COLLEGE PARK — When Bino Ranson showed up at New Hampshire College in the fall of 1994, men's basketball coach Stan Spirou saw a player who seemed misplaced in Division II and a little out of his element on the leafy New England college campus outside Manchester.
"He had that Baltimore game. He was like a Sam Cassell, a scoring guard who could play the point and make people better," recalled Spirou, who is going into his 31st season at the school. "We were fortunate to get someone with his talent. He had mid-major [Division I] talent coming out of high school."
Along with the talent was Ranson's work ethic.
"He always came to practice with a full pail and had nothing left when it was over," Spirou said of Ranson, now in his sixth year as a Maryland assistant coach.
Ranson and Spirou will have something of a mini-reunion Friday when the Penmen, who reached the Division II Elite Eight last season before losing to eventual champion Florida Southern, play the No. 3 Terps in a preseason game at Xfinity Center.
While the rest of the Maryland coaches and players will look at what became the University of Southern New Hampshire in 2001 as an undersized opponent that will help them get some of the kinks out before next Friday's season opener against Mount St. Mary's, Ranson has a different view of the visiting team.
It is a school and a coach that helped him get on the road to his current position with the Terps.
"They had a rich tradition there. They had just come off a Final Four. It was a great setup," Ranson recalled this week.
Ranson spent five years in Manchester, the first while he sat out to work on his academics and the last four as the school's first four-time all-conference player. Ranson, 41, was inducted into the school's Athletic Hall of Fame in 2007.
"He was a great basketball player for us, one of the best I've coached in my time here. He was a much better person, a better kid," Spirou said. "I never saw him in a bad mood. He always had that smile. He was a pleasure to coach. … Even the kids that played before and after him knew about Bino. Not only the coaching staff, but the community and the administration always held him in high regard."
Despite having gone to a prep school in Massachusetts after graduating from St. Frances, Ranson said there was both an academic and cultural transition for the then 19-year-old from East Baltimore.
Along with Spirou, Ranson credits those in the school's tutoring program, in particular director Cindy Hagen, math teacher Pam Cohen, and Spirou's wife, Pat, for guiding him.
"They really helped me to grow," Ranson said. "I was kind of old school and I was really into embracing my new environment. … It was a family atmosphere. There was a tradition that the basketball coach had with some of the coaches who had been there. You had three guys who were a success in what they did, and it inspired me to want to keep it going."
Though they were "long gone" by the time he arrived, Ranson got to know two former Penmen head coaches: P.J. Carlesimo, whose first head coaching job led eventually to Seton Hall (where he took the Pirates to the NCAA championship game against Michigan in 1989), and Carlesimo's former Fordham teammate, Tom Sullivan, who preceded Spirou and eventually wound up at UMBC for nine seasons.
The most vivid memory of Ranson's career came when he hit a game-winning 3-pointer from 26 feet away to beat top-ranked College of St. Rose in the championship game of a Christmas tournament in Albany, N.Y. Ranson's celebration would have made Cassell proud.
"Typical Bino, ran around the court and took his shirt off and jumped on the scorer's table," Spirou said with a laugh.
When Ranson returned to Baltimore a year after graduation — he played a season for the Darryl Dawkins-coached Winnipeg Cyclone of the International Basketball Association — the support system he had left was still there.
The youngest of four brothers whose father, Shirley, died when he was in high school, Ranson looked up to his oldest sibling, Patrick, and first cousin Calvin Williams, who had finished a seven-year career in the NFL with the Ravens in their first season.
Ranson said his own family — which now includes his wife, Shannon, and their two sons, Orlando, 7, and Bradshaw, 4 — has always played a significant role.
"My oldest brother, he was really a pillar in my life, he really pushed me along with Calvin," Ranson said of Patrick Ranson, a 51-year-old retired Baltimore County corrections officer. "Anthony Lewis helped me when I was younger at Cecil-Kirk [Recreation Center]. You know the old saying, 'It takes a village to raise a kid.' I had a village around me that pushed me and believed in me. They always say unity beats adversity. Whenever I had adversity, they were there to pick me up."
Along with his father's death, one other event in Ranson's younger life tested his faith: when the family's house on Marquette Road burned down while he was in second grade. The house fire caused the family to move into temporary quarters with the Salvation Army.
"That was a tough time for me, that kind of put a monkey wrench in a lot of things. That was a lot of trauma to my mom," Ranson said, his voice choked with emotion. "My brother, Sean, was a great athlete, a really good football player, and he was really affected by it. But it got me to where I am now."
Upon returning to Baltimore in 2000, his playing career over, Ranson wasn't sure what his next move would be.
"It was a fork in the road. I had a gig here or there," Ranson said.
Figuring out the future
Ranson spent some time working as a supervisor at the Maryland Youth Residence Center and then started teaching, eventually getting his first coaching job running the junior varsity at Pikesville while working with Paul Smith. He then got involved in the local Amateur Athletic Union scene, leading to jobs at Loyola University during Jimmy Patsos' first season, then at James Madison, at Xavier and finally at Maryland.
Gary Williams hired Ranson before his final season in 2010-11. Mark Turgeon retained him when he took over in the spring of 2011 after Williams retired.
"As a kid, I had always wanted to play for Maryland," said Ranson, who started watching the Terps when they had the late Len Bias in the 1980s. "It's come full circle. It's joyful."
Asked what he remembered about the day Williams offered him the job to replace Chuck Driesell, Ranson said: "When I got the call, it was like, 'Wow, I'll be coaching at Maryland. It's a big deal here.' Then when he went into the Hall of Fame, I could say, 'I worked for a Hall of Famer.' And I'm working for one now."
Ranson can remember where he was when Bias died in June 1986 — "sitting in my living room when word came on the TV" — as well as the night Ranson served as a ball boy at Baltimore Arena for a tournament involving the Terps in Bob Wade's second season (1987-88).
Now, Ranson is helping make more memories with a Maryland team among the favorites to reach the Final Four for the first time since winning the 2002 national championship. How far the Terps have come under Turgeon can be tied to Ranson's ability to recruit, getting both transfers and high school stars to look at Maryland.
"He loves to recruit. He's not afraid to go after the best players, which we shouldn't be at Maryland," Turgeon said Thursday. "He's done a nice job bringing some kids in. He's gotten us involved with a lot of kids we haven't gotten, but he's been able to snag a few lately. He brings a lot of energy to our program."
And a bit of East Baltimore swag.
"Bino claims he's one of the best players to ever play the game of basketball," senior forward Jake Layman joked before practice Thursday. "I know he was a great player at SNHU."
Turgeon said that where Ranson has made the biggest impact has been in his loyalty.
"As a head coach you want assistants that are loyal, and Bino has been loyal to me through thick and thin. We've had our ups and downs our first few years," Turgeon said Thursday.
Ranson helped bring Dez Wells from Xavier three years ago, Robert Carter Jr. from Georgia Tech last year and five-star prospect Diamond Stone this year. Turgeon gave Ranson a lot of credit for the signing of Stone, one of the nation's top high school players in Milwaukee. Ranson, who works with the team's big men, has also helped develop junior center Damonte Dodd and sophomore center Michal Cekovsky.
"They've come a long way," Ranson said.
Tarik Sheppard, who played all four years with Ranson in New Hampshire and remains one of his closest friends, said the other players on the team would watch their talkative teammate get into conversations with nearly anybody he crossed paths with on the road. It doesn't surprise Sheppard that Ranson has done so well as a recruiter.
"Bino would always know how to approach people, and he'd end up talking with them for 20 minutes," said Sheppard, now a lieutenant in the New York City Police Department. "He would know something about them, their background, somebody they knew. He'd do it all the time — college coaches, ballplayers, referees."
Sheppard said Ranson would go over to the local high school gym to watch a rising high school player named Matt Bonner, who grew up in Manchester.
"He would go over to that high school to embrace that kid before he was even a star," Sheppard recalled. "The other guys would ask, 'Why are going over to the local high school?' That's just Bino. What you see is what you get."
Ranson would like someday to coach his own college team, but after unsuccessfully pursuing the head coaching job at Coppin State after Fang Mitchell was forced out, he seems content with his role on Turgeon's staff.
"I was always told timing is everything," he said. "I can't put a timetable on it. That's out of my control. I can only do the best job here and see what happens."
Ranson recalled what one of his old friends told him as each embarked on his chosen profession.
"He told me, 'Don't chase the money, chase the profession,'" Ranson said.
The chase continues this season, after Ranson has a little reunion Friday.