TUCSON -- Bob Knight, never one to pass on an opportunity to needle a friend, had his son and assistant coach, Pat, give a recent newspaper article on star guard Ronald Ross to a junior college coach who had passed on Ross four years earlier.
"He even got Ronald to sign it," Knight said. "It said: 'Coach, thanks for believing in me. Sincerely, Ronald Ross.' "
Texas Tech Coach Bob Knight, left, found a scholarship for Ronald Ross after the senior financed his freshman season on his own.
(Matt York -- AP)
Four seasons ago, Knight and his son tried their best to find Ross a home, and if Ross had to send a note to every junior college and mid-major coach who turned them away, his hot shooting hand likely would cramp up.
Knight and his son had taken an instant liking to Ross after watching him in prep all-star games. They tried to get him a spot elsewhere, pushing him to friends in junior colleges and mid-major programs. Nobody wanted him, and Ross did not feel like settling for the few offers he received. So Knight offered to take Ross himself -- as a walk-on.
Knight admits that he had no idea what he was getting: a first team all-Big 12 selection and the driving force behind his first trip to the round of 16 in 11 seasons. Ross scored 28 points in the sixth-seeded Red Raiders' defeat of UCLA in the first round, and 24 points, including the game-winning three-pointer, as Texas Tech gunned past third-seeded Gonzaga on Saturday.
"He is the best story I can remember in college basketball," Knight said. "He had to go through a lot as a non-scholarship player, but he played through it in the beginning. He never complained. He is going to graduate on time with good grades. He is the prime example of using what you've got. There is no player that I have more admiration for, particularly when he hit that three."
Despite his walk-on status, Ross played immediately, averaging more than 10 minutes per game as a freshman from Hobbs, N.M. He earned Knight's respect by practicing without complaint, and after Ross took out student loans and began working part-time as a sales clerk at a Lubbock area Wells Fargo, Knight found a scholarship for him as a sophomore.
The scholarship "means a lot to me," Ross said. "When I walked on, I didn't want any sympathy. I knew I was going to have to play and prove myself."
By that point, Ross was starting and was the Red Raiders' defensive stopper, and in his junior season, he began to shoot better (jumping from 22 to 35 percent on his three-point shots) and found more subtle ways to fit into Knight's motion offense.
Paired this season with freshman point guard Martin Zeno and sophomore Jarrius Jackson, Ross became their perfect foil.
"He's probably the best player in our league at moving without the ball," Oklahoma Coach Kelvin Sampson said.
Ross averaged 17 points during the regular season and 25.5 points over the past four games. He led the Red Raiders to the Big 12 tournament final, where they lost to Oklahoma State, and this trip to the round of 16, the school's second. It also means a return to Ross's home state, for the Albuquerque Region semifinals.
Lubbock is 200 miles closer to Ross's home town than Albuquerque, which will be a six-hour drive for most of his local fans, but when the Red Raiders play seventh-seeded West Virginia on Thursday, it will be particularly meaningful for Ross.
"It's definitely an exciting feeling to accomplish something like this," Ross said. "Going back to play in New Mexico, it'll be a good thing. I'll know a lot of people there, so it just should be fun."