COLUMBIA — Keith Ramsey has never been one to shy away from making a play to get a crowd on its feet.
In the Missouri men's basketball teams' second exhibition game of the year against Missouri Southern, the 6-foot-9 junior college transfer jumped off of one foot and came up just short of jumping clear over the helpless defender for a one-handed dunk. He was awarded the basket, even though the official also whistled him for an offensive foul.
“He’ll be an impact player,” Tigers coach Mike Anderson said in a practice two days after that game. “We’re hoping he can get that adjustment period off soon, but those are signs that he’s doing some of the things he’s capable of doing.”
Dunking the basketball is something Ramsey’s been able to do for quite some time. He can still recall the practice in eighth grade where after several tries, he finally threw the ball down through the rim for the first time. It wasn’t too much longer before Ramsey, then a 6-6, 14-year-old, got his first dunk in a game.
“His coach (Jimmy Oden) called me and he was so excited,” Ramsey’s father, Keith Ramsey Sr., said. “They’d never seen those kids dunk a ball before, and he got there in that Florida tournament, he was playing against good competition, and somebody was all over him and he still dunked it.”
The younger Ramsey fits perfectly into Anderson’s system, where he enjoys getting up and down the floor and working hard on defense. Ramsey Sr. said his son likes to score but is more concerned about defense. Now Ramsey, a former juco All-American at Okaloosa-Walton (Fla.), is second on the team with six blocks through nine games.
Ramsey has been playing 11.2 minutes per game behind the team’s two leading scorers, DeMarre Carroll and Leo Lyons. Anderson calls him “a high-energy guy,” and Ramsey said he is ready to do anything the coach asks of him to help the team win.
“Playing with energy is just getting in the passing lanes, getting a lot of offensive rebounds, picking, screening, doing a lot of things,” Ramsey said.
But coming off the bench isn’t something Ramsey is used to. His father said he played 36-37 minutes a game for his AAU team, and he was a first team All-Panhandle Conference selection during each of his two years at Okaloosa-Walton. Ramsey said sometimes he gets frustrated with his limited playing time, but his father has always been there to give him support. The elder Ramsey respects Anderson’s decisions, but he said he would like to see his son get some more playing time.
“He’s always picked me back up,” Ramsey said. “He’s always helped me, saying I ain’t playing that much but we’re winning and I’ve got good players in front of me.”
The junior chose Missouri largely because Anderson had been recruiting him since high school. The first time he saw Anderson and his staff was when his high school team stopped to practice at the University of Alabama-Birmingham.
“I got to see him in high school and AAU ball, so I really got a chance to see him evolve as a player,” Anderson said. “I think he’s a versatile basketball player. I think he kind of wants to try to fit in at this point in time, but we need him to do more than just fit in, and I think he understands that.”
Low SAT scores were the only thing that kept Ramsey from getting a Division I scholarship, and two years later, he had a good connection with Anderson and was ready to become a Tiger. But the time he spent in junior college helped him gain experience and mature both on and off the court.
“It helped me a lot,” Ramsey said. “It made me grow. I got stronger and more aggressive. It taught me more every game.”
Even when he is not on the floor, Ramsey does his best to provide energy for his teammates. He said he likes to have fun and try to get everyone loose for the game, so it’s no surprise that he joins Mike Anderson Jr. in giving chest bumps to the starters as they come out before every game.
“That’s just to get our starting lineup hyped,” freshman forward Laurence Bowers said. "If they come out cold, then we won’t follow their lead and doing stuff like that helps everybody feel the momentum.”
Lyons called Ramsey “super-athletic” and said fans can expect to see a lot more highlight plays from him as the season goes on. Ramsey, a 210-pound forward, said he is always looking for dunks to get the energy going, and he would like to see more of the same mindset from his teammates.
“That’s a real problem,” he said after the win against Murray State last Saturday where Missouri didn’t get a single dunk. “I think we need to get more dunks in. We’d get way more momentum, and we’d be more anxious to get on the fast break than what we have been.”