A Shakey Machine

FIU hoops coach Shakey Rodriguez has surrounded himself with coaches and players with bad raps and worse reps -- and it's a losing combination

They got it half right. Talked about? Absolutely. Respected? No.

"Jose has been kicked out of pretty much everywhere he's been," says one former FIU athletic-department employee. "He's not had a great reputation. It's not like he could go anywhere and interview [for a coaching position] and get the job. There's too much baggage there."

The aforementioned freight has been shipped all over the Western Hemisphere, from Nebraska to Venezuela. It includes two personality clashes with two high-profile coaches, two violations of NCAA rules, and two ignominious departures from Division I programs. But he picked up his first carry-on bag while playing point guard for Shakey Rodriguez at Miami Senior High School.

Given that Lucas Barnes (center) is still facing domestic-battery charges, an injured knee is the least of his problems
Michael Marko
Given that Lucas Barnes (center) is still facing domestic-battery charges, an injured knee is the least of his problems
FIU vice president Paul Gallagher is troubled by the conduct of many of his basketball players  --  and coaches
Bill Cooke
FIU vice president Paul Gallagher is troubled by the conduct of many of his basketball players -- and coaches

During his senior year at Miami High, he and forward Cesar Portillo signed letters of intent to attend the University of Florida in Gainesville on basketball scholarships. In 1988 they both joined the Gators as freshmen.

A former UF athletics employee recalls UF head coach Norm Sloan had just given the team a dressing-down about too much trash-talking. "The next day the team was having practice in Athens, Georgia, and Jose started mouthing off to another player," the source says. "Coach Sloan was like, 'Hey, hell with this shit. Didn't we just have a meeting about this?' He got in Jose's face, actually, and Jose sort of took offense. He said something like, 'Don't you fucking touch me, old man, I'll kick your ass!' Sloan was like, 'You don't have to worry about that anymore.'" Numerous news accounts at the time confirm the exchange. Ramos was suspended from the team immediately.

What followed made his departure from UF inevitable. The Educational Testing Service (ETS), which administers the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT), questioned the test scores of both Ramos and Portillo. Specifically they questioned whether the players actually had taken the tests while they were Rodriguez's players at Miami High, or if someone else had taken the tests for them. Although it was never conclusively proven they cheated the first time, both players retook the SAT, and the ETS invalidated their original scores. That was enough for UF. Both players lost their scholarships.

Ramos transferred to Central Florida Community College, where he played well enough to earn a second chance on the big stage, this time at the University of Nebraska.

But the NCAA never forgets. Ramos had played in twelve games at the University of Florida before anyone found out about his bogus SAT score. Because Ramos had been ineligible to play in those games in his freshman year, the NCAA forced him to sit out the first twelve games of his junior year at Nebraska.

Despite the head start his teammates got, Ramos became a key contributor to the Nebraska team of 1990-91, a year in which the team was almost good enough to rise above its second-fiddle status in the land of Cornhusker football. Ramos joined the backcourt rotation, even starting a few games at point guard. That team reached the NCAA tournament, losing in the first round, but by that time, Ramos was off the team -- for eerily familiar reasons.

According to newspaper reports, Ramos and Huskers head coach Danny Nee got into an argument at the Big Eight Conference tournament. Although rumors of a more serious confrontation abound, Ramos told a local reporter he left the team before the tournament because Nee had confronted him about taking two entrées at a team dinner the previous night. Whatever the reason Ramos walked out of a team meeting and never returned to the Nebraska bench. Then, just like at Florida, a more substantive charge emerged.

Before the NCAA tournament, the university ruled Ramos ineligible to play because he and Huskers forward Tony Farmer had received improper gifts, including a car loan, from a Nebraska booster; these constituted clear violations of NCAA rules against players receiving extra benefits.

For a few months, Ramos told the press in Lincoln that he intended to work for his reinstatement at Nebraska. By November 1991, though, he had enrolled at Georgia Southwestern State University, an NAIA school in Americus, Georgia. (The NAIA is a collegiate athletics organization separate from the NCAA. Its members are mostly smaller schools that have fewer sports.)

The FIU media guide says Ramos went on to play professionally in Puerto Rico, Venezuela, and Colombia. In 1995 he received a bachelor's degree from Regents College, a "distance-learning" program that gives credit for life experience as well as class work. Later that year he returned to Miami, working as a substitute teacher for Miami-Dade County Public Schools. In 1996 he hooked up with his old coach.

Jose Ramos did not return calls from New Times seeking comment for this story. Shakey Rodriguez says he was aware of the problems Ramos encountered during his playing career. He says he tried to help steer Ramos in the right direction. "At Florida there were some allegations and different things," he remembers. "When a player calls me on a situation like that, I'm going to help him relocate and regenerate his career. Sometimes kids are kids and are liable to make a mistake in some issues." He remembers what happened at Nebraska as "a difference of opinion" between Ramos and Danny Nee. "Until now I never heard about the car loan," he adds.

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