Balls Stick Together
The Balls are on fire. In an intensely fierce game at the end of November, the RISD basketball team won over its top rival: Cooper Union. The win was doubly sweet as it’s the first time in the history of the two clubs that RISD has triumphed over the New York-based squad.
“The crowd’s reaction was explosive,” remembers Byron Olson 12 IL, the athletic coordinator who oversees the Balls. “Fans jumped out of their seats to rush the court. Everyone was cheering and hugging.”
But the coup was far from a shutout. In the first half of the game, RISD was down a disheartening 16 points. The turning point came in the second half when Connor Griffith 15 FAV narrowed in on Cooper Union’s lead by sinking a series of well-executed shots. RaMell Ross MFA 14 PH – a newcomer to the team who played NCAA basketball for Georgetown University – helped close the gap by fouling out the opposing team’s best player.
“The running joke is that RaMell Ross is actually 7,000-feet-tall,” Olson says with a smirk. “He’s a powerhouse of a player. The Cooper Union coach was not happy to see him step onto the court.”
After Ross netted his freethrow shots with ease, the Balls continued to edge out Cooper Union by making smart, skillful plays. When the final buzzer went off, the scoreboard flashed 63-57. “It great to see history in the making,” notes Olson. “It was truly a team effort.”
According to the Balls, the rivalry between the two teams is heated. “Our truest rival may be Pratt [Institute],” notes Olson. “But no team is more of a threat on this campus than Cooper Union. Maybe it’s because – until now – they’ve been whooping us for the last 10 years. It felt so satisfying to finally beat them.”
Game commentators Timothy Plummer 16 GD and Adam Blake 16 AP provide some courtside ball busting of their own. Microphones in hand, the cheeky sophomores deliver hilarious recaps of the game peppered with astute pop-culture references and playful comments about teammates’ physical attributes.
“I know absolutely nothing about basketball, which is precisely why they asked me to commentate. But we are experts at hyping up the home crowd,” notes Blake. “Sometimes I like to make lewd comments about the other team – usually while blasting the Spice Girls.”
The team has a storied history. Originally founded in the 1970s, the Balls had disbanded by the time Joe Gebbia 05 ID/GD (now a RISD trustee and co-founder of the popular lodging company Airbnb) got to RISD. But the avid basketball player knew that there was plenty of interest – if precious little time – among the student body, so he worked with what is now the Center for Student Involvement to get a new team off the ground. During a recent visit to New York, current team captain John Bai 14 ID sat down with the start-up entrepreneur to discuss the future of the Balls. The meeting proved to be so inspiring that the industrial design senior now plans to start an on-campus campaign to call for the evolving Campus Master Plan to include a basketball court.
As it stands now, players walk up College Hill every Tuesday night to practice at the nearby Wheeler Gym (owned by the private K-12 Wheeler School). Players are getting fit and fine tuning their technique in preparation of the first-ever Art School Invitational, a tournament hosted by RISD, Mass Art, Cooper Union and The New School. The Balls are confident that their camaraderie will take them all the way.
“I think this season will be our best yet,” notes Plummer. “To borrow a phrase from the court, when the heat is on, the Balls stick together.”
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