Ricky Ledo pulled the white jersey on and stepped onto the court. A full house at Alumni Hall roared its approval as the players lined up for the jump ball that would tip off the annual Mal Brown scrimmage on October 19, 2012.
Instantly recognizable, fans had flocked to Alumni in search of what they suspected would be their only glimpse of Ledo in action until the following season. Having been ruled a partial qualifier by the Clearinghouse, some held out hope that an appeal might allow Ledo to join the team for the second semester, but most understood a long shot when they saw one.
When teammate Carson Desrosiers controlled the tip, Ledo assumed the role of point guard for the White Team. The ball was in his hands.
The talent has always been part of local legend, but the character of Ricky Ledo has always been an enigma.
One prep coach called him “the single worst human being I'd ever been associated with on a basketball court,” and a “program killer.” Yet, Providence head coach Ed Cooley built a relationship with Ledo and coached him throughout the season in practice and said, “We want to wish Ricky all the best and thank him for his efforts this season. He will always be a member of the Friar family.”
One member of the national media dogged Ledo over the past several seasons, falsely building a case on the player’s “chemistry” issues by pointing out a winless summer AAU season, when in fact, Ledo’s teams had enjoyed a percentage of success.
A 6’7, 195 pound shooting guard, Ledo’s talent always stood out. What also stood out to observers was an immaturity common among youngsters, but in Ledo’s case, that was compounded by a youth spent in a sometimes violent, unforgiving, inner-city world. He saw his father shot as a child. His surrogate father was shot and murdered. When people reference the mean streets of South Providence, they reference Ledo’s world and world-view.
The attempt to escape those streets started with guidance to enroll at Bishop Hendricken, a private athletic powerhouse located in suburban Warwick, Rhode Island. Ledo spent his freshman and sophomore years at Hendricken and if he could be difficult and immature at times, he also played a key role in helping Hendricken win a state championship, scoring 27 points in the title game in March of 2008.
Had he stopped there and stayed at Hendricken, things might have turned out very differently. But the dream was always the NBA and the way to the NBA was not through the Rhode Island Interscholastic League. He had to test himself in prep school and he enrolled at St. Andrew’s in Barrington for his junior year.
Except his year at St. Andrew’s was a difficult one. He played well enough but the team uncharacteristically struggled and Ledo felt unwanted and out of his element and ready to make another move. This time, he surfaced at South Kent in Connecticut and spent a year playing and focusing on his studies. He didn’t put up big numbers at South Kent but was content to be part of a very talented team. That he needed a fifth year came as no surprise to anyone who had followed his academics, but his next move did.
On December 24, 2010, Ledo verballed to PC and then-coach Keno Davis. At the same time, rather than stay at South Kent to finish up, Ledo decided to move to Notre Dame Prep in Massachusetts. This proved to be his single biggest mistake. Within a month, Ledo informed PC that he was backing off of his commitment. "I'm no longer a Providence Friar. I decided to open my recruitment back up and view my other options," he said.
Under pressure and at a school that could not fully support him academically, Ledo drifted through the 2010-11 season, but the appointment of Cooley in March enabled a reconnection with Providence College. Cooley recruited Ledo relentlessly throughout the spring and summer, and in Cooley, Ledo saw a kindred spirit who had grown up on the same streets in South Providence that he did. By the beginning of fall, despite pursuit by powers such as Kentucky and Louisville, Ricky was once again ready to pull the trigger.
On September 4, 2011, Ledo announced, "I'm going to Providence. I want to stay home. I grew up in Providence and it feels like the perfect fit. I trust coach Cooley. He's one of the reasons that Providence can get back on top. That would be a great experience to play with him. I can't wait." Ledo also decided to leave Notre Dame Prep and reenroll at South Kent, where he would play and use the year to improve his academic standing.
Of course, Notre Dame Prep coach Ryan Hurd was none too pleased by any of these developments. “The worst thing is for (Ledo) to rush into any decision,” Hurd told the Providence Journal. “It's important for Ricky to get back to (Notre Dame Prep) campus, get a grip on where his academics and recruitment all stands, and look forward to an important year."
What made Hurd’s statement curious, was that normally players who needed to focus on their academics usually benefit from making a college decision and by putting recruiting and all the distractions that come with it, behind them. Yet, in this case, Hurd seemed determined to see Ledo’s recruitment continue.
By the time Ledo’s high school career was over, he had traveled to five destinations in five years, a sure-fire red flag to the NCAA’s Clearinghouse. What exacerbated the situation was the timeliness of getting Ledo’s complete transcript to the NCAA. Rumors abounded that one of his prep schools was less than forthcoming with their portion of his transcript. So, as a result, Ledo entered PC in the fall of 2012 as a partial qualifier; eligible for athletic scholarship but not eligible to play.
In his time at Providence, Ledo was a model teammate, going hard in practice, enthusiastically imploring teammates to succeed during games and performing admirably in the classroom. When asked in the preseason how he would cope with not playing for a year, Ledo replied, "I can do my job as a good teammate by pushing the guys in practice and making them better." Friar fans dreamed of a 2013-14 season with Ledo in the lineup for the black and white, draining NBA range three pointers and scoring at will. Those dreams began to dampen with reports of NBA scouts flocking to PC practices to measure, videotape and drool over Ledo. Along with whispering sweet promises in his ear.
Never mind that he hadn’t played a full competitive season for a team in awhile. Never mind that mock drafts had Ledo going in the mid to late first round, hardly a safe landing place… or not in the first round at all. Life is a gamble. The last pick in the first round gets a guaranteed contract for $3 million. A long way from the streets of South Providence. And Ricky Ledo had decided to take that gamble.
In his heart, Ledo always wanted to represent his hometown team. Upon announcing that he would enter the draft, Ledo stated, “I want to thank Providence College for the opportunity to be a Friar. As much as I wanted to play for the Friars and help the team win a BIG EAST championship, I felt I could not pass up this opportunity to enter the NBA Draft now. I had a great experience this season and will always remember the great atmosphere for our games at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center. I appreciate all the support from the College, the fans, my teammates and the coaching staff, especially Coach Cooley. I love my teammates and I will always be a Friar.”
Ledo moved up the court effortlessly with the ball. He darted toward the basket, stepped back, crossed over and put up a smooth jumper that found the bottom of the net. A strong first half would see him finish the scrimmage with 12 points and the promise of tomorrow.
Friar fans in Alumni Hall that day never suspected that this would be their only glimpse of Ricardo Ledo in game action as a Friar.