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Warren's Clark returns to the North Suburban Conference
 

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Warren's Clark returns to the North Suburban Conference
  • Ceola Clark gets to the basket for Warren in the 2007 supersectional at the Sears Center in Hoffman Estates.

    Ceola Clark gets to the basket for Warren in the 2007 supersectional at the Sears Center in Hoffman Estates. Daily Herald photo

  •  Former Warren standout Ceola Clark splits a double team from Nebraska-Omaha while playing for Western Illinois. With his playing career recently concluded, Clark is back in the North Suburban Conference as an assistant coach at Mundelein.

    Former Warren standout Ceola Clark splits a double team from Nebraska-Omaha while playing for Western Illinois. With his playing career recently concluded, Clark is back in the North Suburban Conference as an assistant coach at Mundelein. Associated Press

 

A word to the wise for basketball players at Mundelein: leave your shoelaces untied at your own risk.

Ceola Clark, the Mustangs' new varsity assistant coach, is a practical jokester who will make the most of any potential pranking opportunity before him. He's incorporated untied shoelaces a couple of times.

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"Some of my best pranks ever " Clark chuckled.

Back about six years ago, when he was playing basketball in high school at Warren, Clark came up with a Grade-A prank on the fly. He noticed that the shoelace of assistant coach Bill Werly was untied.

"I was on the bench and we were playing in this summer league game and it's a little more laid back in the summer. We were winning big so everyone was kind of cracking jokes and having fun and I see Werly's shoelace is untied," Clark said. "I reached down and tied it to the bench. When he tried to get up, he was stuck to the bench.

"Everyone was cracking up. Even (head coach Chuck) Ramsey. I think that was the biggest smile I've ever seen on Coach Ramsey's face."

But Clark wasn't done yet. Later in that same game, he noticed that Ramsey's shoelace had come untied as well. Clark then tied Ramsey's shoelace to a backpack.

"All of a sudden, Coach Ramsey is dragging this backpack around. Everyone was laughing. When he realized what was going on, he started laughing, too. It was pretty funny."

All jokes aside, and as funny and as light-hearted as Warren's former star point guard can be, Clark can be dead-serious about many things, such as basketball, and his newest passion in life: a career in coaching. He's thrilled that just a few months removed from college, he's getting the chance to coach back in his old stomping grounds: the North Suburban Conference.

First-year Mundelein head coach Corey Knigge and Clark go way back. Knigge scouted Clark many times during his high school career. Back then, Knigge was an assistant coach at Mundelein under Dick Knar. Knigge was also an AAU coach with the Rising Stars, which is where Clark played his AAU ball.

The two became good friends and kept in touch over the years while Clark played at Western Illinois. At the beginning of last summer, Knigge asked Clark, who had just graduated from Western after twice being named the Summit League defensive player of the year, if he wanted to come back to the area and help with some of the basketball camps he'd be running at Mundelein.

"I love working with kids and helping them with their game," Clark said. "I came back and helped out. I had a lot of fun."

Clark then left in August for Kosovo. A professional team there had signed him for the upcoming season.

But two weeks into his stay, Clark was ready to come home. He had torn his ACL at the very end of his senior year at Western Illinois and despite all the rehab and therapy he did in the following five months to get his game legs back, Clark realized he wasn't as ready for pro basketball as he thought he was.

"I really want to play professionally and I had worked really hard to get my knee strong and I thought I was ready to test the waters," Clark said. "But I realized after I got there that I wasn't confident in (the knee). I couldn't play the way I need to at the professional level.

"I called Corey and told him I was coming back."

Kosovo's loss was Knigge's gain.

"When Ceola told me he was coming back, I jumped all over that," Knigge said. "Our guys loved working with him (last summer), and I've always really liked Ceola, not only as a player but as a person. He's one of the best high school players I've ever seen and I've always thought he'd be a good coach. I asked him if he wanted to coach with me this year."

Clark, who was a finance and marking major at Western Illinois and had never before given much thought to becoming a coach, was ready to dive right in.

"I jumped at the chance," said Clark, who is now subbing regularly at Mundelein and looking into getting certified in education. "The opportunity to coach in this conference is really great for me. And the chance to work with our guys again was something I really wanted to do. I had worked with the guys a lot over the summer and it really grew on me to see them going so hard and working so hard to get better.

"I think I saw a little bit of me in them and I think it just hit me that I might be able to help them the way so many coaches helped me over the years."

Clark is now Knigge's top assistant and has already had to run practices a few times. Knigge's been swamped at home with the birth last week of his first child, son Conner.

"It's been good for me to run practice," Clark said. "It's a lot of hands-on and its gives me a chance to really handle things and work with the kids.

"Corey also has me drawing up plays, some quick hitters, and I'm working with individual guys on their skills. I work with kids in the classroom, I order gear for the team. I'll also be scouting, all that stuff. I'm sure I'll get even more and more responsibilities as the season goes on."

Knigge is also insisting that Clark dresses "responsibly." No Warren gear for Clark. Not even to practice.

"I told Ceola he had to burn all of his Warren blue and gold," Knigge said with a laugh. "I've been trying to load him up with as much Mundelein stuff as possible."

Ironically, Clark's unique connection to Mundelein first started when he was wearing Warren's blue and gold.

Clark, who could be a bit Magic Johnson-esque with his passing, was moved up to varsity early in his freshman year. In his first varsity game, he got a start. It was a conference game at Mundelein.

"I remember it like it was yesterday," said Clark, who ultimately guided Warren to four sectionals and 2 supersectionals over his four-year varsity career. "We won the tip, I got the ball and I went to make my very first pass in a varsity game. It was a pass to the right wing. It got intercepted by (late Mundelein star forward) Matt Corning (who died last month while in law school at the University of Dayton). He went straight down to the other end and tomahawk dunked it.

"Coach Ramsey called a timeout right after that and he looked right at me and said, 'Ceola, welcome to varsity basketball.'

"Right there, I started growing as a varsity basketball player. That's a moment I'll never forget."

Luckily for Clark, his initiation into the coaching ranks of varsity basketball hasn't been nearly as jarring.

"I'm having a great time, especially with the kids," Clark said. "I think they can really relate to me, since I'm right out of college. I won't ask them to do anything I can't do. If I tell them to work on knocking down shots on a penetrating drive, I can show them how to do that. The suicides we have them run I can run them in 30 seconds, too.

"We work hard with the kids, because we want to get them better every day. But we also have fun with them. My personality hasn't changed. I still like to joke around, and I love joking around with the kids."

Any practical jokes or pranks yet?

"Not yet," Clark chuckled. "But the year is still young.

"They better be on their toes at all times."

With shoelaces tightly tied.

pbabcock@dailyherald.com

• Follow Patricia on Twitter: @babcockmcgraw

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