Nearly 500 children are expected to attend an after-school basketball camp in Chennai, India, over the next two weeks, and most have likely never heard of Varun Ram. To Maryland’s fan base, Ram has become a lovable fan-favorite, a fiery reserve point guard who hears the home crowd howl his name every time he checks into a game. He ascended to rock-star status after making a game-clinching defensive play in the NCAA Tournament earlier this year, the most significant moment of his college career.
But Ram will perhaps make a far more important contribution on the court later this week, when he travels to Chennai and again introduces himself as a volunteer counselor to the children of the Crossover Basketball and Scholars Academy, an annual summer camp that aims to use basketball as a catalyst for change and opportunity in the communities of India.
Ram left behind summer workouts in College Park Wednesday to trek across the globe, taking an 18-hour flight to Chennai, where he will begin helping with the camp later this week. It is the second consecutive year that Ram has traveled to Chennai to share his basketball knowledge with underprivileged youth in the region in which his parents grew up.
“It’s a two-week after-school camp for kids. A lot of them come from very poor families, where their parents are working two or three jobs and might not always be around. These kids don’t have opportunities outside of school to be involved in this sort of activity,” said Ram, who grew up in Clarksville and graduated from River Hill. “There’s not really a big emphasis in India in sports. The idea hasn’t really hit them yet, that you learn so many things from sports.”
Ram was recruited into the program by founder Shaun Jayachandran. Ram initially turned down an opportunity to volunteer at the camp in 2013, instead opting to stay home and focus on summer workouts with the Terrapins.
Once he discussed the program with Maryland Coach Mark Turgeon last year, Turgeon pushed Ram to travel to Chennai and become a part of the program. The 5-foot-9, 155-pound Ram has long been a model for Turgeon’s program – he earned a spot on the team after transferring from Trinity College in 2012, and he has grown into a valuable defensive specialist in his three years with Maryland. Moreover, he graduated with degrees in neurobiology and physiology this spring, when he also announced that he would use his final year of eligibility and return to the team.
“Varun is a special kid. He’s the kind of kid that wakes up in the morning and gets more done by noon than a lot of us get done in a day,” Turgeon said.
In Chennai, Ram will join a number of other volunteers with college basketball experience, including Hawaii guard Sai Tummala and his sister, Shilpa Tummala, who plays at Harvard. Ram and the rest of the volunteers will help break the camp down into three segments, which include basketball fundamentals, conditioning and yoga. There will also be a leadership and character development segment of the camp, life skills that Ram said he has learned growing up with the game in the United States.
“We’re trying to create this atmosphere with these kids,” Ram said, “who otherwise wouldn’t be getting exposed to these type of things.”