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USC's Francis Mourned

Teammates join about 1,000 others to remember the slain freshman point guard.

May 21, 2006|Ben Bolch | Times Staff Writer

BATON ROUGE, La. — The more people doubted Ryan Francis, the more determined he became to prove them wrong.

Several weeks ago, the USC freshman point guard, who was a few inches shorter than his listed height of 5 feet 11, accepted a bet from teammate Nick Young in which he was given three tries to dunk a basketball.

On the first attempt, Francis lobbed the ball off the backboard and tried to dunk it with one hand but couldn't connect. The second try went similarly awry.

But on the final attempt, Trojan guard Chris Penrose told the mourners who gathered here Saturday for the slain player's funeral, "Ryan grabbed the ball with that mean look on his face, took two dribbles, went up and slammed it down. And then he went running around the gym with his hands in the air" in triumph.

"That's the way Ryan was," Penrose continued. "He was someone who could do whatever it took to achieve his goal, even if it seemed impossible. Ryan never knew what the word 'quit' meant."

A crowd of about 1,000 packed Greater King David Baptist Church to remember the buoyant 19-year-old, who was shot multiple times early on May 13. The pews were so jammed that several dozen mourners had to stand along the walls and others had to watch the service on monitors in two adjacent rooms.

A handful of USC administrators and nearly all of Francis' Trojans teammates, including walk-ons, graduated seniors and two players who plan to transfer, attended the two-hour service. USC had received permission from the NCAA to pay for the funeral and the Trojans players' travel expenses. Louisiana State Coach John Brady and several Tigers players who had known Francis also attended.

USC Coach Tim Floyd spoke in his eulogy about Francis' relationship with his mother, Paulette, who had twice made the long drive from Baton Rouge to Los Angeles to see her son play.

Addressing her directly, Floyd said that "if every mother in this world took the responsibility of motherhood like you took it, this would be a kinder, gentler, more generous, more peaceful world."

Penrose told Paulette Francis that the relationship she had with her son "was one I wish I had with my mother."

Between eulogies the crowd viewed a video montage showing highlights of Francis' freshman season and pictures from his childhood.

One sequence showed Francis clapping from a seated position along the baseline after stealing the ball from Stanford's Chris Hernandez and drawing a foul. Another showed him hunkering down in a defensive stance and setting his gaze upon a ballhandler before closing in to knock the ball away.

Francis' casket was flanked by a framed cardinal-and-gold USC jersey bearing No. 12 and a picture of him bringing the ball up the court for the Trojans, whom he helped lead to their first winning record in four years. Some mourners wore T-shirts featuring Francis' picture, others wrote messages of love and support on the windshields of their vehicles.

Police have arrested 19-year-old DeAnthony Norman Ford of Baton Rouge on suspicion of first-degree murder, accusing him of firing into the vehicle in which Francis was riding.

Ford is being held without bail in East Baton Rouge Parish Prison.

Sgt. Don Kelly of the Baton Rouge Police Department said one of the men in Francis' vehicle identified Ford as the gunman and police recovered a large-caliber handgun from Ford's car.

But Ford's mother, Brendia, said she could produce video surveillance footage from outside her home and eyewitness testimony that would exonerate her son.

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