Desi Talk - page 16

– that’s all you need to know
16
April 3, 2015
SPECIAL REPORT
By Dan Steinberg
he celebration on
March 20 night was like
a movie scene toVarun
Ram, teammates mob-
bing him in the middle
of the court, cameras
surrounding him, media mem-
bers asking the former walk-on
about his game-saving defensive
play.
With Maryland clinging to a
three-point lead in the final sec-
onds of its NCAA tournament
opener, Ramwas summoned off
the bench for the first time all
night. The rarely used reserve
promptly disruptedValparaiso’s
last-ditch attempt, allowing the
Terps to emerge with a 65-62 vic-
tory, and the senior guard to
emerge with the highlight of his
athletic career.
But Ram – one of just a hand-
ful of Indian-Americans playing
Division I basketball – had no
idea about the similar celebra-
tions taking place across the
country. Like in Bristol,
Connecticut, where Kevin
Negandhi, the first Indian-
American anchor at ESPN, was
watching the replay over and over
in a studio.
“I was beaming,” Negandhi
said. “I’m obviously a bit older
thanVarun, but I felt like a proud
uncle of sorts. It was like gosh,
he’s doing this for so many of us.”
Or in a suburb of Boston,
where Shaun Jayachandran –
whose Crossover Basketball and
Scholars Academy uses basketball
to urge Indian kids to stay in
school – watched one of his coun-
selors become a national star.
“It was a really proud
moment,” Jayachandran said. “I
was ecstatic.”
Or in Southern California,
where Montgomery County
native ShivramVaideeswaran was
covertly watching the game’s end
on his phone during a meeting.
First, the lifelong Maryland fan
saw that his team had won. Then
he saw that Ramwas the hero.
“It’s kind of like seeing your
own hopes and dreams come true
a little bit,” Vaideeswaran said.
“He’s living the Indian Terrapin
dream.”
Ram’s name became the top
trending topic on Twitter. He was
profiled on ESPN.com and by the
NewYork Post. His teammates
couldn’t stop ribbing him, and his
friends couldn’t believe what was
going on.
“It was unreal,” Ram said on
March 21, during yet another
wave of interviews. “I just kept
having to pinch myself. Like, is
this really happening?”
Ram isn’t a typical player for a
Division I program, in too many
ways to list. He has a 3.99 GPA
while majoring in neurobiology
and physiology. (His perfect aca-
demic record is marred only by
two A-minuses, in organic chem-
istry and mammalian physiology.)
He grew up as a devoted Terps fan
in Howard County, and after
spending a year at Division III
Trinity, walked onto
Maryland’s team despite
being just 5-foot-9 –
“with shoes on,” he
joked.
He has
another year of
eligibility, but
will graduate
this spring and
might pursue
a job in con-
sulting.
Between
practices
this semes-
ter, he’s study-
ing principals of
neuroscience.
And his parents – who came to
this country in the late 1980s –
weren’t exactly sure what to make
of a kid who couldn’t stay away
from the local gym, who played
for a high-level AAU basketball
program, and who wouldn’t give
up on the idea of appearing on
this stage.
“It’s beyond our understand-
ing,” said his mother, Santhini
Ramasamy, a toxicologist for the
Environmental Protection Agency
with a PhD in biochemistry.
“He just took the initiative. No
one ever told him anything. It’s
just within him.”
After graduating from
Clarksville’s River Hill High, Ram
spent a year at a boarding school
in Massachusetts, trying to
increase his odds of playing
Division I basketball. That isn’t
the path most Indian-American
kids follow, and Ram said some
community members questioned
his parents about their son.
“Just do what most Indian kids
do, just go study, and your life will
be okay,” Ram remembered
people saying. “That’s why
I’m so happy that my par-
ents have been so great to
me, because I think it’s
opened people’s eyes.
This is more than just a
game. You CAN do so
many other things with
it. You CAN balance aca-
demics and sports.”
That’s what Ram
told his father,
an IT pro-
gram-
ming manager for the National
Weather Service, when there were
questions about arranging his
academic schedule in College
Park around basketball practices.
“I just said I think class is kind
of more important than the
game,” Kolandavel Ramasamy
remembered. “Finally he said,
‘Daddy, for me to focus on stud-
ies, I have to play.’ Then right
away I told him okay, if that is the
case, please go ahead and play.’”
This is a story familiar to
Negandhi and the other Indian-
Americans who reveled in Ram’s
moment.
They know what it’s like to
come from a community that
treasures its doctors and lawyers
and engineers, but that isn’t
always sure about American
sports, or about balancing athlet-
ics with academics. That’s at least
part of the reason the night of
March 20 mattered so much to
them: because Ram is excelling at
both.
“I don’t want to overstate it, but
it’s one of those impact
moments,” Negandhi, the ESPN
anchor, said.
“Our parents, they go by the
visual. The only way you can
show them you can do it is by giv-
ing them an example. And the
example was on national TV,
making THE play of the game.
That’s how we can change
minds.”
Still, no one imagined this.
After walking onto Maryland’s
team three years ago, Ram even-
tually earned a scholarship. He’s
become the de facto practice
matchup for star guard Melo
Trimble, harassing the freshman’s
every move.
Coach Mark Turgeon has
inserted Ram into several games
for short bursts of frenetic pres-
sure, including during last week’s
Big Ten Tournament.
But the final 13 seconds of
Maryland’s first NCAA tour-
nament game in five years
was slightly different.
“A lot of people that I
went to high school are just
in awe of what’s happening,”
Ram said.
“They didn’t expect it. I didn’t
expect it. It’s amazing.”
His mom – who was visiting
family in India and arrived back
at Dulles March 21 evening –
called the result “a miracle.”
SriramGopal – a Terps fan from
the District – recalled “a mix of
surprise and pride and almost
shock.” And Ram’s teammates
were still smiling on March 21.
“We weren’t surprised, but we
were just so excited for him,
because we know how hard he
works,” Jon Graham said. “The
man’s a hero to me.”
– TheWashington Post
TheWashington Post
VarunRam, whohelpedMaryland
post a victory in theNCAA
tournament opener, is the toast of
the Indian-American community
HOOP DREAM
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