By Kyle Kensing
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Monday, March 21, 2005
Your average basketball star begins his collegiate career amid a flurry of recognition: McDonald's All-American honors, recruiting feelers from an array of programs and high expectations.
Texas Tech senior guard Ronald Ross, standout of the Tucson bracket's first- and second-round NCAA Tournament games, is not your average college basketball star.
The 6-foot-2-inch native of Hobbs, N.M., traveled a much different path on his way to collegiate stardom. It's a story Texas Tech head coach Bob Knight called the best he could remember in college basketball.
Ross excelled at Hobbs High School and was a leader for his club team, yet was not a highly touted recruit.
In fact, no Division I basketball program offered Ross a scholarship coming out of high school.
Four years later, Ross is an All-Big 12 Conference performer, Texas Tech's leading scorer and participating in his fourth NCAA Tournament.
"I guess I wasn't very impressive at (recruiting) time, so I wasn't recruited as much," he said.
Ross said he received some interest from junior colleges and small universities, but he knew he had the skills to contribute to a major Division I program.
"I was patient and when the opportunity to play at Texas Tech came along, I really wanted to take it," he said.
The Red Raiders hired Bob Knight, winner of three NCAA Championships at Indiana, while Ross was at Hobbs.
Ross said the prospect of playing for Bob Knight piqued his interest.
"(Going to Texas Tech) was mostly because of coach Knight, because of his history, and he's won so much," he said. "He's really one of the main reasons I wanted to play at Texas Tech."
Bob Knight said the process of bringing Ross to Lubbock, Texas, was somewhat ironic.
"(Texas Tech assistant coach) Pat (Knight) mentioned him to three of four schools after seeing him at a couple all-star games, but they didn't seem interested," he said.
"We told him he could come on his own, but we couldn't offer him a scholarship for two years," Knight said.
Ross accepted Knight's offer and spent two seasons in Lubbock playing without a scholarship.
Knight said this did not deter Ross from working hard on the court and in the classroom, and he was rewarded his junior year with a scholarship.
Ross averaged 10.1 points in 28.6 minutes in 2003-04, a season that saw Tech finish 23-11 with a second-round exit from the NCAA Tournament.
With the conclusion of the 2004 campaign came the departure of Andre Emmett and his 20.6 point-per-game average, and many experts doubted that Tech would get a fourth-straight tournament appearance in 2005.
But what the experts didn't count on was a more balanced Red Raider attack, led by the former walk-on from Hobbs.
"From the beginning of the season, a lot of the focus was on Andre," Ross said. "Now we have five or six people that average in double figures.
"I was the leading scorer, but I still saw it as a team thing," he said. "I have a team perspective."
Though Ross's perspective is on the team, the fans in McKale Center for Tech's first-round tournament games were focused on him.
The sixth-seeded Red Raiders met No. 11 UCLA in the first round. Ross was matched up with the Bruins' top-scorers, Dijon Thompson and Arron Afflalo.
Ross answered the challenge on both ends of the floor, recording game highs in points (28) and steals (three). He also snared seven rebounds, as the Red Raiders won 78-66.
Tech met Gonzaga in the second round with a spot in next weekend's Albuquerque Regional on the line.
The third-seeded Bulldogs showed the Red Raiders several different defensive sets designed to disrupt Tech's guards and it resulted in a 38-29 Gonzaga halftime lead.
The Bulldogs built their lead to 13 in the second half, and Texas Tech appeared in danger of an early exit.
But as he has done throughout his career, Ross defied odds and led a Red Raider surge.
He scored 13 of his 24 points in the second half, including a 3-pointer and pair of free throws with less than two minutes remaining.
He also pulled down nine rebounds, a personal- and team-best, and after playing all 40 minutes, punched a ticket back to New Mexico with a 71-69 win.
"It's definitely an exciting feeling to accomplish something like this and make it to the Sweet 16," he said following the win. "Going back to play in New Mexico - it'll be a good thing. I'll know a lot of people there, so it should be fun."
Ross's incredible journey, which began in the Land of Enchantment, will have a new chapter there as well, and the guard from Hobbs will again look to challenge convention by pushing his team to the Final Four.
"A lot of people always doubted me and thought I wouldn't make it at Texas Tech," he said. "Having the opportunity to prove people wrong is definitely a good thing."