninth head coach in the last 13 years. His plan is to scour the local gyms and stockpile as many diamond-in-the-rough players from the area as possible.
"We're working really hard on the good basketball players in Lake County who may not be four-year-scholarship type of players, but who still have a lot of talent," Ramsey said. "We've got good relationships with the high school coaches in Lake County and we're hoping they encourage their kids to look at CLC. We're really hoping these kids recognize the benefits of coming to CLC."
For Ramsey, the draw to CLC was the chance to try something new, not to mention the opportunity to keep coaching. He wasn't ready to hang up his whistle for good after last season.
"I enjoy putting together a practice plan every day, and being able to go to a gym and work with kids and help them improve," Ramsey said. "I'm really thankful for the opportunity. It's a different kind of challenge, but I really enjoy it."
Some of the games this season haven't been too enjoyable for Ramsey, who made 20-win seasons and deep postseason tournament runs the norm at Warren. The Lancers are currently 5-20 with four regular season games remaining.
"It's certainly been an up-and-down season," Ramsey said. "We've had a lot of injuries and roster changes and games where we've had only six or seven players available. Our kids have given a good effort, but we've often just been outmanned."
Local products such as Jerry Gaylor of Grant, Will Meyer and Dan Ryan of Libertyville, Layne Gierke of Highland Park, Chadd Bailey of Warren and Anthony Starks of North Chicago have provided some bright spots for the Lancers. But the team's lack of experience and cohesiveness has been tough to overcome.
Only three players returned from last year's team and only one, Gierke, is currently playing. On top of that, Ramsey wasn't hired until last July and didn't get the chance to add any of his own recruits to the mix.
"We're behind," Ramsey said. "Rather than having a recruited team for this year, we have a tryout team. We had tryouts at the beginning of the season and we kept 21 kids. We're down to 11 kids because of injuries and other issues like eligibility. It's been a very fluid roster and I think the biggest thing we need is some stability. That's the biggest change I've experienced in going from high school to this level. You don't always have kids who are going to be there every day, all season.
"We need to find kids who are reliable and who are serious basketball players and students."
Ramsey knows there's a market out there.
High school basketball in Lake County has improved significantly in recent years. There have been more Division I recruits to come from the area, and more players are going on to play some level of college basketball.
The top targets for Ramsey are the high-level players who are overlooked by the big-time college programs but who can't afford to pay the tuition at the Division II and Division III schools that are begging them to join their basketball programs with little or no financial assistance.
CLC can offer tuition assistance to some of its players, but the good news for the rest is that the price tag there is extremely reasonable.
"We're an affordable option, especially in today's economy," Ramsey said. "We can also offer kids the opportunity to play immediately."
The "we" in the equation includes Ramsey's longtime assistant at Warren, Bill Werly. He's Ramsey's assistant at CLC, too.
"That's been one of the best things about this job," Ramsey said. "It's great for me to keep coaching with Bill. He was my first recruit."
Now, Ramsey just needs to find a few more.