COLUMBIA — Since the start of the season, Keith Ramsey had one game circled.
No, it’s not the rivalry game against Kansas, or the Braggin’ Rights game against Illinois. It’s a game that means much more to the senior forward. Ramsey has circled Wednesday’s men's basketball game against Vanderbilt in Nashville, Tenn.
Missouri (4-1) at Vanderbilt (4-1)
WHEN: 8:30 p.m.
WHERE: Memorial Gymnasium, Nashville, Tenn.
RADIO: KFRU/1400 AM, KBXR/102.3 FM
“I’ve been looking forward to it for a long time. Since they told me we were going to Vanderbilt,” Ramsey said.
Ramsey along with teammates Laurence Bowers and Tyler Stone are all a part of a recruiting line that Tigers coach Mike Anderson has established in Tennessee. This game will give them a chance to play in front of their friends and family, something they aren’t always able to do in Columbia. Anderson said he expects they have been looking forward to playing in front of what will seem like a home crowd.
“They haven’t said much, but I’m sure they will have their families there,” Anderson said. “I’m sure they’ll be excited about it.”
The game has a different meaning for the players from Tennessee. For Bowers, a Memphis native, the game is a chance to show Vanderbilt what they missed by not recruiting him more.
“I’m looking forward to it. It’s closer than here. So it’s a big deal for me,” Bowers said. “And being recruited by Vanderbilt, it’s a great time for me to go back to Tennessee and show Vanderbilt how I’ve developed because they kind of overlooked me my senior year.”
For Ramsey, it is more personal. Ramsey is from Murfreesboro, Tenn., which is a little more than 35 minutes south of Nashville. The game is a chance for the forward to play in his home state for the first time in four years, where he led Siegel High School to the Class AAA state championship. It is also the first time his parents will see him play since last year’s game against the University of Georgia. The only qualm the forward has is that he can’t stay longer.
“If we could (stay longer) it would be real nice to see more of my family,” Ramsey said.
Growing up, Ramsey said he never paid much attention to the school just north of him. He mainly focused on football, and never had a strong desire to play basketball there. The first time he watched a Vanderbilt game was in college. He was recruited briefly by the Commodores, but didn't have the academics to get in, so they stopped recruiting him. Ramsey said he doesn't hold a grudge and that Missouri lost its last game is motivation enough.
"Every game is a big game for us so I don't see it as a big game for me," Ramsey said. "We lost Saturday, so we are trying to get that out of our system. We are hungry for a win."
Ramsey seems focused for the game. When the rest of the team had gone to the locker room to shower and relax, Ramsey was still working with the coaches. He ran wind sprints and did shooting drills to be in top shape for Vanderbilt. He said it was something he had done before the season started, but there was extra motivation to go back to the drills. Motivation aside, there is usually an added amount of pressure to perform in front of friends and family. Ramsey said that is something he has made sure to avoid by keeping the game in perspective.
“I don’t put too much pressure on myself anyway. I don’t think I need that,” Ramsey said. “I’m going to take it as a regular game, do what I do, and help my team win.”
Playing near your home city can also add extra distractions. Ramsey has said his phone has been ringing non-stop with friends, family, old coaches and high school teachers trying to get tickets to see him play. He said the constant calls have been more welcoming than distracting, because it means more people that want to see him play. He said he plans to be playing in front of 30 or 40 personal fans.
“I know a lot of family and friends are going to be there,” Ramsey said. “ I know that we are going to have a lot of Missouri fans there because of me.”
However, the senior captain has made some plans for fun during his trip. He said that after the practice and walk through he has persuaded Jeff Daniels, Missouri's director of basketball operations, to take the team out to The Old Spaghetti Factory. Ramsey can’t help but lick his lips when talking about his favorite dining hot spot, and said he just hopes he will have a couple hours before the team’s curfew to hang out with some friends.
“I know once we get out there, we will probably practice, then go eat, and we have curfew at 11 p.m. so I probably won’t have too much time,” Ramsey said. “But I will get to see a few people I know from the area.”
The Commodores (4-1), on the other hand, plan to make it a rude homecoming for the Tigers from Tennessee. The team represents a tough challenge, and was recently in ranked No. 24 in the AP poll before being dropped out for losing to Cincinnati. Anderson said Vanderbilt plays a quicker tempo than past Vanderbilt teams, but it’s the experience and talent that make them a tough foe.
“They have some athletic guys, so it’s going to be an interesting match up. It’s a big time challenge for our guys,” Anderson said.
Ramsey and Bowers will have their hands full trying to guard A.J. Ogilvy, a 6-foot-11, 250-pound Australian center. Ogilvy is a preseason Second Team All-SEC selection, and is averaging 10 points and six rebounds in the first five games. Neither Ramsey (6-9) or Bowers (6-8) have the size or weight to battle with the center, but they have the athleticism to tire him out.
“He’s a big guy, so we are going to try and use our athletic ability to get past him,” Ramsey said.
No matter the outcome, Ramsey will never suppress his unabashed love for his hometown. While walking to the locker room after practice, Ramsey had only one more thing to say.
“Nashville is one of the best cities in America,” he said smiling as he walked away.