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Five things to know about Varun Ram, Maryland’s last-second hero

(By Tony Dejak / AP)
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Varun Ram was swarmed by reporters Friday night, after his 13 seconds of late-game defense helped Maryland escape with a 65-62 win over Valparaiso. With Maryland in all sorts of foul trouble, the 5-foot-9 Ram — Maryland’s smallest player — came in off the bench and wound up covering Keith Carter as he attempted to take a potentially game-tying three-pointer. Ram disrupted the play — possibly with some uncalled contact — and the Terps won.

Here are five things to know about Ram.

1) He’s one of only five Indian Americans currently playing Division I men’s basketball. Ram is the son of Kolandavel and Santhini Ramasamy, who came to this country more than 25 years ago, according to an excellent profile of Ram in the Washington Times. From that story:

Ram has one year of eligibility remaining at Maryland and was told by Turgeon he’d be welcomed back next year. He’s pursuing a double-major in neurobiology and physiology and eventually wants to become a doctor, but not in the next couple years. He recently applied for a few consulting jobs in the area with hopes of building his resume.
Whatever he ends up doing, Ram’s identity won’t change. He’ll always feel blessed that he was able to play for Maryland, representing his home state and cultural heritage at the same time. And to many, he’ll always be the Indian basketball player.
“I’ve always kind of taken it as kind of a chip on my shoulder, because there’s not many Indian basketball players,” Ram said. “But in terms of the way I train and my outlook, I really don’t like to think about it. Race is only skin-deep.”

Ram spent two weeks in India in the summer of 2014, working with the Crossover Basketball & Scholars Academy, a program that uses basketball to try to convince kids to stay in school. He is scheduled to go back again this summer, coaching and mentoring several hundred students in the rapidly growing program. (The program focuses on the Chennai region of Southeastern India; Ram speaks Tamil, the region’s language.)

“He embodies what it means to be a student athlete, and that’s really important for us,” said Shaun Jayachandran, the president of Crossover Basketball and a former assistant coach at Alexandria’s Bishop Ireton. “He looks and fits the part of an every-day person. And then [the students] watch him go dunk a basketball, they watch him put on a dribbling clinic. The fact that we tell them he plays for Maryland is a big deal; then they see his athleticism and they see him speak, and it really translates.”

According to the Times story, Ram’s father is an IT manager at the National Weather Service, and his mother is a toxicologist at the Environmental Protection Agency.

2) Ram is from Howard County, went to River Hill High, and is as steeped in Maryland basketball as anyone on this roster. Via the Baltimore Sun:

Playing for Maryland has long been Ram’s dream. After moving to Columbia from Lexington, Ky., when he was in grade school, Ram would go nearly every day to a gym that “was literally in my back yard.” He became obsessed with the game, and with a Maryland team that went to two straight Final Fours, winning the national championship in 2002.
“I had a little hoop on my door, and I’d watch Steve Blake and Juan Dixon do their moves on television, and when they’d go to commercial, I’d do the moves,” Ram recalled. “I can’t believe I’m on the same team as they were once on. There’s so much pride and tradition in this program. When I first made the team, I wondered if the feeling would ever fade. It hasn’t. I wake up every morning feeling so blessed.”

While he had a 4.56 GPA at River Hill, Ram has struggled to a 3.99 GPA at Maryland.

(Because there seems to be some confusion, that was a joke. A 3.99 GPA on a 4.0 scale is very good.)

(Vine via Testudo Times.)

3) Ram is Maryland’s designated defender of Melo Trimble in practice.

“Varun’s a great defender,” Trimble said on Friday. “He always makes me better. When I’m on offense he presses the ball, and even on offense he does a great job on offense, makes me run around, makes me chase him, just makes me better. And he got in today and played defense, and that’s what he does on me every day.”

4) Ram probably was supposed to foul Carter on Friday night before the Valparaiso guard could get in shooting position.

“I probably wasn’t great in the [last] timeout, because I changed my mind a couple times,” Coach Mark Turgeon said of the late-game strategy. “Let’s foul, let’s don’t foul. Those timeouts are forever. Gives me too much time to think. But if it was under [five seconds] and they were still struggling, which they were, we were supposed to foul, as long as they weren’t in the shooting motion. But we didn’t. Which was fine….

“We were supposed to foul if they were dribbling out toward half court,” Turgeon went on. “[Ram] probably didn’t do it because he was on the side, and in the end it worked out for us.”

Valparaiso fans, of course, were convinced that Ram did foul.

“I thought it was all ball,” Ram said with a smile. “But it all happened so fast.”

5) Ram was mobbed by his teammates after that play.

“It was unbelievable,” Ram said. “It felt like I just hit the game-winner, to be honest. The way my teammates responded and picked me up, it felt like I just hit a game-winning shot. It meant the world to me.”

A reporter pointed out that Ram was sort of running around aimlessly.

“Yeah, yeah,” he agreed. “That’s kind of what I do.”