Ron Ritter

Year: 1963 - 1967
Position: Forward
Hometown: Cranford, NJ

Ron Ritter was a Forward for the UConn Huskies from 1963 – 1967. Ron and his brother, Al, both played basketball for the University of Connecticut between 1960 – 1967. I spoke to Ron in April 2005, about his basketball experiences, and his post-collegiate experiences.

Ron grew up in Cranford, a little town in Northern New Jersey. There wasn’t a lot for kids to do in Cranford so Ron and his brother spent a lot of time playing sports. Geographically, so close to New York City, Ron said, “We took the train or bus to Brooklyn, NY on weekends where there was an enormous complex of outdoor basketball courts, where everyone from NYC who was anybody in basketball showed up to play. You just got on a team, and you played, so we were always playing against people who were much better than we were. You always got better by playing against somebody that’s better than you are, so we were constantly challenged with really good ball players.”

When Ron reached high school he had as a junior varsity coach, Hubie Brown who in April of 2005, it was announced that he would be inducted into the Springfield, Massachusetts Basketball Hall of Fame. On the varsity team Ron had the opportunity to play for head coach Bill Martin, who has coached for 40 plus years, and is considered the best high school coach in New Jersey. The assistant varsity coach was Rollie Massimino who later became head coach at Villanova University and won a National Championship while there. “It was a little hard to fail with these coaches,” Ron said.

While at Cranford High School, Ron’s teams were always in the state tournament, and went to the finals one year but never won the state championship. Ron was a well-known player in high school, and remembered going to away games at other schools seeing signs made by students at the opposing school, “Let’s have Ritter Fritter” and “Let’s shut down Ritter”.

Ron was heavily recruited by colleges—Davidson College in North Carolina, New York University, and some west coast schools were among them. Surprisingly, he was not recruited by UConn, where his brother was already playing. Uconn’s head coach, Hugh Greer, had died, and the team was going through some interim coaches. Ron made the decision to attend Davidson where the coach was Lefty Driesell, who later coached at Maryland University. UConn then hired Fred Shabel as head coach, who soon contacted Ron to recruit him, apologizing that Ron had not been contacted sooner by UConn. Ron reconsidered his decision to go to Davison, and called Coach Driesell to let him know that the University of CT was offering him a scholarship that he was going to accept. “It was a very difficult decision. I had to tell Lefty that I had decided to go to CT, that CT was really where my heart was.”

At UConn Ron was a member of the best freshman basketball UConn team, which included Dick Thompson, Bill Holowaty, Ron Ritter, Wes Bialosuknia, PJ Curran and Tommy Penders. He said, “It was a major transition going from high school to college because you have to find your role. I realized pretty quick that while I was really good in high school, there were some people at UConn that were just as good if not better than me, so if I wanted to play a lot, I better find my role.” Ron became the “defensive specialist”. “My job was going to be to take the shot when I had it, make sure Wes gets good shots, and feed the ball to Toby Kimball.” Ron realized he wasn’t going to score 30 points a game like in high school, he wasn’t going to be the star of the team, but understanding his role quickly, he was a starter all four years.

A memorable game for Ron while at UConn was a game in his junior year when they played Rutgers University in New Jersey, where Ron grew up. “I had one of those nights where everything I threw up there, went in the basket. I scored about 27 points that night. It was like a homecoming, a lot of people were there from my hometown, and I had a great night.”

The biggest disappointment for Ron at UConn was during his junior year, after a playoff game against the University of Rhode Island, to decide which team would go to the National Collegiate Athletic Association Tournament. UConn lost in a game that was decided by the last shot. The team assumed it would go to the National Invitational Tournament, which was almost as big as the NCAA’s at that time. “We thought we were good enough to go to the NIT. We thought we could win the NIT. I’ll never forget, after the game we were in the locker room. We were disappointed we wouldn’t be going to the NCAA, but we were excited that our season was going to continue, going to the NIT. The governor of the state, Governor Dempsey, and Coach Shabel walked in, and announced to the team that because we were committed to the NCAA’s, we would not accept the bid we had received to the NIT. That was devastating for us. It ended our season.”

Ron graduated from UConn with a Bachelors Degree in Marketing in 1967. The Vietnam War was going strong, and the draft board kept calling him. He really didn’t want to go in the army or to Vietnam so he joined the Navy, the Supply Corp. With his business degree he would be a part of the business arm of the Navy. Ron went to Officer Candidate School in Newport, Rhode Island working towards an officer position in the Navy, followed by Supply School in Athens, Georgia to learn how to be a Supply Officer, and was supposed to end up stationed in Norfolk, Virginia where he would have the opportunity to play some basketball in the Navy. Surprisingly, his orders to Virginia were canceled, and he was sent to Vietnam in the Mekong Delta. Ron spent a year in a squadron of river patrol boats with people shooting at him, and Ron shooting back. The highlight while there was a visit from a group of National Basketball Association players to play some pick up games one night. Ron was able to participate, and knew some of the players from playing against them throughout college. The players were quite surprised to find Ron in Vietnam.

While in Vietnam, Ron had taken a few shots to his knees, survived, but damaged his knees.

After Ron fulfilled his Navy obligation, he had to decide what to do for the rest of his life. He and a lot of other guys he knew opted to stay in the Navy. “We decided maybe we could, if we got to be senior officers, we could affect the decision making so that we would never send people like me to places like Vietnam again.” He stayed in the Navy for 20 years, and had a great career, retired in 1988 as a Commander. Ron spent a good part of those 20 years in Washington in enjoyable and responsible positions, and played some Industrial League basketball too, eventually hurting his knee, requiring knee replacement, which ended his playing days.

After retiring from the Navy, Ron joined two other people to start up a company called “Earl Industries,” a shipyard, fixing ships for the Navy, where Ron is a Senior Vice President. During the past 17 years it has grown to 850 employees. The company’s main shipyard is in Portsmouth, Virginia, with other facilities in Florida and San Diego, California.

Ron’s thoughts on how the UConn team has changed over the years. “I like to think that we set the foundation for the success that they’ve achieved over the last few decades. I think CT has always had a great tradition of excellent basketball.” His thoughts on the current team are that Josh Boone is phenomenal, and they have great guard strength. They were a young team this past year, and will get better. Ron is looking for great things from them next year. “They have tremendous talent.”

Ron believes that the reason why Jim Calhoun is such a great coach is because he’s able to take these superstars, and meld them into a team. “In my view, his genius is his ability to take these McDonald All Americans, and make them play as a team, and make them find their role. He’s done a marvelous job doing it.”

Ron continues to follow the UConn basketball teams, and also enjoys following the University of Virginia, where his daughters went to college. He’s very happy about the recent announcement that former UConn Associate Head Coach Dave Leitao has been named the new head coach at the University of VA. “I think Dave Leitao can be the next Jim Calhoun. He tutored under him for many years. He played for him, and he can do some great things in VA.”

Ron and his wife, Debbie, met while at UConn. They were married 38 years ago, while Ron was home for a two-week break from the Navy before going to Vietnam. Debbie is an elected City Councilwoman in their hometown of Chesapeake, Virginia. They have three daughters. Courtney, age 35, is a graduate of Mary Washington College and resides in Suffolk, Virginia with her husband and three sons, Jack age 5, Sam age 2, and Thomas 6 months old. Caroline, age 29, is a graduate of the University of Virginia, and is currently working in Washington, DC for “The Corporate Executive Board,” a “think tank” company. Hilary, age 27, is also a graduate of the University of Virginia, and is in her second year at Fordham University School of Law in NYC, and is engaged to be married in 2006.

Ron ended our conversation saying, “I look back on my four years at UConn, and I lived off those four years in both my military, and business careers. I learned leadership skills. I learned how to lose, how to be a part of a team, how to understand what your assets are, and make them a part of the team. That has stood me well in war, peace, and business without question. I learned more in those four years at CT then I’ve learned in the next 40 years.”