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JACK RAMSAY : In Addition to Being the Coach of the Portland Trail Blazers, He Has a Doctorate in Education and Likes to Compete in Triathlons

May 05, 1985|SAM McMANIS | Times Staff Writer

"Jack could be successful in numerous fields," McKinney said. "The man is very intelligent. But since he chose basketball as his occupation, it consumes him. I don't think there's another coach in the league that looks at the game the way Jack does."

The following excerpt from Ramsay's 1978 book, "The Coach's Art," clearly shows that he thinks on a different, higher level than most coaches:

What is this game that runs through my mind? It is a ballet, a graceful sweep and flow of patterned movement, counterpointed by daring and imaginative flights of solitary brilliance. It is a dance which begins with opposition contesting every move. But in the exhilaration of a great performance, the opposition vanishes. The dancer does as he pleases. The game is unified action up and down the floor. . . . It is the solidarity of a single unifying purpose, the will to overcome adversity, the determination never to give in. It is winning; it is winning; it is winning.

Some have suggested that Ramsay is too intelligent to be a basketball coach. They have wondered why he chose something so frivolous for his life's work when he could be researching a cure for cancer, or creating literature.

But anyone close to Ramsay knows that he wouldn't be happy doing anything other than coaching basketball.

Ramsay can't remember exactly when he first realized that he wanted to become a coach, but it probably was the first time he stepped into a gymnasium in Connecticut, more than 50 years ago. Ramsay's voice softens almost to a whisper when he recalls his introduction to the sport that has dominated his life.

"The father of one of the kids I palled around with was the headmaster of a private school," Ramsay said. "We could get into the gym on a Saturday afternoon. That was unheard of. My God, the gym to ourselves! That's what really started me. I found I had some skill at it, so I put a basket on my barn at home so I could play whenever I wanted."

When Ramsay moved to Philadelphia after his parents separated, he found the gyms there were the same as those in Connecticut. But basketball was the sport in Philadelphia and Ramsay caught the fever.

A tall, skinny and scrappy guard, Ramsay began college at St. Joseph's in 1942. He was a pre-med major with every intention of becoming a doctor. But after his freshman year, Ramsay, only 17, left school to serve in the Navy in World War II. He volunteered for an underwater demolition team that trained in Oceanside for a proposed invasion of Japan.

Ramsay's leadership qualities were evident even then. At 19, he was made an officer and was the head of his team of frogmen. One of the perks of being in charge was that Ramsay could occasionally take a break to play basketball.

Extensive training, however, was as far as Ramsay's career as a frogman went. The war ended before his team could get into it. Ramsay was disappointed.

"We took off and headed (for Japan), but they dropped the bomb so that was it," Ramsay said. "We were disappointed because we had trained for it. The emotional climate of the country was different then. You wanted to defend. It seems strange now, but I wanted the action."

Instead, Ramsay had to settle for action on the basketball court, where his style was always combative. By that time, though, Ramsay had dropped his plans for medicine, having decided to make a career of basketball, as either a player or coach. He majored in education so that he could eventually earn a teaching credential.

"You could take any courses you wanted as a basketball player," Ramsay said. "But as a pre-med major, you had to take all the labs, which made me late for practice, which was all right with the coach. But if you did that, you weren't going to play much. That made up my mind."

Ramsay captained the 1948-49 St. Joseph's team and earned an education degree. He was an adequate player, making up for a lack of natural talent with hustle and intelligence.

After college, Ramsay coached for three seasons at St. James High School in Chester, Pa., took graduate classes at the University of Pennsylvania and played on weekends for the Sunbury Mercuries of the old Eastern League.

Somehow, Ramsay even found time to spend with his wife, Jean, whom he married in 1949. Ramsay juggled so many jobs not only because he loved basketball but also because he needed the money.

Each member of the Sunbury Mercuries was guaranteed $40 a game and a percentage of the gate, which usually amounted to $15 or $20. One oft-told story about Ramsay concerns the time he got a concussion while diving on the floor for a loose ball and didn't break out of the fog until after the game. The story goes that Ramsay's first words after coming around were: "You get my money?"

"I don't remember saying that, but it's probably true of the way I am," Ramsay said, smiling. "I learned fast that coaches didn't make lot of money."

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