UCSB basketball has entered the new normal of the coronavirus world with an old point guard leading the way.
But Devearl Ramsey, who has started 61 games for the Gauchos the last two years, did bring a new twist to the Thunderdome when official practice began last week.
“I changed my hair — I changed it up with these little twisties,” the 6-foot senior said. “My hair was growing really long and I couldn’t get a haircut, so I was trying to figure out what to do.
“Everyone is liking it. They say I look faster now when my hair is moving, so I’m going to keep it like this for a little while and see what happens.”
Nobody is more anxious to change things up than Ramsey, who transferred from Nevada to UCSB with plenty of ambition after his freshman season of 2016-17. He’s helped the Gauchos record back-to-back seasons of 22-10 and 21-10, but he’s yet to take them to the NCAA Tournament.
“I don’t want to just win a lot of games, I want to go to the tournament,” he said. “I want to leave my mark here, and I definitely feel like I’ve been cheated out of that. I feel like I never really got the chance.”
His first setback came during the semifinals of the 2019 Big West Conference Tournament when he suffered a severe groin sprain after just 12 minutes of play. The Gauchos were fatigued without Ramsey, missing their last 10 shots to blow a 10-point lead in a 64-58 loss to Cal State Fullerton.
“That injury really hurt because it came out of nowhere,” he said. “I hadn’t been out that whole year and I’d never had that injury.
“We really felt we could win that thing. For that to happen in the second game of the tournament, it really hurt me. It was my first year playing here and I thought I was going to set the tone for the next few years.”
None of the Gauchos got to play in last year’s Big West Tournament. They were eating their pregame breakfast at an Anaheim hotel, just hours before their quarterfinal game against UC Riverside, when word arrived that the event had been canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ramsey did have some 20-20 vision about that 2020 disappointment.
“When the NBA games were canceled, I knew they were going to cancel ours, too,” he said.
He expects his third season at UCSB to be the charm.
Ramsey has been rejoined by 6-9 junior forward Amadou Sow, a two-time All-Big West forward, as well as 6-4 senior guard JaQuori McLaughlin, who received all-league honorable mention last year.
Four others who played key roles off the bench also return: 6-10 senior Robinson Idehen, 6-5 senior Brandon Cyrus, 6-5 junior Sékou Touré, and 6-8 Jay Nagle.
The Gauchos have also added three impact transfers: 6-3 sophomore guard Ajare Sanni from Pacific, 6-7 graduate-transfer forward Destin Barnes from Jacksonville, and 6-10 junior forward Miles Norris from Oregon by way of CC of San Francisco. Jakov Kukic, a 6-foot-10 and 230-pound freshman from Croatia, will also make his Gaucho debut after sitting out last season as a redshirt.
“From Day One, when I looked at the roster, I said that this is one of the most talented teams that I’ve ever been on — just from top to bottom,” Ramsey said. “And now knowing these guys a little bit more, I really feel like I can say that confidently.
“It’s obviously going to take a little while to put it all together, but I’m looking forward to seeing what we can do.”
The depth may allow Ramsey to take more breathers this season. After shooting 40.9% from 3-point distance as a sophomore, his accuracy dropped to 32.3% last year when he was asked to play a gut-busting 33.2 minutes per game. He’s averaged 9.4 points, 2.9 assists, and 3.6 rebounds per game in his two seasons at UCSB.
He likes the way his new teammates have fit in.
“You can see over there, all the guys talking and having fun,” he said, gesturing as the Gauchos gathered outside the Thunderdome’s back door. “I really feel like there’s no bad apple in the bunch.
“They fit in during the group chats and in the Zoom conferences, too. They’re more comfortable with each other now. I feel like they fit right in, like real teammates should.”
He spent the offseason training at his high school gym in Los Angeles before returning to Santa Barbara when portable baskets were set up at UCSB’s Rob Gym tennis courts.
“With the whole shutdown and stuff, it really makes you realize how much you love the sport, and what you really love to do,” Ramsey said. “For me, especially going into my senior year, it makes me realize that I shouldn’t take anything for granted.
“Those little practices and workouts could be annoying, especially in my fifth year. But I’m going to try to cherish every moment. Being my last year, I’m going to try to make it special.”
UCSB will open its season in its own round-robin tournament, the Santa Barbara Slam, with games on Nov. 27 against Florida Gulf Coast and Nov. 29 against Florida A&M. He expects it to be the start of an unprecedented season for the Gauchos.
“The sky’s the limit… the Final Four… we can go anywhere,” Ramsey gushed. “I really feel like we have that potential. We’ve just got to put in the work.
“It’s all up to us, what we do now on the court every day.”
And that means no more seasons — or hair — getting cut short.