Growing up, Kevin Ralph spent many a night watching Drew basketball games with his older brother, dreaming of one day playing at that level himself. Determined to get there, he devoted himself intensely to his work on the court, practicing his three-pointers and developing his skills as a tremendous offensive player. When his game flourished in his high-school senior year—he was averaging 21.6 points and 8.5 rebounds per game—that dream came true.
Drew University got lucky and landed the 6’,5” boy who’d been watching their games since middle school. By the time he left Drew four years later, Ralph was one of three players in Drew history to have scored at least 1,350 points and have 450 rebounds with 1,366 career points (ranking 5th in school history) and 479 rebounds (ranking 7th). The hours he spent practicing three pointers in high school paid off, too: he ranked 1st in three point field goals in a single game (8 against Washington and Jefferson) and in free throw percentage in a season (.842 in 1992-93). He graduated at 5th in career free throws made (242) and 9th in career scoring average (14.2).
Likewise, Ralph says he felt lucky to be playing at Drew University, where his older brother had been a tennis star several years before him. The school gave him the best of both things he was looking for in college: competitive college basketball and top-notch academics. “Our coaches made it clear that our academics came first,” he notes. “But the faculty also really understood the importance of athletics.”
It’s the people Ralph played with at Drew who also earned his respect. “Being on a team teaches you how to deal with adversity, as well as the importance of relationships and being accountable to people,” says Ralph, who was co-captain his junior and senior years. “It made me value friendship and trust. It’s nice to have that foundation to go back to.”
Ralph was largely inspired by two basketball players—Drew’s Jack Rivetti C’92 and the late New Jersey Nets superstar Drazen Petrovic. The Nets player died in a car accident in the summer before Ralph’s senior year, leading him to change his jersey number from 42 to 3 in Petrovic’s honor.
Ralph’s good-nature, wholehearted devotion and team spirit helped him land the coveted Harry Simester Character Award in his senior year—the year he was also named team MVP. “I was shocked by winning that award,” he recalls today. “I had met Coach Simester when my brother was at Drew, but he passed away before I won the award. I wrote his wife a note when I got the award, and she used to come see me at games when I was coaching. It all meant a lot to me.”
The grandson of an East Rutherford mayor and nephew of a Congressman, Ralph felt natural majoring in political science. “Politics was always interesting to me,” he says. “I like the competition in it. I love the edge of competitiveness—in basketball and in politics.”
However, it was his basketball connections, not his choice of study, that eventually landed him in a fundraising career. After graduation, Ralph stuck around campus, working as an assistant coach for the basketball team for six seasons (1994-2000) and head JV coach for two (1995-97). In 1995-96, Coach Ralph helped the team qualify for the Middle Atlantic Conference (MAC) playoffs for the first time in school history, advancing the team to the ECAC Tournament. The next year, his coaching joys continued, as the team finished with a 19-9 record (tying the school record for wins) and again advanced to the MAC playoffs and won the ECAC post-season championship.
During Ralph’s coaching career, Drew was building up to a capital campaign, and a spot opened up for him in the alumni office—an opportunity for him to begin learning about development. “I already understood the idea of the sales pitch from recruiting for the basketball team as a coach,” he says. It was an easy transition. Today, he’s the chief development officer at Matheny Medical and Educational Center in Peapack, N.J.
Ralph met his wife, Beth Bowman, at Drew, where she was a field hockey player. They’ve been married for 10 years and have one son, Sawyer, 1, who recently received his first basketball hoop as a gift from his grandparents. It’s too early to tell if Sawyer will follow in Dad’s basketball footsteps, but if he does, Ralph might find himself in a coaching role once more.