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The Rebirth of a Basketball Culture Makes All the Difference for the URI Rams

The writer, Stone Freeman, entered the University of Rhode Island as a freshman in September 2015. He is a Journalism major graduating this year and a rabid Rams fan. Freeman calls URI’s home games on both YurView and URI student radio station WRIU 90.3 FM. Saturday, March 9, marks the last Rams regular season game during his time as a student at URI .

Stone Freeman working the game in Sacramento for NCAAs in 2017

I remember February 15, 2017 vividly.

It was my sophomore year at the University of Rhode Island. I was so excited. It was a Wednesday night and the URI men’s basketball team was very much on the bubble of their first NCAA Tournament appearance in nearly two decades.

URI had just lost a back-and-forth affair vs. Dayton the Friday before thanks to a Xeyrius Williams, left-corner three ball.

Fordham was in town now and as I made the 300 yard walk from Heathman Hall to the Ryan Center I said to myself, “There’s no way we lose to Fordham. Time to get back on track.”

I was wrong. Fordham beat URI that night 53-43 in what Dan Hurley deemed the worst loss he had suffered as a head coach at Rhode Island.

Little did Hurley know, he wouldn’t lose much more during his time at URI. He would go 35-9 the rest of his tenure in Kingston and raise banners, size rings and put Rhody back on the college basketball map.

After that Fordham loss in 2017, Rhode Island won nine straight games, an Atlantic 10 title and took down Creighton in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

URI would follow up the 2016-17 season with what could be the best team to ever don Keaney Blue. Jared Terrell and E.C. Matthews along with a deep cast of Rams won the first ever A-10 regular season title in 2018. Confetti fell from the rafters, nets were cut and yet another ticket the NCAA Tournament punched.

It’s surreal reading those last couple paragraphs. Especially after my freshman year at URI. It was 2015 and there was so much hype. Matthews was along side fellow junior Hassan Martin and it looked like that would be the year.

It quickly became a year Rhode Island fans won’t forget for the wrong reasons. Matthews tore his ACL just 10 minutes into the year.

Stone Freeman in Pittsburgh after last year’s NCAA Tournament

Wow. That’s it. The University of Rhode Island became the University of Murphy’s Law.

The rest of that season URI played in front of more empty Ryan Center seats than fans most nights. Campus stayed pretty dull. You could show up five minutes before the game and get a prime spot in the student section. The balloon had been deflated.

I watched my Rams religiously but it was only November and it seemed like all eyes were already pointing toward next season. Hurley continued to build a culture. So much so he was rumored for the Rutgers job at the end of the season. Really? Rutgers? That’s a story for another day.

That season came to an end and over the next two seasons, URI didn’t have many downs. Some but not many. There were far more “Kodak moments” than memories we’d like to forget. I saw empty seats turn into standing-room only crowds and students have to wait in line hours in advance in hopes of getting into the game. Rhode Island went from doormat to the penthouse it seemed. We had a culture.

I think back to my freshman year often. The culture was absent. People weren’t upset with losses. They were chalked up as “supposed to happen.” Now, as a soon-to-graduate senior, I see a fanbase that is genuinely concerned about their program and its future. 2018-19 likely won’t end with another round of 32 appearance. But it sure will end with optimism and a continuation of the culture built back in 2014-15.

Stone Freeman following his last game covering as a student in the Ryan Center

I’ve seen top 25 rankings, championships and coaches leave for bigger contracts in my four years at Rhode Island. I’ve also seen the campus become a community, anxiously waiting for the next game like I did as I walked to the Ryan Center for that Fordham game.

The culture has grown in Kingston. You can’t put a price tag on that.