Robert "Spider" Ursery
Year: 1985 - 1988
Position: Forward
Hometown: St. Louis, MO

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 really good?”

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 teammates.”

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.”

A Great Legend Will Be Missed

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.

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