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Carmel basketball's new varsity head coach Zack Ryan watches his team play summer ball. | Michael R. Schmidt/For Sun-Times Media
Right from the top, Carmel basketball fans have to recognize that the winds of change do not necessarily — and in this case, probably won’t — equate to the wins of change. At least not immediately.
But that does not mean the coaching change at the very top of the Corsairs’ boys basketball program isn’t change for the better.
Under Tim Bowen, Carmel’s program went from invisible to a school-record 25-win season in four years — a run that snapped a 21-year string of non-winning seasons and included back-to-back appearances in the Round of 16 sectional finals.
In most cases, that type of resume will earn a coach a firm handshake and a contract offer for the next season.
But the Carmel case was different, and if anything, Carmel got lucky in that when it opted to bid au revoir to Bowen, it had his replacement literally already teaching in the school.
Zack Ryan ... your moment has arrived.
Two first impressions of the 28-year-old Ryan after watching him with his team for a series of games in a summer basketball event at the College of Lake County:
■ He’s ready to be a varsity head coach; he knows what to say.
■ He’s up on the sideline encouraging the kids, and he has their full attention in the huddle.
Of course, in the short term — as in next season — who he has in the huddle is going to be way more problematical than what he has to say to them.
Of Carmel’s top six players from last year’s 25-9 team, four graduated, starter C.J. Duff has transferred to Waukegan High, and sixth-man Lee Bowen — Tim’s son — has transferred to Grayslake North High.
So, next winter, Carmel literally will have a new team on the floor.
But on the other hand, that new team will be very entertaining. And down the road, when “good” catches up to “entertaining,” the Brown/Gold machine is going to purr and whoever made the call to put Zack Ryan at the wheel could very well look like a prophet.
Because all those Carmel fans who lamented that the Corsairs will never beat area powerhouse North Chicago by playing a deliberate, disciplined (could be read as boring) style of ball are about to have that argument taken away from them.
For the past decade, the second-most entertaining, second-most high-scoring basketball team in Lake County has been North Chicago.
Number 1 on the list has been Mundelein. Coach Dick Knar brought the fun-and-gun style of hoops to Mundelein High, though he left before last season to become athletic director at Grant High.
Dick Knar’s nephew is Zack Ryan. And in this case, the apple does not fall far from the tree.
Ryan is a math teacher at Carmel, but when Knar was varsity coach at Mundelein, he brought Ryan in to coach that school’s freshman basketball team, playing the same up-tempo, fan-friendly style that Mundelein played on the varsity level.
Carmel fans: Say goodbye to 47-43 final scores.
“I think you’ll see a lot of the things we’ve done at Mundelein the past four or five years,” Ryan said. “I’m going to bring over how we like to push the ball. We have some guards who can really handle the ball and create things. We’re not going to be very big, so we’re going to try to dictate tempo.”
One of those guards is junior Shareif Belser-Bailey, who will man the point, which means he’ll be running the break. Often.
“We’re pushing the ball more, running a different offense,” Bailey said. “Coach is doing a great job encouraging us and pushing us to our limits. He tells us to go out there and play as hard as we can.”
Bailey has been on the Carmel varsity since he was a freshman, so he’s practiced against some pretty good players. He’s ready to step in to fill a key role.
“There’s a lot of positive encouragement, and a lot more freedom on the floor,” Bailey said. “We’re not standing around as much as we have in the past. We have a lot of speed. We obviously don’t have the size we had the last couple of years, but we’re pushing the ball now.”
Bailey also knows that a lot of the positive stuff that happens the next two years will be started by him.
“I definitely feel a big sense of responsibility,” he said. “It’s on me to encourage the team. It starts with me at the point, so I have to be the one to set an example and get everyone involved.”
Two others who will be involved are Brian Julien and Tim Owens. Julien started on the sophomore team last year as a freshman. Bailey and Julien are small, quick guards who can both handle the ball.
Owens is a powerful 6-5 forward who will be one of the Corsairs’ most important big men.
Though he coached basketball at Mundelein High, Ryan was an assistant football coach at Carmel, so he knows a lot of the school’s athletes.
“I wanted to coach where I teach,” Ryan said. “The kids at Carmel are awesome. Andy (Bitto, the school’s highly respected football coach/athletic director) and our principal have been outstanding with supporting me and supporting the kids. It was one of those things that just worked out, and I couldn’t be happier with what we’ve been doing already.”
Ironically, one of the summer events that Carmel’s basketball team will play in this month is the Mundelein Shootout.
The coach won’t need directions to the school, but may need help finding the visitor’s locker room.