Only players like Varun Ram could play two minutes and call it “the moment everyone dreams about.” But there he was Friday night, defending Connecticut guards Ryan Boatright and Shabazz Napier, playing exactly like he belonged.
Two years ago, Ram was playing Division III basketball for Trinity College in Hartford, Conn., only a 40-minute drive from the Huskies team he faced in his Maryland debut. Seconds after Ram checked into the game, he nearly swiped a steal from Boatright. As the basketball bounced away toward midcourt, Ram launched himself after it, flying parallel to the ground. It’s the type of high-energy play that has endeared Ram to Terps fans through even just one game.
“I consider myself an energy bunny,” Ram said. “I always have energy. It’s really just always being in the game when you’re on the bench. Sometimes I see guys on other teams getting lost in the crowd or not being focused in the game. If I was in right now, what would I be doing? What’s the right play? Sometimes you can see things on the bench that players can’t see on the floor. I try to imagine myself in those scenarios and be ready for whenever Coach calls me.”
Ram somehow straddles the line between gawky college basketball fan and poised sparkplug, at once telling reporters how Friday night was “unreal,” then assuring himself that the days of receiving quizzical looks from opponents over his size (5 feet 11, barely) and race (Indian) are over.
“Surprisingly, I didn’t see any of [those looks],” Ram said. “It might have happened, I just didn’t notice it. But for me being on this team, for Coach Turgeon to have confidence for me to be in this game, they think: ‘Oh there must be something about him. There’s probably some reason why he’s playing.’ I don’t think I get the same things I got in AAU.”
With point guard Seth Allen (broken foot) out until January, Ram may get extended looks during Maryland’s nonconference schedule. Turgeon seems to be coming around to the idea.
“He can guard,” Turgeon said. “He can run the team. He communicates. He plays hard, gets guys in the right spot. He does a lot of things. I just have to have guts enough to play him. I think I will going forward.”
>> As roommates and close friends, Charles Mitchell and Shaq Cleare talk daily about basketball. Often after games, Mitchell will check up on Cleare’s mind-set, gauging his frustration, excitement or whatever lies in between.
“We’re always discussing how we’re going to get better in practice,” Mitchell said. “I’m always challenging him to outwork me. He is a great player. It’s time for him to step up and I know he’s going to step up. This is his moment. I’m just here to be his friend.”
Cleare may start his second straight game to open the season, but Mitchell’s strong performance off the bench against Connecticut at least gave Turgeon pause. But Mitchell conceded that the disconnect between Cleare’s practice effort, consistently lauded by Turgeon during interviews, and his in-game statistics might be bothersome, most of all to the sophomore center himself.
“All the hard work he puts in, not seeing it payoff is frustrating to a basketball player,” Mitchell said. “Going into the next game, you don’t want to think about how bad your first game was. It translates – bad emotions, bad feeling about yourself, it always translates onto the next game.
“Any game can give you confidence. It’s just going out there and wanting to play and do well. I think he wants to prove to the world that he’s gotten better. We’ll just have to wait to the next game to see. “
>> Nick Faust’s shot chart from Friday night was ugly. He missed all four three-pointers attempted from the right corner and six point-blank attempts at the rim. The crude version, cobbled together from film review, looks like this:
Turgeon refused to single out Faust, who attempted a career-high 18 shots but missed 13, even when asked specifically about the junior’s shot selection.
“We talked to the whole team,” Turgeon said. “We had a lot of bad shots. A lot of quick shots, especially in the first half. … It wasn’t just the guy you mentioned. It was a lot of guys involved.”
Pressed on the matter, Turgeon later expanded, and turned it into a collective lesson about the team’s shortcomings.
“He learned from the film,” he said. “Nick’s much better. His floor game is so much better than it’s been. In practice he’s making really good decisions. He was just excited. Hit a few, thought he needed to make some shots for us. If he could take a few back I’m sure he would. He’ll learn from it. We’ve all got to collectively be a lot better. We couldn’t even get into our secondary break. That’s all I was asking them to do. There was a lot involved into why we were down.”
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