PORT ANGELES — Where did No. 22 come from? Did he transfer? Did he transfer from Sequim?
The effort put forth by Port Angeles senior post Damen Ringgold during the Roughriders’ epic December comeback over then No. 1 North Kitsap was unmistakable even if his name and background was at that point lesser known.
His performance yielded that curious series of questions from a recent Port Angeles grad in the stands while back home on winter break from college.
The answers for the record — Port Angeles, no, and no.
Head coach Kasey Ulin also said that he’s been asked just who this Ringgold guy is and where he’s been hiding him on a number of occasions this year.
The truth is Ringgold has been with the program for years, his rise through its ranks even more remarkable when you consider his contributions as No. 9 Port Angeles’ leading scorer and rebounder (14 points per game and nine rebounds) on a Roughriders team (8-2, 13-5),
The story of Michael Jordan missing out on making the varsity team in high school has become part of Air Jordan’s mythology — but MJ still made and played for the Laney High School JV that season.
Not so for Ringgold — he was cut from the Port Angeles program during tryouts as a freshman — deemed not good enough to be one of the 36 Roughriders split across C squad, JV and varsity teams.
“It’s a story for the ages,” Ulin said. “He got cut as a freshman and we discussed his future. Continuing to work, giving him the chance to go to open gyms, lift weights and play in the summer — and he came to everything. Every open gym, every weight session, every summer league game. He never missed anything with us and as a sophomore he made C squad, last year he was on JV and he’s continued to progress.”
Ringgold admits he took the decision hard back then.
“It was very hard on me, personally,” Ringgold said. “I almost wanted to quit. Looking back on it now, I’m glad I had support of my parents, grandparents, uncle and sisters. That was the same year I got cut from the baseball team, so that put me down.”
Those family members show up for Ringgold’s games, home and away, sometimes waving cutouts of Ringgold’s face in the stands. Ringgold said they continue to motivate him and keep him on the court.
”I wanted to get better and show him [Ulin] what I was capable of doing, that I had a future in this sport and be able to lead PA to a championship, hopefully,” Ringgold said. “And to get to know more people, make new friends and be part of a family with the team.”
Ulin didn’t realize until this summer the impact Ringgold would make on the floor in his lone varsity season.
“This summer he was probably our 10th guy for two or three weeks until we noticed we are really good with him on the court and maybe he should stay out there and get a little more time,” Ulin said.
“His coachability shines. Anything we ask him to do, he will do. Ask him to sprint the floor he will run as hard as he possibly can. Ask him to hit the boards and he’ll grab 15 or 20. He’s worked so hard on his footwork, his post moves and he has an unbelievably soft touch. And he’s 6-foot-6 with a 6-foot-10 inch wingspan.”
Despite the difficulties in getting Port Angeles and Sequim kids selected when five of seven league teams lie across the Hood Canal Bridge, Ulin said he will do all the politicking he can with his fellow coaches when they meet to decide the All-Olympic League 2A Division boys basketball team.
“He can and I believe should be a first-team all league guy,” Ulin said. “He’s our leading scorer and rebounder with 14 and nine — and he would probably be closer to 20 and 15 if we weren’t so deep and didn’t win as many games by as many points as we have. We’ve had six games where we’ve been up by 30 in the second half with no need for us to play our starters, so if he got more minutes in those games he’d probably be a 20-point scorer. We are not the same team without Damen on the floor.”
Ulin said that Ringgold is such a humble and hungry player, he probably doesn’t realize how much of an impact he’s had on the program through sheer force of will.
“He doesn’t understand how good he is and what he does for us,” Ulin said. “In bigger games he’s played really well. His effort is always high and his ability to rebound is great. It’s been special to watch his growth, his maturity and to see what he’s done on the floor has been phenomenal.”
Ringgold said the ultimate goal is hoisting the gold ball, the state championship trophy, at the Yakima SunDome on the first Saturday in March.
“When I think about the end of the season, I see us beating every team at the SunDome,” Ringgold said. But even if we don’t win state — to get there, play as well as we can and never forget those days.”
And he feels his role is to serve as the cement in the team’s bond.
“If we get upset at each other, I try to make sure we are still connected and that nothing can stop us,” Ringgold said.
That mentality is part of the reason Ulin has had Ringgold reach out and speak to younger plays about perseverance.
“We’ve asked him to talk to our younger kids because his story is so inspirational,” Ulin said.
“The hardest part of coaching is telling a young man that he doesn’t have a place with us. It’s the worst part of the job and every year there are quality players that don’t make it. But we try and let the kids know that that day can be used for good. If you believe in yourself use this day as motivation to work on your skills and we will give you every opportunity going forward.”
Ringgold said he enjoys when the younger players listen to him and follow his directions on the court. He also passes along the valuable lesson he learned about sticking things out.
“Good things, they don’t always come to you as a reward, you have to earn it, you have to earn your spot and you have to learn that,” Ringgold said.
Sports reporter Michael Carman can be contacted at 360-417-3525 or [email protected]