Forum Spin Doctor
LOS ANGELES - Southern California's basketball team paused at halftime of its season opener Thursday night to remember point guard Ryan Francis, who was fatally shot in his home state of Louisiana.
The 19-year-old player was killed in a drive-by shooting on Mother's Day weekend. The man accused of the shooting, D'Anthony Ford, is being held without bond in a Baton Rouge prison.
Francis' mother, Paulette, did not address the crowd in USC's new arena, but a statement of her appreciation was read aloud as the entire team crowded around her to exchange hugs and kisses.
In the statement, she called the alleged gunman "a coward who stood behind a gun and took Ryan's life."
As South Carolina players headed to their locker room at halftime, the arena lights were lowered and a video tribute opened with USC players talking about Francis, who was his mother's only child.
"We love you, Franchise," forward Nick Young said, using Francis' nickname.
Clips of Francis driving to the basket against crosstown rival UCLA were paced by Cajun music. The crowd rose to its feet in applause as the video ended and the screen read, `We miss you Ryan. Your spirit will live on forever.'
"He was our heart and soul," USC athletic director Mike Garrett said.
USC coach Tim Floyd introduced comedian Tom Arnold, who was filming a movie in Baton Rouge at the time of Francis' shooting and contacted Floyd after hearing about the close relationship between Francis and his mother.
Arnold told the crowd that he was raised without a mother and meeting Paulette Francis inspired him to seek money for scholarships from his brother, who worked at the University of Phoenix.
"We have given out $50 million worth of scholarships, and Paulette is getting one," Arnold said, explaining that he never graduated from the University of Iowa. "I'm going to get my degree now, too."
Francis had a 3.0 grade-point average as a freshman at USC.
"That has a lot to with his mother," Arnold said. "A 3.0 here is like a 6.0 at UCLA."
Floyd presented Paulette Francis, who wore a T-shirt bearing her son's smiling face, with a framed No. 12 jersey.
"Thank you for letting us have your son. We loved him," he said. "He was a wonderful young guy. We're never, ever going to forget him. This lady is always going to be a part of the Trojan family."
USC's players will wear a black patch with Francis' number on their jerseys this season.