Editor’s note: As Texas Tech heads into the final four, former Hobbs Eagle Ronald Ross will be there as a graduate assistant coach. The following story, written by Ty Friend and published last week, recaps Ross’ journey to the Raider coaching position.
ANAHEIM, Calif. — It was sweet revenge at the NCAA West Regional in Anaheim, Calif., on Thursday when a former Hobbs Eagle hoopster now wearing a Texas Tech suit coat red raided the Michigan Wolverines, 78-57 to advance to today’s Elite 8.
It was Michigan’s coach, Steve Beilein, formerly of the University of West Virginia that robbed Ronald Ross, the All American Tech player in 2005, the same opportunity, as they defeated Ross and the Red Raiders on the Pit floor in Albuquerque, despite Ross leading that team with 16 points.
But there’s not much time to bask in the glory of the Sweet 16 revenge win as Ross, now a graduate assistant coach with Tech, because next up is Gonzaga, the West Region’s No. 1 seed and they’ve won all three tourney games by double digits, including the dismantling Florida State 72-58. It’s back to the video and quick run through practices before today’s game, a fast and furious turnaround, although something Ross is quite used to doing, having won three state tourneys (1999-2001) with Hobbs High.
But how did Ross become part of the Red Raider coaching fraternity to begin with? First he retired from playing 12 years of pro basketball in May 2018 after finishing his final seasons for a Euro Cup team from Cyprus. Prior to that he played for pro teams in Greece, Italy, France and Germany. Ross explained that family considerations, his wife Audrey, daughter Xoey, 7, and son Ronald Jr., 3, as well as wanting to work on his master’s degree in Interdisciplinary Studies both contributed to that decision.
Coaching was a reason too.
“I really loved my journey playing overseas. It was amazing traveling all over Europe and the world,” related Ross. “But once I started my family and my kids started getting older I just realized it was time to write the next chapter and build my life in America — that’s where I want to be.”
Ross was very familiar with Red Raiders’ Head Coach Chris Beard who served under former Tech Head Coach Bobby Knight for 10 years and was there all four years of Ross’ career. Coaching was a calling for Ross as well. He wanted to work with a coach who got the most out of his players, especially ones, like Ross, with a blue collar.
“I’ve had a relationship with Coach Beard for a while and had talked to his team several times. Once he found out I was retiring he offered me the grad assistant with the understanding that I’d have to grind hard for a few years but he showed a lot of belief in what I could do as a coach,” related Ross. “He is a players’ first coach. They are the priority and he does everything to have the best situations for them and that means intense preparation for games. I’m in with that.”
Of course, Ross had also been up close and personal with Knight who made Ross earn his stripes the hard way by forcing him to walk on as a player in 2001. Many student-athletes would have shied away from the prospect of working a job to put yourself through college while attending boot camp-like practices complete with a drill sergeant, but not Ronald, he welcomed the challenge.
“I respected him (Knight) tremendously because he was an absolute winner and I bought into that concept,” recalled Ross. “From the heights of my success in college from just beginning as a walk-on, he always treated me the same. His lessons were tough, but always connected to the winning. He was like a father figure to me.”
According to Ross, a lot of people doubted he could ever break into Division 1 basketball coming from isolated Hobbs. But Ross’ high school coach Russ Gilmore, claims one game may have served notice to the Red Raiders that Ross deserved a shot. It was during his senior year in 2001 against Lubbock Coronado where his stat line included 38 points, 8 steals, 8 rebounds, 7 assists and 5 dunks.
“I went back to talk to Ronald in the back of the bus on the way to the game and had to wake him up,” chuckled Gilmore, who is now semi-retired and living near Brownsville, Texas. “I told him, ‘hey Ronald I know you love to score and do pretty good at it, but you don’t play a lick of defense. How ‘bout buckling down in this game and see what some more steals can lead to?’ Sure enough that was a breakout game for Ronald and then, Bubba Jennings, Coronado’s coach, gave the tape to Coach Knight and the rest is history.”
But even before that, Ross was making some noise as a sophomore in 1999. He had moved back to Hobbs from Midland, Texas, and was virtually unknown to Gilmore. As the state tournament approached, Ross actually was the final player added to the mandatory 12-man roster and he earned his stripes in a big way in a semifinal matchup with Albuquerque Valley.
“It was a real close game, nobody could score,” remembered Ross. “But in the third quarter, Coach (Gilmore) put me in and I hit a couple of the only buckets and it gave him some confidence to play me even more in the championship game against La Cueva. It was a turning point for my high school career.”
Even current Hobbs High head coach Shelby Reeves realized early that Ross had a different mentality for the game. One that went further than the team winning games and championships. It had to do with work ethic, perseverance and developing personal skills.
“I would see that young kid by himself dribbling a basketball up and down the streets of Hobbs at all times of the day,” said Reeves. “As he got older, he would come ask me to open up the gym at odd hours of the night too. He would tell me that he needed just 30 more minutes to work on his court skills. To be where he is today as a coach at Texas Tech after being a walk-on, I think you gotta say that’s where work ethic will take you. He belongs there.”
As Ross embarks on a most assuredly long and decorated coaching career, he is quick to acknowledge that he expects out of his Texas Tech athletes exactly what he expects of himself — dedication to the game. One Red Raider player that resembles Ross in stats and work ethic is Jarrett Culver, a sophomore, who leads the team in points (18.5), rebounds
(6.3) and assists (3.7). Culver who scored 22 points against Michigan, ironically played high school ball at Lubbock Coronado, the place where Ross probably earned his Red Raider uniform. In fact, Culver recently broke a Texas Tech single game NCAA tournament scoring record previously owned by Ross (28 points in the 2005 vs. UCLA), as he dumped in 29 points against Western Kentucky in this year’s first-round game. But that doesn’t hurt Ross’ feelings.
“He’s a great kid that comes from a good Christian family, down to earth and works hard,” shared Ross. “He comes into the gym multiple times a day to become the best player he can be. He watches video and asks questions constantly. He is somebody who wants to be coached. Being a former player and now a coach — that’s the kind of work ethic I preach.”
Getting a second opportunity to attend a Sweet 16 as both a player and coach and now an Elite 8 is not something that was handed out on a silver platter. Ross reiterates that with the younger players on a regular basis.
“They’re always surprised about how I got started here at Tech, coming in as a walk-on, working my way up. I didn’t come in as a superstar freshman and have everything on a platter for me to be an All-American and all the other awards I achieved,” Ross remarked. “I tell them they gotta believe in what they can do for the team until their time comes. That’s how my story goes. I waited and waited and when it was my time to shine I was very fortunate to capitalize on that.”
But at the same time it’s pretty nice to savor the spotlight it when it does happen at the 2005 Sweet 16 in the Pit. A second home to Ross.
“It was actually surreal being able to come back to play in a gym that I played a couple of high school championships in,” Ross reminisced. “It was an indescribable feeling but a blessing to play that close to home so family could come and be part of a great tournament and the Sweet 16. Not winning that last game left a bitter taste in my mouth as I thought we were capable of achieving more, but that’s just being a competitor.”
Despite the accolades in both the Division One and pro basketball arenas, Ross attributed much of his early success to the coaches and hoops system that was embraced in Hobbs.
“Being brought up in the press in Hobbs, you gotta play at a high tempo. Knowing that tempo already I think I was smarter at the game in college. When you’re in the heat of battle you start to react through experience and that’s what I got from the Hobbs system,” Ross expressed. “As far as head coaches, Ralph Tasker is the most sincere man I’ve ever met. Every summer he always took time to talk to me in the gym and opened my eyes to what kind of player I could be. And then Russ Gilmore stepped in and carried on the tradition of the Eagles and was a proven winner.”
Without stiff competition to improve individual games, there wouldn’t be much success for Ross or Hobbs Eagles basketball. That must explain why Hobbs has 17 state banners and a graduate coach at Tech.
“Being young I used to watch other players and learning from what they did and how I was going to do that on the court,” said Ross. “Even as far back as junior high, Allan Haynes, Jeremy Soria, Guy Baber … all the friends I had at all the schools, wanted to be superstars too so it was a constant competition which made us better players. If you didn’t bring your best to any game, you heard about it later and that was even in the summer league!”