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Published: Sunday, 8/7/2005

Ransey finds true calling off the court

In Their Words is a weekly feature appearing Sundays in The Blade's sports section. Blade sports writer Steve Junga talked with Toledo basketball player Kelvin Ransey, who starred at Macomber and Ohio State and was a NBA first-round draft choice.

Kelvin Ransey - one of Toledo's greatest basketball players ever - was both an early starter and a late bloomer.

At age 7, Ransey could already dribble and shoot a basketball with either hand as he took up the sport near his Norwood Court home, playing on a makeshift court with a rim nailed to a tree. By 10 he had played his first organized game at the old downtown Boys Club.

But Ransey was small and admittedly lacked competitive drive as a youngster. He was cut from fifth and sixth-grade teams and then as a seventh-grader from the top Robinson Junior High squad (red team). Disappointed, he quit the second-level (blue) team.

A year later, a remotivated Ransey teamed up with another future NBA player, Scott product Donald Collins, to lead the Robinson red team to a city championship. He started on the Macomber varsity for coach Jim Cox as a 5-foot-11, 145-pound sophomore in the 1973-74 season.

As a 6-1 junior, Ransey emerged as a star during the greatest era in City League basketball history, a mid-70s span which saw Toledo produce numerous Division-I college players, several at major programs.

In 1974-75 the CL was paced by seniors Truman Claytor of Scott and Terry Crosby of DeVilbiss, each first-team All-Ohioans. But in the district semis and finals, Ransey, a junior, outplayed both players and led Macomber to the regionals.

Ransey started at guard all four years at Ohio State, leading a rebuilding effort that took the Buckeyes from 9-18 in '76-77 to a No. 2 national ranking his senior year, when he earned All-America honors. He exited as OSU's second all-time leading scorer, and still ranks fourth on the Buckeyes' career list at 1,934 points.

Chosen in the first round (fourth overall pick) by the Chicago Bulls, Ransey was traded to the Portland Trail Blazers, signing a four-year $1.4 million contract. He was runner-up by one vote for NBA rookie of the year (to Darrell Griffith) in '81, averaged a high of 16.1 points in '81-82, and 11.4 for his six-year career, then found his true calling was not on a basketball court but in a preacher's pulpit.

After helping Portland ('81) and New Jersey ('84-'86) to four playoff appearances, Ransey retired following the '85-86 season, returning to Toledo to become a preacher. Nearly 20 years later, he remains true to that calling. He pastored in Toledo until 2000, when he returned to his "roots," in Tupelo, Miss., to take the reins of a new 200-member congregation. His parents, Clinton and Annie, grew up in nearby Guntown, Miss.

Ransey, twice married, has six children (ages 11 through 25). He returns to Toledo five to six times a year, usually to preach or conduct religious revivals. His athletic endeavors these days are limited to a once-a-week bowling league.

"THE COACHES AT ROBINSON [Richard Jones and later Isaac Floyd] saw the talent in me and said, 'You're going to be the man.' But I just didn't have the competitiveness early on. Players would woof [trash talk] on you, and I just wasn't into that. But Richard Jones pumped me full of confidence. That was very instrumental. All of the great players of that age knew Richard Jones, and he was the catalyst for all of us."

"JIM COX WAS a tremendous coach and he really brought the best out of me at that time. One time at practice, my junior year, I almost quit. Coach Cox was trying to make a point about discipline and to toughen me up. We were scrimmaging and he wasn't calling any fouls. I got mad and complained, and he ended up kicking me out of practice. He was trying to show the other players that he had no favoritism. But he had it all worked out ahead of time, and he sent the assistant coach [Bart Schroeder] after me. He said, 'Go get him. Don't let him quit.' "

"THAT STRETCH [district tournament] my junior year was the best time of my high school years. That was a chance for me to redeem myself. We were 18-2 [before regionals] that year, and the two losses were to DeVilbiss, with Crosby, and to Scott, with Claytor. It was basically Crosby's and Claytor's city then, and this was the last chance I would have to show that I belonged up there with them."

"WE LOST TO Elyria in the regionals in triple overtime. I hit the big shots at the end of regulation and in overtime, and we had a chance to win. That was one of the most exciting games I ever played in. If we wouldn't have lost John Flowers [transferred to Sylvania the next year], I still think we would have been the first Toledo team to win the state championship.

"MY BEST MEMORY of playing at Ohio State is the fact that we built that program back up. [Coach] Eldon Miller did a great job of recruiting and he was a tremendous teacher of the game. It was like going from being nobody to, by my senior year, ranked as high as No. 2 in the nation."

"ONE OF THE BEST GAMES was when we beat Duke at Madison Square Garden when they were ranked No. 1. We were down 17 in the second half and came back and beat them in overtime. I had 26 points, and it was one of my best games. But that same night was when [OSU football coach] Woody Hayes punched that guy from Clemson in the bowl game. We didn't even get any first-page headlines."

"I HAD THE GREAT PRIVILEGE of playing in one of the best eras of basketball ever in the NBA, with people like Magic and Bird, and Dr. J and Isiah Thomas and Kareem, and even Michael Jordan for a couple years. In my opinion, I played against the best."

"I COULD HAVE PLAYED four or five more years [in NBA], but my heart wasn't in it anymore. I felt a strong calling to go into pastoring. I was raised in a Christian home, and that's all I knew from the time I could remember. My father was a deacon at our church."

"People were like, 'You've got to be kidding. You're only 27 years old and you can still make millions playing ball.' But, to this day, I still don't regret it at all."

"WHAT'S REALLY ENCOURAGING to me is the lives that are being changed. People getting off drugs and getting out of depression and finding hope. Getting a new lease on life. That's very gratifying, and you couldn't do that playing basketball."

Contact Steve Junga at: sjunga@theblade.com or 419-724-6461.

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