The year is 2007 and a fresh identity has just entered the Hollywood scene. At the peak of the movie charts is a new release called, “Pork Chop,” starring Ricardo Billings, a former Ohio State basketball player-turned actor. After receiving rave reviews, the paparazzi catch Billings for a short interview before the movie’s premiere.
“I don’t think I’ll ever stop wanting to be an actor,” Billings said about his new on-screen career.
Looking stellar in a comfortable hip-hop-style outfit, he proudly escorts his brother Emuel, and his aunt, Janella. The invited guests share the red carpet with Billing’s co-star, comedian Martin Lawrence, and the film’s leading lady, supermodel Tyra Banks.
Growing up in Detroit, Mich., Ricardo “Ric” Billings is not the first aspiring star to come from the Great Lakes State. Tom Selleck, Steven Seagal, Diana Ross, Madonna and Eminem all hail from Michigan. It may be agreed that the state up north nurtures creativity, but Billings, unlike the aforementioned stars, has a keen awareness of the state that nurtures many basketball greats.
“I’ve always wanted to come to Ohio State,” Billings said. “It’s been something I have been trying to do since the ninth grade. A friend on my high school team and I used to pretend like we were two of Ohio State’s players at the time – Michael Redd and Scoonie Penn. We decided that we would go to Ohio State together and be the next Scoonie and Mike.”
Although his friend went to a school in Michigan, it is now known that Billings’ ultimate goal would materialize and become a reality. Born July 7, 1983, Billings was a sophomore at Rogers Academy when Redd and Penn led the 1998-99 Buckeyes to the Final Four. Only a year earlier, he abandoned baseball, the sport he played throughout childhood, to pursue a high school career in basketball.
“I began playing basketball at the end of eighth grade. Before that, it was all baseball,” Billings said. “When I started, I was the last player to get picked to play on my league team. I sat on the bench the whole season. I was going to quit and devote myself to baseball. I was really good at baseball, much better than at basketball. But one of my friends told me not to quit, so I didn’t. I stayed with it and ended up getting better and better.” With his Buckeye heroes in mind, Billings began diligently practicing his skills on-the-court.
“I would get up real early and go to practice, shoot and dribble by myself,” Billings said. “When no one else was out, I was. We ended up moving to another house in the neighborhood that was right across the street from the court. My aunt would let me stay out and practice as long as I wanted.”
With only four short years of basketball experience, Billings graduated from Rogers Academy in Detroit as a highly decorated and reputable athlete. He was a four-year starter and finished his high school career as one of the top-rated guards in the country. Billings averaged a double-double as a sophomore, junior and senior. Even as a freshman, he averaged 17 points, eight rebounds and seven assists. The most valuable player of the Rogers Rangers his junior and senior years, Billings led his team to district and regional championships both of these years and saw the Rangers to two final four appearances.
Unlike many recruited high school graduates, Billings had no qualms when deciding the location of his future university and basketball arena. Ohio State proudly received the news of Billings’ ensuing arrival.
The Buckeyes’ offer to be the home of Billings’ collegiate basketball career came as no surprise to Janella Williams, Billings’ aunt and No. 1 fan.
“Ric is a Jack of all trades,” Williams said. “I really wanted him to pursue baseball, but I supported him in anything he did. At Rogers, he ran cross-country, did the hurdles and played basketball. He can also juggle, play the piano and do multiple flips. He is so talented.”
Other than being his devoted aunt and caregiver, Williams also was the implementer of her personal nickname for Billings.
“He loves pork chops with smothered potatoes and a salad,” Williams said. “So, my name for him has always been pork chop. When I call him, I’ll ask, ‘How you doin,’ pork chop?'”
Billings’ grew up with Williams and his brother, 18-year-old Emuel, who is no exception to the Billings’ brother’s many talents. He was a firsthand witness to his brother’s quick transition from the diamond to the court and followed Billing’s consistent example.
“I grew up in his shadow,” Emuel Billings said. “I got to see him take two teams to the final four. Even though I was always behind him and we shared similar interests, I was able to do some things differently. I led two teams to state championships and maintained a 4.0 grade point average throughout high school.”
Emuel is now a freshman at Marygrove University in Detroit, playing basketball for the Mustangs. Being a state away from his brother is a source of loneliness for him.
“We have the best brother relationship I have ever seen,” the younger Billings brother said. “We couldn’t be closer.
“The biggest thing I miss about being back home in Detroit is spending time with my family,” Ricardo Billings said.
In Detroit, the two not only were high school basketball stars, but also were partners in crime for their comedy routines and endless practical jokes. The dynamic duo learned most of their material from the popular Fox series, “Martin,” starring Martin Lawrence.
“I love Martin,” Billings said. “I would like to model my acting style after him.”
“We love Martin,” Emuel said. “Our favorite thing to do is watch his show and his movies together.”
Williams can attest to the boys’ unconditional love for the actor/comedian who has starred in such movies as Boomerang, Big Momma’s House, and Bad Boys. A multi-millionaire, the supporting actors in Lawrence’s films have included Eddie Murphy, Danny DeVito, Will Smith and Tim Robbins.
“Ric can recite the lines backwards after watching a Martin movie only one time,” she said. “He and Emuel love their Martin movies. I don’t always get the jokes. They see the funny that I don’t. They’ll be watching some movie and start cracking up and I’ll say, ‘What are you laughing about?’ They never let me in on their jokes.”
While Martin is the catalyst of many laughs, Billings is clever at pulling his own sly schemes.
“He is such a prankster,” Williams said. “You never know when you’re gonna look up and see a water balloon hanging over your head. Even at the grocery store, Ric and Emuel act like kindergarteners and throw chips and stuff in the cart when I turn my head. We’ll get to the checkout and I’ll have 30 things in my basket that I didn’t pick out.”
Even though Billings cannot see his aunt as much as before, the two talk on the phone everyday, “just to check in and see how his day is going,” Williams said. Home games at Value City Arena offer a regular opportunity for the family to reunite. The 6-foot-3-inch, 210-pound sophomore guard’s cheering section usually consists of Williams, Emuel, a few cousins and friends.
“I’ve gone to every one of his games,” Williams said. “I don’t think I’ve ever missed a home game. As much as I love being there to watch Ricky, it’s also important to him that I’m there supporting and cheering for him.”
“I think about basketball all day, everyday, except when I’m in class,” Ricardo said. “It’s always on my mind.”
Billings formulates his dedication to Ohio State by reminding himself of the years when Michael Redd and Scoonie Penn were part of the team. He wants to continuously build upon former seasons in Ohio State’s history.
“I want to build on what the guys before us did,” Billings said. “Ohio State has always consistently improved and I don’t want that to stop now. I want to keep the tradition going.”
No team can work together as a cohesive unit without collective respect for one another. Billings said that he is friends with everyone on the team. Billings said the 2003-04 squad has had the most fun together when they went to Maui, Hawaii, in November.
“We had a great time going to Maui and just running around in the sand,” Billings said. “Also, when we play video games, it gets so competitive. Everybody goes crazy. If you lose a game, you’ll never stop hearing it. We’ll all pile up at someone’s house or go to the dorms and have so much fun.”
On a free weekend night, when the Buckeyes have no foe to defeat, Billings enjoys relaxing, spending time with the team, and of course, watching “Martin.” While most people enjoy the antics of the comedian, Billings may have more in common with the star than his joshing abilities. Lawrence says he got his start as a comedian by cheering up his mother, who was forced to support her six children by working as a cashier in various department stores.
There is never a time that Billings is not able to cheer up his aunt Janella.
“He’s so good to me,” Williams said. “When I’m upset, sick or in a bad mood, he always makes me smile. He’ll say, ‘You want some pancakes?’ He knows how to cheer everyone up and always puts me first before him. We never part each other without a smile.”
“A kind person” is what Billings is most proud of about himself. Above all of his athletic abilities, his most important attribute is his warm heart.
“What I love most about Ricky is that he is a very sweet, loving and kind person. He looks out for everyone. He’s just amazing. He has the best personality and everyone shares that opinion of him. He is capable of anything he would ever want to do. Ricky makes the world a better place,” his aunt said. “He has a warm heart.”
While Billings’ acting abilities may bring him continued success in the future, they will be skills that remain in front of the camera. Off-screen, he need not pretend to be anyone but himself, a kind person with a warm heart.