Basketball

Meet the Rutgers basketball player off the bench who is becoming a media star

nj’s Logo

Ralph Gonzales-Agee’s work begins each time the game ends.

Shortly after the final buzzer sounded on a Rutgers win – he does it only after victories – the Scarlet Knights‘ the senior reserve leaves the field with his teammates, then settles into his own small space. At Jersey Mike’s Arena, it’s inside the locker room; on the road, it’s anywhere from the visitors’ locker room to an empty hallway in the bowels of the arena.

Wherever it is, it becomes “Ralph’s Corner”. And the bench warmer, who rarely plays, calls the shots. In the world of Rutgers basketball fans, he’s become a celebrity – the guy at the end of the bench who takes them into locker rooms and into players’ heads. He’ll take a teammate or two – or five – whoever played a key role in the Scarlet Knights victory and put them in front of feature producer Josh Ni’s camera.

When the light comes on, his engaging personality takes over: it’s his contribution to a team and a fan base in the midst of the biggest NCAA tournament in program history.

“He’s got a great personality,” head coach Steve Pikiell said. “He has this great way about him. He has a lot of energy, he’s a positive guy and he’s brought a lot to the team. It is an artist. He’s a loud voice on and off the pitch and he’s just having fun. He’s a fun kid.

The show is a glimpse of the selfless nature that Gonzales-Agee brought to Piscataway. He should be unhappy — a transfer graduate playing his final season of college basketball who averages just 7.4 minutes, plays just 16 games and spends 13 more glued to the bench.

But he’s one of the most outspoken guys in training, not afraid to “let you know if you’re wrong,” teammate Caleb McConnell said. He is the mentor of Cliff Omoruyi and Dean Reiber, two young centers who are ahead of him in the depth rating and directly responsible for his lack of playing time. He is the first guy to come off the bench to celebrate a teammate’s great play. , then stand in front of the camera and congratulate him in the locker room.

He’s a model teammate who never pouts, never asks for more playing time and does what he can to make Rutgers better.

“He’s mature and practical with great energy and spirit around him,” Pikiell said. “He’s a great communicator, as you can see in ‘Ralph’s Corner’. He communicates well with the younger guys and the rest of the team. He’s a really nice, mature guy.

“He wants to win. He wants to win and he’s willing to sacrifice himself and do all those things. I think ‘Ralph’s Corner’ gives you a chance to see that he has a funny personality and a way that his teammates really like him.

Get free bets for March Madness

Discover the best March Madness Betting Sites

Gonzales-Agee’s rise to stardom began when he was approached by Rutgers Assistant Athletic Director for Brand Advancement Andrew Kulihin and Assistant Athletic Director of Communications Chris Corso to do the show.

Kulihan was looking for the spiritual successor to his previous Rutgers player-centric shows like “Jammin’ with Jacob” and “Jammin’ with Joey“, and Gonzales-Agee was perfect for the role.

“With Ralph, the personality has always been there since day one,” Kulihan said. “He took on his own legs midway through the season and we started running with him. His personality brings the team together, creates a bit of excitement and has really helped cap some of our big wins this season. He deserves it .”

The Victorville, Calif. native didn’t know what to expect when he moved across the country last summer, choosing to spend his final season of college basketball at Piscataway. He was excited to play high-level basketball after stops at San Jose State, East Los Angeles Community College junior college, and Division II CSU Dominguez–Hills.

Becoming a fan favorite despite only having spent a total of 118 minutes on the floor, having his own show and being bathed in the love of his followers? It wasn’t on his bingo card.

“A lot of fans love it, they tell me about it and come up to me about it and comment on my Instagram about it,” Gonzales-Agee said. “That’s what we want to do, especially what I want to do: make people happy, make people smile, laugh, change their minds.”

Gonzales-Agee has welcomed nearly every member of the roster into his corner throughout his 10 episodes, asking questions that inevitably make them smile.

He asked guard Paul Mulcahy if he could “see behind his back” after a passing clinic against Ohio State. He did his best Mike Breen Print, shouting “Blocked by McConnell!” after Caleb McConnell’s season-saving blow against the Buckeyes. He welcomed Rutgers signee Derek Simpson to the corner after a victory over Illinois, allowing the incoming freshman to show off his personality to the Scarlet Knights faithful. He has shouted Ni and Kulihingot a cameo by Pikiell and gave back the spotlight to guard Aiden Terry the day after obtaining a scholarship.

And after Wednesday’s huge road win over Indiana, he punctuated Ron Harper Jr.’s response to his game-winning 3-pointer with 2.1 seconds remaining with an apt catchphrase: “Onions: sent them home crying!”

No matter who the guest is, the star is always Gonzales-Agee’s smile and California vernacular on a show where he “keeps it jiggy.” None of this is prepared either.

“That’s just how I talk day to day,” Gonzales-Agee said. “That’s how I talk to my teammates, it’s natural for me. It’s just that I’m really happy to be with them. We have a great group of guys and we love spending time together.

There’s one more fan out there Gonzales-Agee has yet to win: his son Kai, who he calls “the most beautiful walking thing on this Earth.” Kai has yet to watch an episode of “Ralph’s Corner,” but the kid gets multiple FaceTime calls a day from dad.

“He’s thinking about the next toy he’s going to play with, that’s all he’s worried about,” Gonzales-Agee said. “He’ll be super jiggy with that, that’s for sure. He’s growing up, which hurts my heart a little, but he’s doing great. It’s amazing to see the new things he’s doing.

Gonzales-Agee plans to return to Kai and California after his career at Rutgers ends.

His appearances on “Ralph’s Corner” have been a hot topic: Pikiell says there have been calls from people in the business saying Gonzales-Agee should try broadcasting. But while Gonzales-Agee has said he won’t turn down big opportunities, he isn’t pursuing a television career. He wants to become a child social worker and is about to complete his Masters in Social Work this spring.

Considering what he did at Rutgers in his only season at Piscataway, helping others is a fitting profession. On senior day against Penn State on Sunday, he’s sure to receive rapturous applause from a grateful crowd.

And if all goes well for the Scarlet Knights, Gonzales-Agee will get the chance to film one last “Ralph’s Corner” in the Jersey Mike’s Arena locker room, bringing his year-long New Jersey odyssey to a close.

“I’m just blessed to be here,” he said. “I never thought I would be in this position, so I wake up very grateful every day and I’m taking it one day at a time. I’m grateful for the people I meet, the connections I make. J enjoy my time here and I think that was one of the most important things I’ve been to so many different schools and moved to this place, and it’s a place where I feel really welcomed by the fan base and by my teammates, I’m just blessed to be here every day.

Thank you for counting on us to deliver journalism you can trust.

Brian Fonseca can be reached at [email protected].