Back when Zuri Ransom was a third grader, at the end of her school day she would make her way to Evanston Township High School. In those days she’d yet to become known as “Zuri” at Beardsley Gym – instead, the 9-year-old was just “Little Ransom.”
She earned that nickname at ETHS boys basketball practices, where her dad, Travis Ransom, was a freshman head coach and varsity assistant. Ransom had a shadow in Zuri, who was always by his side, mimicking his mannerisms.
“Zuri kind of was just always around,” ETHS girls basketball coach Brittanny Johnson said. “She’s so connected to our boys and girls basketball program, it’s almost like she’s like a child of both of our programs.”
Ahead of the 2021-22 school year and basketball season, Travis Ransom joined Johnson’s staff, becoming an assistant coach for the Evanston girls team. Now the father-daughter duo is still at practices together, and the girl who once admired the Wildkit basketball standouts has turned into one herself.
Having a player’s parent on the coaching staff isn’t new for Johnson. During her first year at ETHS, Steve Wool was an assistant coach while his daughter Leighah-Amori Wool was a senior and went on to become Evanston’s all-time leading scorer.
Johnson notices similarities in Leighah and Zuri’s game. While there is a size difference, she said both have a rare ability to shoot, rebound, handle the ball and run the floor.
“I was coached by my dad when I was younger as well,” Johnson said. “I think being a coach’s child, as a player, you’re just gonna see the game in a different way.”
Accolades despite adversity
Ransom, a junior guard, has earned her fair share of accolades despite facing less-than-ideal circumstances with injuries and the disruption of the pandemic.
And in her third year in high school – which is also her third as a varsity starter and second as the team’s star – her game has continued to improve, and there’s no reason to believe that trend will stop.
“I say this, and the older kids get mad at me, but she has the potential to be the best player that we’ve had since I’ve been here,” Johnson said.
Ransom entered high school in the 2020-21 school year. That season was like no other; many thought it wouldn’t even happen due to the pandemic. Ultimately, the Kits squeezed 19 games into a five-week window, but the Illinois High School Association determined there would be no postseason.
Ransom earned a starting spot and showed promise, averaging 7.3 points per game across eight contests, but she missed the final 11 games due to a broken finger.
“She definitely passes the eye test,” Johnson said. “It’s like poetry in motion.”
Wildkit fans got to see much more of Ransom last year. As a sophomore she lead the Kits in points (12.9), assists (2.6) and steals (3.5) per game. Her 7.5 rebounds per game was the team’s second-best. She received All-Central Suburban League honors and was a special mention on the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association’s 4A All-State team.
Sadly for the Kits, Zuri suffered a fractured finger for the second year in a row, sustaining the injury days before Evanston’s season was ended by a buzzer-beater in the sectional semifinals.
Aside from injuries, there was just one major issue: She made just 21.6% of her 3-point attempts as a sophomore. What followed was a summer of work that both Johnson and Travis Ransom say was fully initiated by Zuri.
Intensive offseason effort
“Junior year is usually like that statement year for college coaches, so I really worked my butt off this offseason,” she said. “[I did] lots and lots of physical therapy, just kind of trying to get my body right for the season. … I also changed my [shooting] form a bit because my thumb would be in my shot, making the ball rotate incorrectly … that took like a whole entire year to fix.”
A glance at the stat sheet doesn’t reflect Ransom’s growth this season – she still is the team’s leading scorer, but her average has dropped to 11.6 points per game, weighed down by games where injuries limited her playing time. She endured tendinitis in multiple areas, a hamstring strain and a concussion, all in the first half of the season.
In the 13 games where Ransom did not play limited minutes, she’s averaged 13.3 points per game. The 0.4-point scoring increase isn’t anything too major, but what has drastically changed is exactly what she worked on all offseason.
On top of fixing form issues, Ransom’s release has been noticeably quicker this season, and the numbers reflect those changes. In Ransom’s 13 full contests, she’s made 34.6% of her 3-point shots (a 13% increase from last year), on six attempts per game.
Johnson said that when Ransom plays well, the team plays well, and the numbers back up that statement. In Wildkit wins where her minutes haven’t been limited, Ransom has averaged an impressive 17.0 points per game while shooting at an elite level, making 42.8% of her 3-point attempts.
While Ransom’s offensive regimen is impressive, Johnson said her defensive abilities match that.
“Zuri is an incredible offensive player, but Zuri is an incredible defender on the ball and off the ball, and just the way she is able to read [the opponent’s offense],” the coach said. “She is an important part of why we’ve been so great defensively; it starts with her and it trickles down to the rest of our team. She puts an emphasis on it.”
Ransom’s defense and shooting ability would suggest she could be a more-than-intriguing “3-and-D” collegiate prospect – the term for a player who is a quality defender and whose main role in the offense is to shoot threes. But that label likely sells short her offensive versatility.
“I kind of see Zuri as somebody who can play different positions just based upon what you need as a coach,” Johnson said. “There are times where she’s bringing the ball down [the court] for us, times we’re bringing her off screens to get shots up, times that we’re posting her up because she’s bigger than her defender. She’s gonna flourish. She’s gonna put the work in, and the IQ and the skills are already there. She’s just gonna get better and better.”
Her well-roundedness and intelligence should allow her to fulfill a variety of roles in her collegiate career, but at which college is still unknown. Ransom has yet to receive a Division I offer, though getting one seems like more of a matter of when than if.
Travis Ransom doesn’t have an ounce of worry about his daughter.
“Z’s been hurt for one reason or another, whether it’s broken fingers or a knee injury that got misdiagnosed, but she has progressively learned how to attack the process and not worry about the results,” he said. “She is treating the process like it’s more important than an actual game, and the game is the reward. That’s the philosophy at home regardless [of what their goals are], for all my kids, that’s the philosophy.”
Evanston athletic royalty
Travis Ransom’s father, Alfonzo Ransom (ETHS Class of ‘72), is a coach as well. Zuri’s grandfather coached Travis growing up, but also is a familiar name to the current generation of Evanston athletes as coach of the Bucks in FAAM.
Travis Ransom (ETHS Class of ‘94) is also known across multiple generations of Evanston athletes, as a coach currently, but previously as a star player.
Zuri’s brother, Kamau Ransom (ETHS Class of ‘22), was a two-time All-State football player and is now a freshman wide receiver at the University of Indianapolis.
Although she grew up in a family of notable members of Evanston’s athletic community, Ransom said she looked up to just about every older kid who wore orange and blue.
“I just really liked being around basketball and watching it,” she said. “The guys called me Little Ransom, and now I’m older, [but] they still know me as Little Ransom.”
Ransom’s name might’ve been recognizable early on due to her family. But she has risen to stardom, and might just be scratching the surface of her true potential.
Little Ransom has carved out a name of her own.
Great article…I love the Ransom Family. As I am an Evanston native and a fan of basketball as well as other dominating sports. I remember when Zuri was on my son Caleb Powell’s baseball Evanston Baseball House League Team. Zuri did not hold punches then and she’s not holding them now. She was a beast on the baseball team and did not care that she was the only female on the team.. as an avid softball player myself, It was so fun to watch her as well as my son Caleb, who is currently playing and enjoying the game of baseball at Evanston Township High School. Zuri is amazing and on her way…