Feb. 9, 2006
WEST ORANGE, N.J. (AP) - P.J. Carlesimo sat with his arm around the player who took the coach and his Seton Hall team to within a single point of the 1989 NCAA championship.
"You come across a lot of people during your job as a basketball coach," Carlesimo said as he embraced Ramon Ramos. "I've been very blessed to have coached some exceptional athletes, but none were better than this guy."
Carlesimo then paused to wipe away the stream of tears that cascaded down his face.
Ramos, whose life almost ended tragically in an automobile accident 16 years ago, returned to his alma mater Thursday night to be inducted into its athletic Hall of Fame.
While a rookie free agent with the Portland Trail Blazers, Ramos suffered severe head trauma when his car skidded off an Oregon highway on Dec. 16, 1989. Doctors gave him only a slim chance of survival and he lapsed in and out of a coma for months.
Over the years, he has partially recovered, although his speech is still slurred, his gait somewhat unsteady and his short-term memory has never returned.
He has been living in his native Puerto Rico, and this visit was his first to New Jersey since his playing days, when he averaged 12 points and eight rebounds for the Seton Hall team that lost an 80-79 overtime heartbreaker to Michigan in the NCAA title game.
"It feels very good to be back," a smiling Ramos said. "When I saw my teammates today, I started to remember my time here. I came here today and I was so glad to see them. I think back to when I was here and it feels like yesterday, even if it is years ago. I feel good seeing them."
Ramos, a 6-foot-8 center, scored 1,017 points and grabbed 631 rebounds with the Pirates. He still holds the school record for career shooting percentage (.557) and is third on the school's all-time list for blocked shots (146).
Carlesimo, now assistant head coach with the defending NBA champion San Antonio Spurs, said Ramos still displays the same qualities as the kid he recruited out of Puerto Rico more than 20 years ago.
"He hasn't changed much with his personality and character," Carlesimo said. "I remember (veteran NBA assistant coach) Herb Brown telling me about Ramon when Ramon was in ninth grade. He said he had this young kid that we had to go see. Herb said he was going to be a good player and he was right.
"I went to see him in Puerto Rico and saw his ability. I saw how much he wanted to play. He worked so hard and got so much out of his ability. He eventually went head-to-head with some of the best players in the country and never backed down. He more than held his own."
Ramos has worked equally hard in his rehabilitation over the years, and can now run well enough to once again play the game he loves, although not at the same level.
"I still play basketball," said Ramos, now 37. "I like to get out there and play. I do running, jogging, working my body."
Ramon Ramos and P.J. Carlesimo