Bob Fronk, the former Washington men’s basketball standout who helped the Huskies to the 1980 National Invitation Tournament, died Thursday at his home in Portland after a yearlong battle with lung cancer. He was 62.
Fronk, a 6-foot-4 guard, started his final two seasons and the highlight of his UW tenure was on Feb. 23, 1980 when he drained a 25-foot game-winning jumper as time expired to beat UCLA 72-70.
It was Washington’s first win at Pauley Pavilion, which opened in 1965.
“I’ll always remember that,” said former Husky coach Lorenzo Romar, who as a UW player comprised UW’s backcourt that season with Don Vaughn and Fronk. “It was a hard-fought game. UCLA had two magnificent freshman guards in Rod Foster and Michael Holton. Kiki Vandeweghe was their main star. James Wilkes was on the team, and Larry Brown was the coach.
“At that time in ’79-80, UCLA was four years removed from their last championship. There was still the mystique of Pauley Pavilion. You go in there and you probably weren’t going to win. … But there we were. We realized down the stretch we got a chance to win the game.”
Romar, a Los Angeles native, envisioned making the last shot to beat his hometown team, but realized Fronk, who shot 60.1% from the field that season to set the UW record at the time, was the better option.
“Bob Fronk was as confident a shooter and offensive player as you wanted to find,” Romar said. “He had a real belief that he could make the shot. I remember driving to the middle and we were in L.A., so I’m thinking I was going to shoot it.
“They did a good job of covering me. I could have shot it, but it would have been a forced shot. So I dribbled back and forth in the paint, couldn’t find a shot, but there was Bob over there to my right. I passed over to him. No surprise he knocked that thing down and we won the game. It was exciting.”
Following the loss, UCLA won its next seven games and advanced to the 1980 Final Four while Washington made its first trip to the NIT — a 93-73 loss to Nevada in Las Vegas to finish 18-10.
As a senior, Fronk averaged 16.7 points and 4.4 assists during the 1980-81 season while Washington finished 14-13 and 8-10 Pac-10. He also provided the highlight of the season, a career-high 35-point performance during a 102-91 win against Oregon on Jan. 22, 1981.
The Indiana Pacers selected Fronk, who tallied 965 points at Washington, in the sixth round (No. 129 overall) in the 1981 NBA draft. However, he played two years in Cologne, Germany, before concluding his professional playing career.
Fronk returned to the Seattle area and married college sweetheart Julie Silke in 1983. The couple had a son Joe before divorcing in 1990.
“He worked in education after he was done with basketball,” Fronk’s older brother Jim said. When he came back to the states, he got his master’s degree (in education and counseling) at (Saint Martin’s College) in Lacey.”
Fronk coached the North Kitsap High School boys basketball team for six years (1997-03) while compiling a 53-65 record. His best season was 2000-01, when the Vikings went on a 15-game winning streak and won the Olympic League title.
“More recently, he worked for an international school in Waterloo, Belgium, and then spent a couple of years in Doha, Qatar,” Jim Fronk said. “He worked for international schools in each of those places doing the same thing he had done in Poulsbo, working with high school (students) on college placements.
“He traveled extensively through Europe and the Middle East while he was over there.”
In 2017, Bob Fronk retired and returned home to Portland, where he had been a three-sport star at Sunset High.
Forty years earlier, Fronk was a first-team all-state selection in 1977 as a senior joining notable Oregon prep standouts Danny Ainge, Ray Blume and Mark Radford.
Fronk also quarterbacked Sunset High to back-to-back Oregon state championships, including a 12-0 record as a senior, while setting a school long-jump record of 21 feet, 11.75 inches that still remains.
“He was recruited pretty widely out of high school, but chose Washington because they were going to let him attempt to play both football and basketball,” Jim Fronk said. “He may have turned out for one spring football season, but then concluded he was just going to do basketball.”
Fronk followed in the footsteps of Portland native Stan Walker, who was a year older and starred at Sunset High and Washington.
“I believe Bob felt minimized in that class of ’77,” Walker told longtime Portland-area journalist Kerry Eggers. “I sensed he felt he was considered a tier below the other guys. He followed me (to Washington) because he felt he could have the same kind of success. He wanted to get away from any comparisons to the other guys.”
Fronk spent his first two years at Washington as a backup before assuming a larger role as an upperclassman.
“The funny thing about Stan, he hit what people call ‘The Shot’ that beat a top-ranked UCLA team the year before Bob’s game-winner,” Romar said, noting Walker’s 17-footer with three seconds left in a 69-68 win over the Bruins on Feb. 22, 1979. “Those two were really good friends, and it’s something they hit some of the biggest shots that you can remember.”
Fronk is survived by his son Joe, sister Nancy Burford and brother Jim.
“For a while there we hadn’t spoken to each other, but within this past year, we talked and he was telling me about a project that he was working on,” Romar said. “Bob never mentioned anything about an illness or anything like that. All he wanted to talk about was this project that he was passionate about. He was in a really humble place.”
Fronk spent the past year researching Dick Crews, the first Black basketball player for the Washington Huskies who played in the 1950s. Several years earlier, the two become friends and Fronk was intent on publishing a book about Crews.
“Bob and Dick were lifelong friends and when Bob came down with cancer during the pandemic, he took on this project to not just keep him busy but to tell this untold story,” Jim Fronk said. “One of the themes in Bob’s book was going to be the racism that Dick suffered from as the first African-American player on the team.”