Ramiskey ready to roll as Lions' new coach
It's a phone call Jake Ramiskey will never forget.
St. Helens High Athletic Director Ted Hirning was on the other end, offering Ramiskey the job of head boys basketball coach.
"I couldn't even speak for second," Ramiskey recalled, "because it's something I've wanted for so long."
And now it — and the 2019-20 season — are here. With Ramiskey, a former standout player for the Lions and a 2013 graduate, at the controls.
"I couldn't wait to get going," he said.
Ramiskey is no stranger to the St. Helens coaching staff, though. He's been involved at one level or another almost constantly since he left the classroom, serving as a freshman assistant under Hirning, then with the junior varsity and then as a varsity assistant.
So he has thought long and hard about what kind of head coach he would like to be, if the opportunity ever came along, along with the St. Helens players and community want and deserve.
In some ways, he's a bit like his players — full of enthusiasm and passionate about the game.
"When I played, those were some of the funnest times ever," he said.
And, having never really left — he works at Columbia Northwest Heating and Air Conditioning in Scappoose and lives there — he knows pretty much everybody and everything about what has been going on with St. Helens boys basketball.
"The guys have never had a coach at the high school level who's from the community and who they've seen around," he said. "I know all these kids — I played basketball with some of their older brothers — and I think we have a good relationship where I can talk to them about anything. I've tried to be a coach the guys can come and talk to, no matter what."
And, for that same reason, Ramiskey said he believes he can also apply the firm hand and leadership necessary to drive his players to become better, individually, as a unit and off the court.
"Knowing I'm also there for them will help me be able to get on them when it's time for that," he said. "I'm somebody who's going to push you to go through that wall but who also is going to sit there and ask how you're actually doing.
"And I hold no favorites. Every kid here is equal. I'm going to talk to every kid the same way.
"So if I get on you about something, it's not because I don't like you or because you really messed up. It's just that I want you to all of yourself into this. Do everything 100 percent, and let's make that a habit."
Ramiskey replaced Zach Waldher after his one season at the helm, but he didn't immediately go after the vacancy.
"It took me awhile," Ramiskey said. "I wanted some time to step away from everything and really evaluate how I felt and how I thought going forward with the program could be. So I didn't apply for the job until mid-August."
Not that the 2018-19 season wasn't a good experience in many ways, even though the Lions struggled as often as not and finished 5-17, with a 3-10 Northwest Oregon Conference record.
"I loved being in the gym with those guys," Ramiskey said. "We had some good games and some bad games. We went through some tough times with stuff off the court — it was a very roller-coaster year — but the one thing I took away from it was every day in the gym and seeing how the players were doing as people.
"It's bigger than basketball. It's about making a connection and understanding what they're doing in their everyday life, how's the family doing and so forth."
Waldher went through some turbulence as he tried to get the Lions committed to playing hard and being serious about the game. Not everyone saw things his way all of the time.
"I think Zach was on the right page with everything," Ramiskey said. "The way he wanted to do things was the right way. Some of the guys, and I love all of them, sometimes they're mentally weak in that aspect, so if somebody is getting on you about something, you don't need to pout about it or get upset, just use it as fuel to get after it.
"Maybe it came off wrong to the players, but we tried to get the most out of our guys last year, and I think Zach did a great job.
"We're going to continue to ask a lot from our guys. There's going to be times when coaches get upset with kids and kids get upset with coaches, but if we understand we're all working toward the same goal I think we can do some good things this year."
The Lions did do some good things last season, like sweeping Scappoose in a couple of games that went down to the wire.
"The Scappoose games were fun when I was playing in them, too," Ramiskey said.
This year's Lions team is welcoming back Joe Rea, who started in the backcourt and was a key scorer for them two seasons ago as a freshman. Rea spent last year at Westview High, where he also played baseball.
"We're very excited to have him back," Ramiskey said. "He's a very good basketball player."
Ramiskey said he sees Rea and returning guard/wing Gavin Knoke, a senior, complementing each other with their ability to shoot and score.
Depth is one issue to address.
"We'll have to develop our second unit to where those guys can come in and be a spark plug, press the other team or double-team off the ball, whatever we need them to do," Ramiskey said.
While "it's all about getting better for league" — which starts Jan. 14 against powerhouse Wilsonville, "I believe we can surprise some people," Ramiskey said.
"A lot of people are not talking highly of us," he said, "and that's motivation for me as a coach, and I think our guys will use that as motivation."
Meanwhile, Ramiskey knows that other elements of the program need care as well and will be critically important if the Lions are to grow into a winning team and playoff contender. With that in mind, he wants to develop more travel teams, for fifth- through eighth-grade players, and give them more and better opportunities to learn both basketball skills and the St. Helens system.
"For us to be successful, I need to be very involved with the youth and showing those coaches the way I want things done," he said. "I want to talk to the coaches about what we should do at the first- and second-grade level, the third- and fourth-grade level.
"We've got to develop the youth, that's one of our biggest deals. Our youth program is not as good as I'd like it to be.
We've got to get a lot of buy-in from people in the community.
"When I was a junior and senior, we were pretty successful, and it's because we did the same thing from fifth grade all the way through high school. It was just so easy, so fluent for us to play basketball.
"I'm not okay with coming into high school not being able to go in and shoot a layup or not being able to dribble with your left hand. I want kids to be ready to go when they get to high school, to where they don't have to spend much time on the fundamentals and we're ready to put in our defenses and offenses to compete against some of these bigger school districts we have to go up against."
At some point, the measure is "being competitive in our league and winning games, and I want it to be like one big family, with those little guys being able to look up to our seniors.
"You want to get to the playoffs, and one day get to the state tournament, and have a chance to win the thing. That's the long-term goal."
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