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USC’s Francis Shot, Killed

Times Staff Writer

USC freshman point guard Ryan Francis was shot multiple times and killed early Saturday while riding in a car in his hometown of Baton Rouge, La., the apparent unintended victim of a dispute between two other young men.

Francis and three other passengers in a 2006 Chevrolet Impala pulled up to a stoplight at an intersection in the northern part of the city around 3 a.m. when the driver of an adjacent vehicle recognized the driver in Francis’ car “as someone that he had been disputing with over personal differences,” according to the police report.

The driver in the adjacent vehicle, a 2000 Mitsubishi Montero Sport, pulled up and blocked the intersection while wielding a firearm, the police report stated.

The driver of the vehicle Francis was riding in tried to drive away, but the assailant opened fire and Francis, sitting in the left rear passenger seat, was hit several times. The 19-year-old died upon arrival at a trauma center at 3:40 a.m.

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Police arrested D’Anthony Norman Ford, 19, of Baton Rouge without incident and charged him with first-degree murder Saturday morning, said Lt. Keith Bates of the Baton Rouge Police Department. Ford is expected to be arraigned this week and could face the death penalty if convicted. Police “are leaving open the possibility of additional arrests,” Bates said, pending further investigation.

Bates would not divulge the specific nature of the disagreement between Ford and the driver of the Impala. Police declined to release the names of the driver or the other passengers in Francis’ vehicle, none of whom suffered injuries.

A funeral will be held Wednesday or Thursday in Baton Rouge, and the entire USC team is expected to attend. Trojans assistant coaches Bob Cantu and Gib Arnold planned to leave for Louisiana today.

A family member who answered the phone at the Francis residence in Baton Rouge said the family was not prepared to comment.

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Coach Tim Floyd called the death of Francis, a popular player known for his defensive tenacity and refuse-to-lose attitude, “a tremendous jolt” that has devastated the USC basketball community.

“You’re not supposed to have favorites when you’re coaching, but he was one of mine,” Floyd said of Francis, who was a Pacific 10 Conference all-freshman honorable mention selection. “He is just going to be remembered so fondly by all of us because he was such a passionate person about living and trying to do the right thing.”

Francis, an only child, had returned home recently after completing spring semester exams and planned to spend part of Mother’s Day with his family. Teammate Lodrick Stewart said he was supposed to pick up Francis today at Los Angeles International Airport.

“He was going to come back for summer school,” Stewart said. “He said he might need a ride because he doesn’t drive. I said, ‘I’ve got you.’ ”

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Lightly recruited out of Baton Rouge Glen Oaks High, Francis made a major impact on a USC team that finished 17-13 -- its first winning record in four years -- and upset UCLA, North Carolina and Arizona. The 5-foot-11 guard, who appeared several inches shorter than his listed height, averaged 7.1 points and ranked fifth in the Pac-10 in steals (47) and ninth in assists (111).

“He was one of the main reasons for how much success we had, a guard that can change the game playing defense,” Stewart said. “It’s going to be impossible to replace a player like him with that much heart.”

Last month at the team’s postseason banquet, Francis, who often guarded an opponent’s best player despite a size disadvantage, was given the John Rudometkin Award as the player who always gave “110%" effort.

Francis had left the award, along with other belongings such as clothes and blankets, in the dorm room of teammate Gabe Pruitt after clearing out his own room last week. Pruitt said Francis had planned to stay with him for a few weeks upon his return.

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“I still kind of look at it as he’ll be back,” Pruitt said. “It’s something I can’t take in right now. It hasn’t hit me yet.”

His teammates, including sophomore swingman Nick Young, a distant cousin, liked to tease Francis because of the way he continually addressed people as “sir” and “ma’am.”

“Everyone laughed at how he talked because he was real country, but he was real fun and real cool to be around,” Stewart said.

Said Floyd, a fellow Southerner: “I told them to quit laughing at him when he does it because they need to pick up some of his manners.”

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Another tradition Francis held dear was his daily phone conversations with his mother, whom he called his “first lady.” They spoke two, sometimes three times a day.

“It’s, ‘Did you eat, take your vitamins?’ ” Paulette Francis said earlier this year. “Just the motherly things you normally talk about.”

Floyd said Francis’ mother recently told the Trojans’ coaches that she wanted to move to Los Angeles for his sophomore year because she could no longer bear being so far removed from her only child.

“His mother did a great job with him,” Floyd said. “She raised a fine young man.”

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Stewart had become close to Francis since helping to host him on his recruiting trip. The young men found they had a lot in common since Stewart was from Aberdeen, Miss., a couple of hundred miles from Baton Rouge.

“Me and him clicked ever since then,” said Stewart, who later helped counsel Francis through a bout of homesickness. “We was kicking it every day. We would go to parties dressed the same with the same jerseys. He was like a little brother to me. I said, ‘Anything happens, I’ve got your back.’ ”

Stewart said he had made plans to work out with Francis this summer in Baton Rouge and Seattle, Stewart’s new hometown. After spending much of Saturday morning in tears, Stewart said he felt like he had lost a close family member and planned to get a tattoo reading, “Rest in peace, Ryan Francis,” on his chest.

“It’s crazy,” Stewart said. “I don’t understand how something like that would happen.”

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A Ryan Francis memorial fund will be established. Details: 800-986-9943.


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