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Maryland guard Varun Ram set for rare second senior day

Maryland guard Varun Ram (21) dribbles during the second half against Rutgers, Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2016, in College Park.
Maryland guard Varun Ram (21) dribbles during the second half against Rutgers, Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2016, in College Park. (Nick Wass / Associated Press)

COLLEGE PARK — Varun Ram has always gone against type.

As a rising high school basketball player in Howard County, Ram didn't look the part of the point guard and floor leader on an AAU team that featured a future NBA player named Greg Whittington and won a national championship before Ram's freshman year at River Hill in Clarksville.

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After spending a year in prep school to work on his game – something his academically oriented parents didn't quite grasp – and a year at a Division III school in Connecticut, Ram transferred to Maryland and became one of a few Indian-American players at the Division I level.

After graduating last spring with a nearly perfect grade-point average, Ram passed up a chance to follow his older sister to medical school and his parents in the medical profession to return to College Park to play one more season as a walk-on while working on a graduate degree in global supply chain management.

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On Thursday night, Ram will break some sort of unofficial NCAA record – and possibly start a new tradition – when he will take part in his second senior day ceremony before No. 14 Maryland plays Illinois in the team's final regular-season home game.

Ram joked that while he didn't have to petition the NCAA to get a second senior day, he did have "to petition Coach [Mark] Turgeon." Recalling the conversation he had last May with Turgeon about returning his final year of eligibility, Ram said the coach took a playful jab at one of his hardest-working players.

"He said, 'You know you're not getting two senior days, right?,'" Ram recalled Wednesday. "I was like, 'We'll see about that.' He's been really nice about it and I'm excited to have two senior days."

Turgeon joked that Ram "set an NCAA record" with his second senior day.

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Just as he was last season before a game against Michigan along with then-seniors Dez Wells, Evan Smotrycz, Richaud Pack and Jon Graham as well as fellow walk-ons Spencer Barks and Jacob Susskind, Ram will be honored along with senior Jake Layman, fellow grad student Rasheed Sulaimon and fellow walk-on Trevor Anzmann (Westminster).

Ram said this one will be different.

"I think it's going to be a little more emotional just knowing that there's absolutely no chance I will be back for another year," Ram said. "Last year I thought it was my last home game, but I knew that there was a small part of me that was like, 'OK, there is still a chance you can come back.' But now knowing that's it's real, it's going to be a little more emotional for me and for my family as well."

After playing mostly as a scout team player last season trying to make it as tough as possible for then-freshman Melo Trimble, as well as being a last-second defensive hero in a cameo in the NCAA tournament – he disrupted a Valparaiso player attempting a potential game-tying 3-pointer – Ram's role expanded this season.

With a backcourt depleted by Dion Wiley's season-ending injury and junior college transfer Jaylen Brantley's difficult transition to Division I, Ram often became the first guard off the bench to spell Trimble or Sulaimon. He wound up playing 16 minutes of a rout against Rutgers, and 14 minutes each in back-to-back games at Wisconsin and Michigan.

"It's felt great, but I always felt I was an integral part of the team, whether I've played or not played, " said Ram, who scored a career-high eight points in a win last month over Division II Bowie State. "It's always the same goal – to help the team in anyway I can, whether that's playing or not playing, playing a couple of minutes or a possession or not playing at all and cheering my teammates on and giving them encouragement."

Said Turgeon, "Varun's had another great year, tremendous in practice, high energy. He makes Melo better. He's a special kid. He's going to do great things off the basketball court, in life. He's been fun to coach."

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