Michael Frazier, Matt Ramker hope player-agent bond pays off at NBA draft

Florida guard Michael Frazier gets a dunk on the fast break during the last minute in the second half in the regional semifinal of the 2014 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at the FedExForum in Memphis, Tennessee on March 27, 2014. Florida defeated UCLA 79 to 68. [OCTAVIO JONES   |   Times 
Florida guard Michael Frazier gets a dunk on the fast break during the last minute in the second half in the regional semifinal of the 2014 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at the FedExForum in Memphis, Tennessee on March 27, 2014. Florida defeated UCLA 79 to 68. [OCTAVIO JONES | Times ]
Published June 21, 2015

Michael Frazier was well aware of what most were thinking. • When he announced in March that he would forgo his senior season at Florida and enter the NBA draft, he was barely on the NBA radar. You couldn't find his name on any mock drafts. NBA and college draft analysts questioned the wisdom of the decision. • Frazier was coming off a season in which he sustained a severely sprained ankle Feb. 7, missed seven games and played sparingly — and in pain — the final three games of the season. UF won just 16 games and failed to make the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2009. • The Tampa native knew the general perception was there was no way he would get drafted. • "I knew what people were saying, but it didn't really matter to me," he said. "I knew that if I could get the opportunity to show what I could do, I would make the most of it. … My concern was just getting into the combine, just getting an opportunity to get into the combine. I knew that if I could just get into that, everything else would take care of itself."

There was at least one person who didn't think Frazier, 21, was making a mistake — local sports agent Matt Ramker, who has dealt with his own share of detractors in the past.

Frazier and his father, Michael Sr., chose Ramker and his ASM Sports agency shortly after Frazier made the move. Ramker and Frazier knew of each other from the AAU circuit — Frazier played at Plant High before transferring to Montverde Academy near Orlando for his senior year — and that level of familiarity played a role in the decision to join forces.

"I had always liked his game back when he was in high school because he was arguably one of the best shooters in the country," Ramker, 34, said. "And the way the game is evolving now, shooters are at a premium.

"What I learned about Frazier via some of my contacts at UF was he was in the gym at 1 o'clock in the morning shooting, that he basically slept in the gym. Those kind of traits are traits of guys that I want to be involved with, because they give themselves a better chance to be successful."

So far, it has been a positive move for both. Frazier, who averaged around 12 points a game his sophomore and junior seasons as a Gator, credits Ramker with the vast exposure he has gained since he declared for the draft. By the time of the draft, Thursday in Brooklyn, N.Y., Frazier will have had 14 workouts with NBA teams: Philadelphia, Dallas, Denver, Atlanta, San Antonio, Houston, Minnesota, Charlotte, Memphis, Phoenix, Detroit, Utah, Miami and the Los Angeles Lakers.

And yes, Ramker got Frazier an invite to the all-important NBA combine.

"From an exposure standpoint, he's really maxed out his opportunities," Ramker said.

And Frazier is now being mentioned in several mock drafts as a potential second-round pick.

Becoming an agent had long been a dream for Ramker. He has been involved in basketball most of his life. He and his father ran the prestigious St. Petersburg prep tournament, the Hooters Holiday Shootout, when Ramker was at Clearwater High. He was a team manager at USF and interned at IMG Academy in Bradenton.

But the transition didn't quite happen as he had planned.

In 2012, the NCAA banned the St. Petersburg-based Adidas Florida Rams AAU team, founded by Ramker, from participating in NCAA-sanctioned events because of the team's association with a sports agent (current ASM president Andy Miller). The NCAA found that the rule against allowing agents or AAU coaches to have "undue influence on prospective student-athletes" had been violated. That moved up the timetable on Ramker's career change.

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"Unfortunately my situation is well-publicized with the NCAA issues that I had, so the choice was pretty much made for me at that point," Ramker said. "And I'm happy where I'm at and excited to be working with the guys that I have. I would have liked for it to have been on my own terms, but that was around the same time frame that I was going to make a move."

Ramker said clients will occasionally ask about his past with the NCAA — after all, they just have to Google his name and it pops up. He has refused to shy away from it.

"It comes up, and I'm pretty open with it," he said. "I don't hide from it because it really has no impact on my current business being an agent. All the negative publicity was more towards me as an AAU coach, so we've stepped out of the shadow of all of those issues."

Ramker's Florida Rams often attended the same tournaments as Frazier's Florida Elite team. Inevitably, they ended up on some of the same flights and in some of the same hotels. So he got to see Frazier up close.

"He is an extremely hard worker, a very tough-minded, driven young man that has a passion to be successful," Ramker said.

Frazier knew of Ramker, but they were not friends by any stretch of the imagination. But when Frazier Sr. narrowed his son's choices for an agent to two, Ramker was among them.

When the three met about potentially hiring Ramker, Frazier Sr. wanted someone who would be totally honest about the entire process, not someone "selling him a bunch of hoop dreams." And he wanted someone affiliated with an agency with a track record for prolonging players' careers.

"There was some history with Matt, and then there were some other relationships we had with people who also knew him and were very near and dear to us as well," Frazier Sr. said of Ramker, who now coincidentally lives about a mile from him in Clearwater.

"We all sort of ran in the same circles and because of that familiarity it sort of helped with this process, and we were very comfortable with him. … I knew some people who knew him, and I just felt very comfortable with him."

Frazier is not the only local player Ramker is representing in this year's draft.

Louisiana Tech point guard Kenny "Speedy" Smith, a former standout at Boca Ciega, hired Ramker in April after a vetting process of five agencies conducted by Hooters CEO Neil Kiefer, an attorney and former assistant coach at Boca Ciega who also is certified as an agent.

There already were family ties that enabled Ramker to connect with Smith. Ramker's father, Allyn, was the athletic director when Smith's father won a state title with the Pirates in 1986. Ramker also was practically raised in Boca Ciega's program.

"I got to know Matt through his father and pretty much watched him grow up," Pirates coach Randy Shuman said. "He was always a go-getter and driven on what he wanted to do. Matt's definitely had some bumps in the road, but I think he's finally starting to find his niche in this sporting world."

Smith was an unheralded prospect out of high school. In fact, Ramker never invited him to join his AAU team. The offers from colleges were limited. Because of that, Smith decided to go to Louisiana Tech and play for Mike White, now the coach at Florida.

Given the chance to play immediately, Smith developed into one of the top point guards in the country. He finished as the Bulldogs' all-time career leader in assists (858) and steals (258) and was the Conference USA player of the year.

Still, that doesn't guarantee Smith will be drafted. Ramker has helped Smith gain exposure, scheduling workouts with Boston, Dallas, Detroit, the L.A. Lakers, Phoenix, Portland and Utah.

"I have to prove myself again," Smith said. "But I like that. I like going into things underrated. I just need to be out there and show people. Matt has been big with that. He's helping me with the career I want to have."

Ramker also is the former AAU coach and adviser for Marreese Speights, a St. Petersburg product who went from the University of Florida to the NBA and just won a championship as a member of the Golden State Warriors. And Ramker counts former Gators guard Scottie Wilbekin, who just completed a highly successful season in Australia and Greece, among his clients.

He eventually would like to represent every top player that comes out of the Tampa Bay area and be known as a man who helps players succeed.

"I speak to (my clients) every day, if not multiple times a day," Ramker said. "And I just try to guide and mentor them in this pursuit of their personal basketball career."

Frazier said he has done everything he could to convince scouts he's more than a one-dimensional player — that he can score in a variety of ways, defend, put the ball on the floor, make plays and go to the basket — things he wasn't able to show often at Florida because that wasn't his role.

"(Ramker's) definitely a worker, just like I am," Frazier said. "These last couple of months that we've been able to spend time together our relationship has grown stronger, and it's going to continue to get better and better as we go through this process.

"I know I owe a lot of my success to him up to this point because he was able to get me into the combine, which kind of really opened up everything else. I'm just trying to make the most of these opportunities that he's helped me get."

Now he waits. For Thursday night. For his named to be called. For his chance to prove he made the right decision — by leaving UF and choosing Ramker.

Kenny "Speedy" Smith at Louisiana Tech