Those who watch the Rams play on television may recognize Abu Bakr ’73, M.S. ’84, M.B.A.’88 as a member of Cox’s broadcast team, but his involvement goes much deeper than that. A transfer from Duke University in 1970, Bakr’s achievements on the basketball court didn’t end at URI, as he went on to pursue a successful career in Europe as well. After completing his basketball career, Bakr returned to URI, where he earned an M.S. in Human Development, Counseling and Family Studies, and an M.B.A. and was a prominent member of the University’s administration until his recent retirement. Having been a member of URI’s basketball team, Bakr holds close to him certain unique memories from his playing days. He recalls the team’s final game at Keaney, in which players and fans gathered on the court afterwards for a ceremonial photograph, as an official way of saying goodbye. He also remembers fondly URI’s first game at the Ryan Center, a 73–71 overtime upset over USC, back in 2002. Bakr has a special eye for the game and for those with tremendous talent and potential. Lamar Odom, who was part of the historic 1998 team, stands out in Bakr’s mind in particular. He recalls seeing Odom for the first time and simply being “astonished at his talent,” adding that there was “a lot of excitement on campus” that year. Despite working television broadcasts for games, Bakr remains a season ticket holder and considers himself a fan as much as a commentator and former player.
Joe Graf ’88 is as passionate a URI sports fan as you will come across. A season ticket holder since 1990 (a season he would prefer to forget), he attends all the team’s home games, in addition to as many road games as he can fit into his schedule. He travels from Glocester, R.I. and has braved brutal snowstorms to make it to the arena even when there have been just a few hundred people in attendance. “I do not miss any games,” he proudly stated. As is the case for many fans, the ’98 season is one that has stuck with him throughout the years, though he describes the team’s eventual defeat to Stanford as a “heartbreaking loss.” Graf is a board member of the Fast Break Club, and is optimistic about what lies ahead for the basketball program. “I’m looking forward to what’s in store for the future,” he said. Part of what makes being a season ticket holder in a community like URI so special are the bonds with fellow fans formed while spending time together. “I see a lot of the same people at games over the years, and enjoy talking to them beforehand,” Graf said, adding that he has made many new friends as well. He views the Ryan Center as a symbol of the state’s growing interest and investment in the team, and hopes that commitment continues to grow in the future. “URI basketball is a warm, friendly environment, and a great way to spend the night with the family.”
Louise Pearson is a classic example of true commitment and dedication to the University of Rhode Island. Though she is not an alumna, she is as much a part of the community, both academically and athletically, as anyone who attended the University. Pearson came with her late husband (J. Lincoln Pearson, a plant scientist at URI) to Rhode Island nearly 50 years ago in 1965, from Penn State, and has been an integral part of the community ever since. She is a firm believer in public support of state schools. “The state needs to take ownership of its public schools,” she said, adding, “Sports are a perfect way to connect with the community.” Pearson is a season ticket holder for both the men’s and women’s basketball teams, and is a regular attendee at both. She is a member of URI’s Fast Break Club, and was honored with the 2013 6th Player Award on behalf of the women’s team. She sits across from the bench, but prefers not to listen too closely to some of the verbal banter on the sidelines. One of Pearson’s favorite memories is that of the historic 1998 season, which saw the Rams make it all the way to the Elite 8 in the NCAA tournament, before suffering a 79–77 loss to Stanford. While the success of that season has certainly stuck with Pearson, it is the personal memories she cherishes most, as she and a group of fellow URI fans made the trip to St. Louis that year to cheer on their Rams. Having been a member of the campus community for such a long time, Pearson is able to recall memories of former players, such as Sly Williams, Tommy Garrick, and Kenny Green, and their days playing at Keaney, before the team’s move to the Ryan Center in 2002.