#Outwork On and Off the Court

Varun Ram starts every day by checking his planner, the pre-smartphone kind that requires writing by hand everything he needs to do that day. With a schedule like Ram’s and his drive to accomplish big goals, Ram considers his planner pretty much indispensable. 

Varun Ram celebrates Maryland's win over Valparaiso in the Terps' first NCAA Tournament game since 2010. Credit: Greg FiumeA member of the Maryland men’s basketball team who graduated this spring with a 3.9 GPA in biological sciences, Ram’s days at Maryland were filled with hours of studying, practice and training. And Ram loved every minute of it, in the classroom and on the court. 

Ram’s path from his Columbia, Md., home to College Park wasn’t a direct one. Ram liked Maryland’s academic possibilities from the start, but there was something else driving him—his love of basketball. The five-foot-nine guard was on a high school club team that finished third in the nation in tournament play, but Ram figured there was no way he would make the Terps team he has loved since he was a kid. 

He accepted an offer to play at Trinity College in Connecticut, but only after making a promise to his mother, a toxicologist for the Environmental Protection Agency, and to his father, an IT programming manager for the National Weather Service. “All parents aren’t supportive of things outside of academics,” Ram says. “My parents instilled in me the drive to do well, no matter what I did, and they knew I loved basketball. But I had to promise my mother I would get all A’s.” 

Ram earned the A’s, and he played ball, but after his freshman year, he realized he really wanted to be at Maryland for the academics. “A big university like Maryland has so many more opportunities for biological sciences majors,” Ram says. 

Ram understood his basketball career might be over if he transferred to Maryland, but, thanks to a good word from his Trinity coach, the Terps let him try out. In the two weeks he waited to hear if he’d made the cut, Ram kept practicing. “I thought, until the coach tells me no, I’m not going to quit.” 

When Maryland basketball coach Mark Turgeon called to tell him he was on the team, Ram says, “It changed my life. It still blows my mind that I’m playing for Maryland.” Two years later, Ram played his first minutes in a home game, and then started in the BB&T Classic. 

Ram matched up against starting point guard Melo Trimble in practice. He says the team mindset was to work together to do whatever they needed to win. 

This year, in his first NCAA Tournament appearance, Ram entered the close game in the final seconds and smacked the ball away from a Valparaiso player to secure Maryland’s win. A celebration exploded around him—teammates mobbed him, cameras surrounded him and reporters asked to interview him. Ram’s name became the top trending topic on Twitter. He was profiled on ESPN.com and by the New York Post and The Washington Post

“Varun has a great attitude and provides terrific energy every day, whether at practice or during a game,” says Turgeon. “He has a relentless work ethic and is a tremendous student who has been an invaluable member of our basketball team.” 

Off the court, Ram roomed with classmates he met in an organic chemistry study group three years ago. “I even got my roommates to do a planner,” he laughs. 

After receiving his bachelor’s degree in May, Ram had another year of basketball eligibility. He plans to return in the fall to Gary Williams Court and the University of Maryland to begin graduate school, where the odds are pretty certain he’ll have his planner within reach. 

Writer: Ellen Ternes

This article was published in the Summer 2015 issue of Odyssey magazine. To read other stories from that issue, please visit go.umd.edu/odyssey.

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The College of Computer, Mathematical, and Natural Sciences at the University of Maryland educates more than 9,000 future scientific leaders in its undergraduate and graduate programs each year. The college's 10 departments and six interdisciplinary research centers foster scientific discovery with annual sponsored research funding exceeding $200 million.