Robert “Spider” Ursery was a Forward for the UConn Huskies from 1985 –
1988. He was Co-Captain of the team in his senior year when the team won
its first ever National Invitational Tournament Championship in 1988. I
had the opportunity to talk to Spider in June 2006, as he reflected on his
basketball and life experiences.
Robert was given the nickname “Spider” by his parents as a baby because he
was very small, eventually the smallest of six children. He is now more
known as Spider than Robert. As a youngster, Spider was more interested in
reading, creating art work (drawing pictures and painting), and riding his
bike than participating in sports.
Spider was the second oldest of six kids. His older sister didn’t play
sports, and his mother and father worked a lot so he hadn’t been
introduced to sports. By the time he reached junior high school the kids
would tease him because he didn’t know how to play basketball. Spider went
to the library and read a book defining the fundamentals of the game, and
began teaching himself how to set screens, and play defense. He’d go to
the schoolyard and wait to be picked on a team, but was often selected
last. During games kids wouldn’t pass the ball to him. Spider decided to
practice alone. “I began to wait until everybody went home, and the court
was cleared, or I’d wake up early, and go to the school to practice before
school started.” Applying what he learned from reading, Spider practiced
making baskets close to the hoop, from the left side, from the right side,
in the middle, and worked his way outward. At the end of the day he laid
on the floor at home practicing his form. He even started dunking the
basketball, and became pretty good at the sport.
Entering Northwest High School in St. Louis, Missouri, Spider had never
played in an organized game and started on the freshman team. He averaged
15 points and 10 rebounds per game. His name and reputation began becoming
more well known, and his confidence was growing as he became a better
basketball player. As a sophomore he played on the varsity team, and
during his junior and senior years he was averaging 25 points per game. “I
started getting phone calls, and it wasn’t girls calling, it was coaches.
Co-workers of my parents would ask them if they had gone to the game the
night before to see me play, and they’d respond, ‘no.’ Soon my parents
realized I must be pretty good.” College coaches who were at his high
school games to watch other players saw Spider play, and wanted to know
more about him. Spider received more phone calls, and over 100 recruiting
letters. Former UConn assistant coach Howie Dickenmann who at the time was
an assistant at Canisius College in Buffalo, New York was interested. But
Spider wasn’t. “I’m not going to Buffalo, New York. It’s two cold up
there. You think I want to go to Buffalo when I can be on TV right here in
St Louis?” he said. Spider’s most memorable game while in high school was
when his team beat Lincoln-Illinois High School, a team that included many
“All Americans” who were getting recruited to play at the college level.
Spider narrowed his college decision making choices to Iowa University
because he liked the head coach Lute Olsen (current Arizona Wildcats Head
Coach), and Indiana University with head coach Bobby Knight (current Texas
Tech head coach). Spider opted to go to Iowa because the team had gone to
the National Collegiate Athletic Association Final Four the previous year,
and it was only five hours from his home. After Spider had committed to
Iowa, Lute Olsen left to go to Arizona. During Spider’s first year at Iowa
he was medically red shirted because of a disc problem in his back. Spider
left Iowa, and due to NCAA eligibility rules, in order for Spider to have
three years left to play Division I basketball he went to Hutchinson
Junior College in Templeton, Missouri for a year where his team won 26
games in a row. Coach Howie Dickenmann was now an assistant at UConn, and
still interested in him. “This time I’m not going to let fear keep me from
something that might be good for me. Maybe I need a change so I jumped on
a plane, and came to Connecticut. At the time UConn wasn’t doing very well
but you have to think, do you want to be a part of something that could be
While at Uconn, Spider’s first year was with head coach Dom Perno. The
next year was Coach Calhoun’s first year. While at UConn Spider enjoyed
beating Syracuse at the Syracuse Dome, being co-captain of the team,
having a 20-win season, and winning the NIT Championship his senior year.
Spider is happy with the decision he made to go to UConn. He enjoys the
friendships he made, and is proud of the education, and the Bachelors
Degree in Economics he earned while at UConn.
When asked about his thoughts on Coach Calhoun Spider said, “He’s very
dedicated and out to get the job done. He has evolved over the years. When
he came in he had something to prove, and he has proven himself.”
In response to how the team has changed Spider said, “The team has enjoyed
great success so now the players coming in are all players that believe
they’re going to be playing in the National Basketball Association.”
Spider said, "In order for UConn to get back to the NCAA Final Four
they’re going to need some players that are going to stay around, not
leave to go to the NBA. You need players that have been playing as a team
for awhile, that are unselfish, willing to pass the ball, and trust their
Spider is married with children, and has been a Probation Officer in
Hartford, Connecticut since 1993. In 2004 he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s
disease. In November 2005, he had a bone marrow transplant, and is
recovering from that. “The fighter instinct and spirit I had playing
basketball, I now have to have with my health more than then, because now
it’s a fight for my life.”
Robert "Spider" Ursery, Jr.
Ascended into Heaven Sunday, August 3, 2008.
Known as "Spider" he played forward (#31) for the UCONN Huskies from 1985 - 1988. His unwavering faith, perseverance and amazing courage to fight on against incredible odds is an encouragement and inspiration to us all.
To read "Spider's" obituary in pdf click here.
Go online and sign the guest book click here.