Westchester basketball grows, wins national title

WESTCHESTER – Roy Ramos’ first call after deciding he would quit playing basketball after his freshman season of college was to his dad.

Roy Ramos Sr., knowing that basketball and his son were inseparable, told him that they should start a youth basketball program together. Roy agreed, and the two took a trip to the park district gym, where they picked out 10 kids to start the Buckeyes Basketball program.

That was 2006. This year, the Buckeyes’ eighth-grade team – one of the program’s seven squads of players ranging from third grade to high school – won the eighth-grade AAU Division II national championship in Orlando. The Amateur Athletic Union’s highly competitive traveling basketball program is regarded as the top showcase of pre-college basketball players.

“The first thing that came to my head [after the championship] was our first Buckeyes game,” said Ramos, a Westchester resident. “We got killed by 45 points.”

After winning the title, the eighth-graders got to fly to Philadelphia to visit Evan Turner – a former St. Joseph High School star, current Philadelphia 76ers player and close friend of Ramos’. Turner has played an active role in the Buckeyes program, attending tryouts, playing pickup games with kids, organizing a scholarship program and paying for the championship team to travel to Philadelphia.  

“We’ve kind of grown as his career has grown,” Ramos said.

AAU basketball has a reputation as a cutthroat breeding ground for top players that sometimes treats kids like they’re already professionals. But Ramos said the Buckeyes program is different.

“I really couldn’t tell you how we get all the kids,” he said. “We’ve never had a website. All the stuff that you hear about AAU, we don’t do. We just keep to ourselves and whoever wants to be here, we’re happy to have them.”

Turner’s support helps, and the program has indeed become more selective. The Buckeyes now draw players from all over the area, including Chicago, Downers Grove, Elgin, St. Charles, Maywood, Bellwood and Westchester.

But Ramos and his dad also find time to promote non-basketball activities, like when they encouraged the program’s original 2006 team to help one of Ramos Sr.’s co-workers raise money for his son’s basketball team, comprised of players with disabilities.

The team hung out with the boy during one of its practices, then decided to sell candy to raise money to buy his team uniforms. They’ve also raised money for Special Olympics.

“We’ve always kept to ourselves, but I think I kind of owe it to our kids to talk about them,” said Ramos, who wanted to focus on his players.

His own story, though, is rather interesting. Ramos, 25, earned degrees in finance and communications from North Park University, but his job search in 2010 proved difficult, so he poured himself back into the basketball program.

Ramos is able to earn some money offering lessons and training, in addition to coaching St. Joseph’s freshman boys team. The Buckeyes, though, are nonprofit.

“We don’t make any money at all,” he said. “It is really about the kids.”

Ramos said he hopes to continue to grow the program, with the goal of offering scholarships that support players beyond high school.

Learn more about Buckeyes Basketball on the program’s website, www.bbasketball.org.