Frankie Ferrari, seen here competing in the San Francisco Bay Area Pro-Am League, is a Burlingame native who once claimed the Peninsula Athletic League Player of the Year award. (Courtesy Willie Eastman Jr.)

From Uber driver to Dons’ star: Frankie Ferrari’s crazy ride to USF and back again

About a year-and-a-half ago, Frankie Ferrari wasn’t the on-court general of the University of San Francisco basketball program. Ferrari wasn’t even a Don.

The Burlingame native originally arrived at the Hilltop in the fall of 2014. He was a star recruit, a Peninsula Athletic League legend and the owner of the best name in college hoops.

After a freshman season that saw him average 1.3 points in less than nine minutes per game, Ferrari transferred to Cañada College, a community college in Redwood City. Ferrari freely admits it’s been a crazy ride to USF and back.

“It’s not your typical journey. I kind of went through a similar thing in high school,” said Ferrari.

Ferrari’s tenure at Burlingame High School included a detour to Riordan for his junior year. Ferrari and his younger brother thought the San Francisco powerhouse would be a better fit. It wasn’t and he returned to Burlingame to secure the PAL Player of the Year award during his senior season.

“All roads lead to a different path and everyone has their own journey.”

While redshirting at Cañada during the 2014-2015 season, Ferrari quickly found his basketball life at a literal crossroads.

“For me, it’s just been no matter where I’ve been, I’ve gone through years where I was playing in rec leagues and driving for Uber,” Ferrari said.

Fast forward to the present and Ferrari is back where it all started — playing his best collegiate hoops and propelling the Dons’ late-season surge.

Heading into Saturday night’s conference finale against the University of San Diego at War Memorial Gym, the Dons had won five of six. Ferrari recently earned WCC Player of the Week honors for a two-game stretch that included the toppling of Saint Mary’s and 37 points and 13 assists for the point guard.

frankie ferrari
Frankie Ferrari, seen here competing in the San Francisco Bay Area Pro-Am League, is a Burlingame native who once claimed the Peninsula Athletic League Player of the Year award. (Courtesy Willie Eastman Jr.)

Head coach Kyle Smith was a fan long before he or Ferrari would pair up at USF. Smith had first scouted Ferrari when he was a sophomore in high school, playing for his dad’s AAU team.

Then the coach at Columbia, Smith knew Ferrari was popular with WCC programs, like Saint Mary’s where his old boss and good friend Randy Bennett was in charge.

“I said, ‘Shoot. I’m in New York.’ If this guy’s good enough and his name’s Frankie Ferrari, I mean, Italian, we’ll be good.”

Frankie, or Franco, is one of four Ferrari boys. There’s also Ralphie, Vinny and Giacomo.

Smith quickly realized that Ferrari wasn’t leaving the Bay — much less moving to New York. Eventually, Smith would get his guy but he’d have to wait until the spring of 2016 when he accepted the job with the Dons.

Ferrari became a member of Smith’s inaugural recruiting class.

“I don’t know if that counts?” Smith cracked. “Does that count when you bring him back?”

Smith, with more than a quarter century of coaching experience on his résumé, couldn’t recall another situation where a player left a school and came back.

“I don’t know if it’s ever happened,” Smith said.

Smith had long known about Ferrari the player and received terrific reports about him — on the court and off it — from athletic director Scott Sidwell.

Then there were the words of his former colleagues.

“I remember [junior] Nate Renfro and Ronnie Boyce [who graduated last year] coming into the office and saying, ‘Coach, we need Frankie. We’ve got to get this guy. We’ve got to get this guy back,’” Smith recalled.

Ferrari has seized the moment in his second stint with the Dons. After emerging as a rotation player last season, Ferrari has entrenched himself as the Dons’ chief facilitator in Year 2 — or is it Year 3.

Ferrari leads the team in assists (4.2) and steals (1.0) and ranks second in points (11.0) and minutes per game (27.3). He began the year on the bench, finally wrestling away a starting spot more than a month into the season — game No. 11 — a 52-41 win over Radford.

“I’m always railing against the millenials,” Smith said with a laugh. “It’s like they never understand delayed gratification and working hard and that you never arrive. There’s a sense of that with everybody.”

“I think everybody on our team’s had to have moments where they have to take one step backwards to take two steps forward,” Smith added. “And I think Frankie’s done that. He’s really hung in there and it’s nice to see some things paying off for him.”

Ferrari has finally realized that the things he was doing in high school — like spearheading the offense and letting his shot fly — are translating on the college court.

“He’s a love-hate guy. Some people really love him because he’s a little cocky. He’s got a little swagger,” Smith said. “And I think he’s got his true confidence and his hard work [is paying off].”

With the WCC tournament next up on the docket, it’s not just Ferrari who’s feeling confident — it’s the Dons at large.

“I think our chemistry is at an all-time high and I think we’re playing our best basketball,” Ferrari said. “And it’s always good to be peaking in march because you can make some noise.”

kbuscheck@sfexaminer.comCollege SportsFrankie FerrariKyle SmithUniversity of San FranciscoWest Coast Conference

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