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Photo courtesy of Cleveland State University
In honor of every underdog team looking to knock off a top seed in this year’s NCAA tournament, we tracked down players who came from obscurity to pull off a stunning upset—and then, usually, returned to obscurity. Here we speak with Clinton Ransey, who led the 1986 Cleveland State University Vikings in points as they upset a Bob Knight-coached Indiana team.
Clinton Ransey sealed the win with a brick.
With 10 seconds remaining on the game clock, a Ramsey free throw clanged off the rim, made a thud against the backboard and fell into the hands of Indiana’s Winston Morgan. Morgan turned, streaked down the court and sailed a pass to the right wing, where teammate Steven Alford caught it on the run and finished with a layup.
Missed free throws late in a game can kill a team, but in this case, Ransey’s mishap didn’t matter. His Vikings’ team still led by four points, and the Hoosiers couldn’t stop the clock. Time expired just a few moments after Alford’s meaningless shot, and 14th-seeded Cleveland State notched the biggest upset in the history of its program with a 83-79 win over third-ranked Indiana.
That brick at the free throw line aside, Ransey had posted a huge performance against a Big Ten powerhouse that many predicted would crush the Vikings, finishing with a game-high 27 points on 60 percent shooting. He followed that with a 17-point effort against sixth-seeded St. Joseph, leading Cleveland State into the round of sixteen in its first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance.
That’s when the Vikings’ magic ran into a 7’3” wall in the shape of David Robinson, then the center for Navy. The Admiral sunk Cleveland State’s improbable run with a buzzer beating shot that gave his Midshipmen a 71-70 win.
After some years playing in development leagues, Ransey today lives in Toledo, Ohio, where he is a musician and a truck driver for Pepsi. He says on most days he makes deliveries to convenience stores and gas stations, then heads home to spend time with his daughter and granddaughter.
What follows are his memories from that tournament run, and thoughts about where his life has taken him since.
“As a young person, your attitude is that you can’t be beat. You always have the attitude that, no matter who you play, you can beat them.
“A lot of the athletes who were on our team were overlooked by the big major colleges, so that was another thing that pushed us. We said, ‘OK, you didn’t want us, look at what we can do now.’
“We weren’t an automatic bid. I think we had 27 wins at the time of the tournament, but we still were very unsure if we were going to get in.
“Once we heard our name called, the room erupted. We didn’t know who we were playing— the room was so loud that we didn’t even know. Once coach told us who we were going to play (Indiana), it was no big deal to us. Because, again, being young and arrogant, we knew we could play basketball, and felt we could win.
“[Against the Hoosiers], we never slowed down as far as the type of basketball we played. We ran the whole time we played. We’d try to score 1,000 points a game if we could.
“The win a first for Cleveland State, and it was big for the city of Cleveland. People went crazy. I heard they had to shut down Euclid Avenue—kids were running in the street.
“There was a lot of congratulations when we got back [after the tournament]. Since my freshman year, Coach [Kevin] Mackey had us very involved with the city. [The tournament run] was something that just added to what we already had. The reaction and the celebration was great at the time. But as far as relationship with the city, I don’t think that changed because we already had great ties with the city.
“After spending the summer [after college] with the Cavaliers, I ended up playing in the World Basketball League (for the Youngstown Pride and Florida Jays) for five and a half years. I was going to go overseas to play, but that didn’t go as planned. So I changed to music and used that as an out.
“I play the bass guitar. I’ve played for my church, and I’ve released one jazz CD, entitled Relationships. I call it mood music. It’s more relaxing, soothing, mediatory type music where it eases the mind and takes stress away.
“Once I get my degree at Cleveland State, I want to become a college basketball coach. [Editor’s note – Ransey didn’t finish his degree during the ‘80s—his father passed away during his freshman year, forcing him to spend summers during school helping his mother. He says that prevented him from making up the credits he’d missed because of the team’s rigorous schedule.]
“I’ve done some coaching around Toledo, and did AAU under Jim Jackson. I also mentored some of the kids that are going to be coming out of high school this year. I also did some personal training and camps as well. I’m very much a part of basketball, and basketball is very much a part of me. I plan on continuing it.”