KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Gerald called. If he can’t be there in person, Gerald usually does. Be humble, he’d said. Be gracious. Share the love with those who helped carry the flag.
“He just talked to me about life,” La Salle guard Ramon Galloway says of his Saturday morning conversation with his father. “He congratulated me on the win (over Kansas State). He just told me to keep going. He told me to congratulate my teammates, congratulate the coach and stuff.
“I mean, I think my Dad is living in the moment, like I am. He’s extremely happy, because this doesn’t come around too often.”
Basketball, like life, is a vision game. And for a blind man, Gerald Galloway sees the game better than most.
“Because whenever I’m doing something I’m not supposed to do, after the game (he’ll) always tell me,” Ramon said. “He just knows the swings of the game, because he played the game before. He just has a great feel for it.”
We come for the office pools, the Cinderellas, the prayers. We stay for the stories. The Explorers are the quintessential 13 seed, the kind of NCAA tournament tale you can hitch your heart to, now that your bracket’s in tatters.
La Salle is a private Catholic school in northwest Philly, enrollment 7,300, a program that played in two Final Fours here at Kansas City in ’54 and ’55 — they won it all in ’54 — but hadn’t been back to the Big Dance since 1992. Between 1993-2011, the Explorers posted just two winning seasons and zero postseason appearances. Nationally, they were lost in the margins, an afterthought.
Coach John Giannini, a Chicago native with a doctorate from Illinois and a specialization in sports psychology, arrived on the scene before the 2004-05 season. A former Lou Henson assistant, Giannini put his stamp on things, bit by bit, showing a penchant for detail, communication and caviar dreams. He has the Explorers take a giant poster of Muhammad Ali with them on every road trip, a blown-up photograph with one of the legendary boxer’s most famous quotes emblazoned across the bottom:
“Champions aren’t made in gyms. Champions are made from something they have deep inside them — a desire, a dream, a vision. They have to have the skill, and the will. But the will must be stronger than the skill.”
“That’s our saying: ‘Just remember, the will is better than the skill,'” guard Tyrone Garland noted. “We just have it up there to remind us about will and heart.”
Heart, La Salle had. But it was only after Galloway, a 6-foot-3 shot machine with a feathery release, came back home to Philly in 2011 that the Explorers took that critical, next step forward.
“He was the perfect player at the perfect time for us,” La Salle coach John Giannini allowed. “We really thought that if Ramon got that waiver, he might give us enough experience, enough depth to make us a legitimately good team, quicker than most people would think. And that’s what happened.”
Because of his family — a blind father, a grandfather still waiting for a liver transplant, a brothers in legal scrapes — the NCAA granted Ramon a hardship waiver so that he could play immediately after transferring in from South Carolina. The Explorers are 44-22 with two postseason berths since.
“The record,” Giannini said, “speaks for itself.”
This one does, too: La Salle is 13-3 this season when Ramon nets 18 points or more — and his 19 points Friday at Sprint Center set the wheels in motion for a 63-61 upset of the fourth-seeded Wildcats.
“You would think he’d be the cocky type, since he’s such an all-star,” freshman forward Rohan Brown says of Galloway, the Explorers’ top scorer (17.0 per game) and assist man (3.8). “Honestly, he’s the most down-to-earth person I know. He’s cool.
“He’s always hyper. I don’t know how else to say it. He’s always yelling, screaming, jumping around. There’s nothing that can hold him down. He’s always optimistic about everything.”
So that glass: Half-empty? Half-full?
“I think his glass is ALL-full,” Brown replies.
Ramon is 22. A wise 22. A mature 22. Galloway has a 3-year-old son in Florida, where he went to finish high school in order to get out of Philly and clear his head.
After drawing raves at William T. Dwyer High School in West Palm Beach, Fla., Ramon hooked on with then-Gamecocks coach Darrin Horn. But as the situation back in Philly worsened — his older brother, Gerald Galloway, III, was imprisoned in January 2011 for robbery and another brother, Kadar Gates Davis, was jailed last May — Ramon had a change of heart.
He wanted to get back north. He wanted to be a stabilizing, unifying force for a family that had become increasingly fractured.
“Fast forward to transferring from South Carolina,” Giannini says. “Now he’s been away from home five years or so, five, six years. He leaves when he’s 14, 15, comes back as a 20-year-old or so. Now he comes back a man. Now he comes back focused and prepared to deal with some things.”
The disagreement was over money, or so the story goes. A neighbor had cornered the elder Galloway, grabbed a pump-action shotgun, and fired at Gerald’s head. The last thing Ramon’s father saw with his own two eyes was the man who wanted to kill him.
“My mom always told me what happened, and my mom always kept me in tune to what was going on, as far as my father’s incident,” Ramon says. “So when I grew up and it was time for me to understand, I wasn’t like, ‘Wow.’ I understood. And when Dad sat down to talk to me about everything that happened, I was like, ‘Wow.’
“I was just happy that he’s alive. Anytime that somebody gets shot in the head with a shotgun, you don’t make it. It’s not possible. So I’m just extremely blessed to still have him here, to still have my mom. I know some of my family members didn’t even talk to each other (before) all my success and me coming back, you know? So I’m just extremely happy that we stuck together.”
Ramon was 2 at the time of the shooting. It would be years before he realized his father had lost his eyesight; that’s how well Gerald knew the game, how well Gerald knew the streets of Philadelphia.
“You can call him up and he knows everywhere to go in Philly, still,” guard D.J. Peterson says. “Even though he’s been blind for quite some time, he knows everything about Philly, still.”
What Gerald couldn’t provide, in terms of time or guidance, Ramon’s grandfather, Carlus Moore, did. As a child, the younger Galloway would accompany Moore on his many truck-driving routes around the East Coast.
As they traveled, the two would talk for hours on end. Sports. Music. Philosophy. Anything.
“I think that helped me out a lot,” Ramon says. “A lot of people in Philly don’t get to go out (of) their own neighborhood . . . it didn’t make me scared to travel, so I was always willing to travel, to see something different.”
Moore showed Galloway the power of wisdom, the joy of faith, a will stronger than the skill. Before the 2011-12 season, doctors had told Moore he had liver cancer. That he had six months to live, tops.
He’s still here. So are the Explorers, with Galloway at the fore, smiling with every blessed step.