On Mar. 6, 2012, beloved longtime men’s basketball coach Ray Rankis retired, passing the coach’s torch to John Alesi (’03), associate head coach and famous “basketball alumnus” who scored over 1,000 game points as a Bearcat.
Rankis is the longest-tenured and winningest coach in CUNY Athletic Conference (CUNYAC) history and is second only to Basketball Hall of Famer and City College legend Nat Holman (37 years) in terms of coaching basketball at a CUNY school. During his 29 years, Rankis compiled a 419-361 overall record that included winning the CUNYAC Championship in 2000 and making three appearances in the NCAA Division III tournament (2000, 2006, and 2009). Rankis also coached the team to two Eastern College Athletic Conference (ECAC) Metro Region Postseason Championships, in 2003 and 2010.
Rankis remains Baruch’s director of athletics, overseeing the 14-sport NCAA Division III and recreational program of the Baruch College Bearcats.
But it’s not just his number of years at Baruch or his record that makes Rankis so beloved. It’s his connection to the school and to each of the young men he coached that Baruchians cherish. Catch Ray’s unassuming vibe in his recollections of his first days and year as coach:
Ray Rankis Remembers
I was hired on Nov. 1, 1983, and had only two weeks to prepare before our first game, which was my first official day as head basketball coach.
We practiced in the 69th Regiment Armory on 26th Street. Our daily routine: roll up the tennis courts, roll out the baskets, lower the base of the baskets using a 100-foot extension cord, then raise the rims. The beginning and end of each practice were lost incorporating this 8- to 10-minute protocol and its reverse.
On my second day, no electricity. Hence no baskets and lots of defense practice that day. In other words, we improvised. We learned a lot about improvising in Athletics, especially in the ’80s and ’90s.
On my fourth day, the National Guard and Army Reserve Units were “revving” up the engines of their trucks inside the armory. The exhaust fumes are too pungent to complete practice. The adjutant commander looks at me as if I am crazy; none of my pleas for commonsense or compromise work.
My first team was not a gifted group, but they gave me their best efforts always—or almost always. During one of those rare times when they weren’t, I launched into a tirade at halftime (rare for me). As my players listened to my attempts to inspire better play, I saw a relatively large rat crawling behind them. My dilemma: Do I continue in the moment, or do I let the players know there is a rat behind them?
This is some of what I recollect from my first year at Baruch College.
My most powerful reminiscences, however, involve all the wonderful people I have worked with:
Ralph Sirianni, our equipment manager, who wanted to elevate me to sainthood for getting us out of the armory. Men’s basketball played its next 18 years at Xavier High School on 16th Street. (That’s another chapter for my Baruch coaching memoir.) And now we are in the ARC (Athletics and Recreation Complex). How times have changed.
Burt Beagle, team statistician, historian, mensch. Burt was an alumnus (class of 1956) who gave his time, money, and expertise to our teams. His maddening consistency and efficiency, as well as his need to give back, were an inspiration to me and our athletes.
And the relationships (coaches and colleagues) that will never die: Harvey Jackson, Bill Eng, Gary Siano, Rick Swillinger, John Alesi, John Neves, Al Ford, Joe Williams, Carl Emengo, Mike Dietz, George Kunkel, Stan Simmons, Fred Kettrell, Jake Weitzen, Anwar Baptiste, Anthony Schiff, Kenyatta Pious, Phil Hatchett, Machli Joseph, Vic Jackson, Bill Healy, Jimmy Barrett, Tammer Farid, Joe Cafarelli.
My best friend gave me an assignment once, to write an essay on the routine. Now I know where he was coming from: The routine—the everyday, the interactions—is what makes this all so special.
Now I am off to Frank’s Pizza. It’s another beautiful day at Baruch.