Thanks to everyone who read my column in this morning’s paper – and on Kansas.com, of course – about Ricky Ross and Conner Frankamp. I appreciate all of the comments that column elicited.
It further proves my point about how much City League basketball means to so many of us. Conner Frankamp is a current City League basketball icon; Ricky Ross was one back in the day. I have covered and seen a lot of CL hoops over the years and Ross, who played at South from 1976-79, helped define an era. I’ve heard from people today who remember watching him play. One reader, who officiated high school basketball at the time, wrote about the “snap” he heard coming from Ross’ fingertips when he would get off a shot. When the reader heard that noise, he said, he knew the basketball was going in the basket, no doubt about it.
Ross was 6-foot-6 with guard skills. He was such a tremendous scorer that he has never gotten the credit he deserves for the other aspects of his game, especially passing. He was a tremendous passer and, although he averaged 27.1 points per game as a junior and 31.7 as a senior, he passed a lot. Ross played on outstanding teams for the Titans, with quite a few other good players. In fact, guard Mike Sims was, like Ross, an All-State player during the 1978-79 season.
Many of those who saw Ross play at South have a hard time believing anyone could rise to his level as a high school player. Trust me, so did I. Until I watched North’s Frankamp, the most prolific scorer in City League history.
With all due respect to the other great players in the league’s history – and a special nod to former Heights point guard Darnell Valentine – the debate about the best ever seems to boil down to two: Ross or Frankamp?
Those in the Ross camp like to point out the stiff competition and wealth of outstanding players who were in the City League at that time. It’s true that Ross had to contend with the likes of Valentine, Antoine Carr, Greg Dreiling, Aubrey Sherrod, Chris Boyd, Calvin Alexander, Doc Holden, Les Pace, Mike Boushka, Karl Papke, Greg Williams, Greg Dreiling and Jeff Konek. Ten of those guys played Division I basketball. The City League was loaded during the Ross era.
It was interesting to hear Ross talk about his legacy Tuesday night, when I sat with Ross as we watched Frankamp score 48 points in a win over East. Ross is one of the most humble people I have ever known. And I’m sure he has always been a little embarrassed that he didn’t make it bigger in the game of basketball. I can tell he doesn’t like to talk about all of that.
Ross talked about how much he appreciates it when people come up to him and tell him how much they enjoyed watching him play high school basketball at South. Ross still speaks glowingly about his teammates and his coach, Bill Himebaugh. Those years are fresh in his 51-year-old memory.
I’m sure I have written more inches about Ricky Ross in my newspaper career than anyone else. He is such a fascinating character. Some would say that fascination stems around the unfulfilled talent that Ross possessed, but I don’t see it like that.
Ross had a very good freshman season at KU in 1979-80, averaging 11.7 points per game. He played on a 15-14 team that included Valentine, Tony Guy, John Crawford and Booty Neal.
But Ross didn’t stick with the Jayhawks. He eventually bounced around at a couple of junior colleges in California before turning up at Tulsa, where he was an All-Missouri Valley Conference player as a senior in 1983-84 after being a second-team selection as a junior.
Those who dismiss Ross’ college career as disappointing probably shouldn’t. His problem was trying to live up to the hype. The comparisons to Michael Jordan, which at the time were not outlandish. The notion that Ross was a lock to become an NBA superstar.
Under the weight of those expectations, he fell short. Most would.
Ross may have lacked the self-discipline to realize his NBA dreams. He probably wasn’t as good a defender as he could have been. A few of his City League contemporaries did make it to the NBA, but he didn’t.
That has always made me sad. But Ross doesn’t share that sentiment. He is thankful for everything he got out of basketball, he said. He didn’t follow the path so many of us thought he would follow, but he wound up in a good place. He doesn’t show a hint of bitterness.
It makes me wonder how far Frankamp will take basketball. It’s so difficult to tell and Ross wouldn’t even think about trying to make a prediction. He knows all too well about the potential pratfalls and detours.
As they were shaking hands after the East-North game the other night, Ross wished Frankamp well. They had their picture taken together before Ross disappeared through the door and out of the North gym, back to a life that perhaps didn’t turn out like he thought it would.
What a big club that is.