Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)
In so many ways, Ramon Galloway was the missing piece of the puzzle for La Salle.
A Philadelphia native who’d taken quite a journey to wearing an Explorers uniform, Galloway helped the Explorers do the unthinkable. A program that hadn’t gone to any type of postseason game in two decades before his arrival sees him graduate with not just an NCAA Tournament appearance but three wins in one magical March.
Thanks in large part to Ramon Galloway, this is a new La Salle basketball program. A better basketball program. A more confident basketball program.
And he was only there for two years.
“It’s not hard to believe, but it’s crystal clear that he did have a huge impact,” La Salle coach John Giannini told CoBL on Thursday night after the Explorers’ season-ending 72-58 loss to Wichita State. “What makes Ramon unique is all these other guys were already here, he was the last key addition.”
When he decided to transfer from South Carolina to La Salle in April of 2011, Galloway joined a three-man recruiting class that already included big men Steve Zack + Jerrell Wright, plus versatile guard D.J. Peterson. Tyreek Duren and Sam Mills were just finishing up freshman seasons where they’d both played around 30 mpg. Earl Pettis, a Rutgers transfer, would provide the senior leadership.
It didn’t take long for that group to gel.
After going a combined 98-115 (.460) in Giannini’s first seven years as head coach, La Salle burst through for its first 20-win season in 20 years, making a brief appearance in the 2012 NIT. The Explorers played an exciting brand of basketball, utilizing a four-guard lineup that pushed the tempo and buried teams from the 3-point line.
That all set up this year, a 24-win campaign that ended in Los Angeles after a Sweet 16 loss. It was the school’s first multi-win NCAA Tournament since 1955.
In his two seasons at La Salle, Ramon Galloway scored 1,023 points (15.7/game), grabbed 301 rebounds (4.6/game) dished out 235 assists (3.6/game) and picked up 112 steals (1.7/game). More than just his statistical contributions, he changed the mentality and work ethic of the program, just as the program changed him.
The year before his arrival on campus, the Explorers gave up 1.058 points per possession, the 240th-best mark in the country. In 2011-12 that number plummeted to .947 ppp, the 53rd-best defense in the country and La Salle’s toughest group on that end since basketball statistician Ken Pomeroy began keeping track back in 2002-03.
And while the maturation of some of La Salle’s younger players had something to do with that, a large part of it can be attributed to the South Carolina transfer.
“Ramon has helped motivate these guys because he is enthusiastic and a good leader, he’s made them better players because he goes at them and he’s competed with these guys,” Giannini said. “He’s helped the team win, which has given them confidence and some great memories--so he’s helped them, but Ramon’s been helped too.”
“I’m not going to say I grew into a leader, everybody helped me grow into a leader,” Galloway agreed. “They didn’t let me get down, they didn’t let me slack, so it’s a team effort.
“The coaching staff kept me in the gym, they kept me working out, and I thank them for the success that I achieved,” he added.
Now the real test begins. In addition to trying to make a career out of playing basketball, whether in the NBA or (more probably) in Europe/South America, Galloway also has a family of his own to worry about.
It certainly seems like he’s learned several things in his time at the school that will help him on both of those journeys.
“When adversity sets, stay poised, stay calm and believe, have trust in yourself, have confidence in yourself, that you’re going to pull through. That’s what I got through my whole two years here,” he said. “Coming back and dealing with family situations, coming back and dealing with basketball, it’s a lot on your shoulders.
“Knowing that I’ve got a son, I’ve got to worry, it doesn’t stop here. I’ve just got to keep pushing.”
Family clearly means a great deal to Galloway. The main reason he transferred from South Carolina was to be closer to his blind father and cancer-stricken grandfather. His mother fell ill this season, causing Galloway to break down crying after he hit the game-winning layup against No. 9 Butler. Two of his brothers are in jail.
There was no sadness in Galloway’s eyes, however, after it was all said and done. A player cried at the podium when talking about his family was instead upbeat and confident when discussing his team, knowing he’s leaving a program in much better shape than when he arrived.
“I know they’re going to work hard, I know they’re going to push each other and I know they’re going to get back here,” he said. “All year we had to will ourselves, all year we had to give pride to what we were doing. I love those guys and without them I wouldn’t be here.”
With his collegiate career over, Galloway gathered his team one final time. Because while he is moving on, the rest of that talented core remains--Duren, Mills and Virginia Tech transfer Ty Garland will be seniors while Wright, Zack and Peterson are rising juniors--and La Salle’s chances at getting deep into the NCAA Tournament are just as likely next year.
“Before we left out of the locker room, before we all split up, Ramon’s telling everybody ‘don’t hold your heads (down), you’ve got something to look forward to next year,’” said Duren, who took a seat at the post-game podium next to Galloway after quite a few wins over the last two years. “We made it this far, so now we know what it’s like to get our feet in the NCAA tournament, so next year we should be well-prepared.”
Ramon Galloway might not be back, but La Salle basketball certainly is. Those two years just went too quickly.