Rags to riches
Francis will complete improbable story with high pick
Posted: Saturday June 26, 1999 09:20 PM
Francis would love to become the new go-to guy for the Bulls. AP
COLLEGE PARK, Md. (AP) -- Steve Francis walked into Cole Field
House, scene of some his greatest moments as a college basketball
player, precisely one week before his ascent to the NBA.
On this day, Maryland's home basketball court was overrun by
hundreds of kids bouncing basketballs and taking jump shots.
Francis, who'd attended the same basketball camp seven years
earlier, was the featured guest speaker.
"How much do I get paid?" Francis asked with a grin, knowing
the appearance was a freebie.
"Here's a shirt," was the reply.
Francis laughed. And then he took the shirt.
Growing up, Francis wore hand-me-down hand-me-downs. His father
abandoned the family when Francis was 6 and at 10, Francis was
working summer jobs to ease the burden on his mother, Brenda.
New clothes were a rare luxury. Paying the rent and putting food
on the table were challenging enough for the Francis household.
Thanks to basketball, Francis will soon have his choice of any
suit at any price. He can get a closet full of silk shirts, too.
The 6-foot-3 guard with blurring speed and acrobatic moves will
soon sign a lucrative contract as one of the top picks in
Wednesday's NBA draft.
"Steve Francis is a guard that can flat out play," said Stu
Jackson, president and general manager of the Vancouver Grizzlies.
"He is very athletic, extremely explosive and has a flamboyant
flair about his game."
Francis played only one year at Maryland after transferring from
junior college, yet that was long enough for him to display his
wide array of skills.
"Everyone noticed the dunks and the 3-pointers, but as a coach
what I really appreciated was his defense," Maryland's Gary
Williams said. "He also was a great passer, an unselfish player
who made those around him better."
After averaging 17 points a game and leading Maryland to the
Sweet 16 in the NCAA tournament, Francis decided to skip his senior
season and declare himself eligible for the NBA. He would love to
play for the Chicago Bulls, who own the top pick, in part because
he grew up idolizing Michael Jordan.
But he will be delighted to go almost anywhere.
"I feel that I'm one of the best players in the draft, but
maybe the No. 1 team doesn't need a Steve Francis. Wherever I'm
needed, I'm hoping the right team will select me," he said. "I
just hope it's in the top 5."
That appears certain.
"He could very well go No. 1. He has the energy level of an
Allen Iverson," said Phoenix Suns scout Dick Percudani. "He's in
the attack mode on both ends of the court."
Francis has not made any elaborate plans to enjoy his new
wealth. Some athletes buy a new house for mom, but Francis' mother
died of cancer at 39 when he was a high school senior. His
grandmother, who helped raise him, says she has no intention of
Thanks to lessons learned from Grandma, Francis will not indulge
himself on a foolish spending spree.
"I'm not going to rush out there and buy 50 houses and 50
cars," he said. "I'm the type of person who grew up without a lot
of things, so I know how to manage my money."
But soon after he puts his name on a professional contract,
Francis will begin spoiling someone very special to him, someone
who'll get a chance to experience some of the pleasures of
childhood that his family simply couldn't afford to give him.
"I have a little sister who's like my daughter. I don't want
her to experience a lot of the things that I went through," he
said. "She needs to experience a lot of the things, but not all of
them. I'm just grateful to be in position to help my family and
Nothing was handed to Francis, who at a very early age saw
basketball as his ticket to a better world.
After his mother died, he took refuge and practiced at a tiny
firehouse gym that was also the home of an outreach program for
youths. At about the same time he got a tattoo on his right arm -- a
4-inch cross with the words, "In Memory" on top and "Brenda" in
He rubbed the tattoo each time he prepared to take a free throw
"I think he deserves it because he's overcome a lot of
things," Williams said. "A lot of kids do that, but he was
willing to work after he got good. It just seems like he knew all
along that the NBA was in his future.
"He was in camp here in 1992, a real little guy who had no
guarantee that he was going to grow. But even then you could tell
that he had a great amount of talent. Of course, a lot of guys have
a great amount of talent and never make it."
Some who do make it take it upon themselves to become role
Wearing his new T-shirt and surrounded by wide-eyed youths
dreaming of being the next Steve Francis, the future millionaire
put on a dazzling shooting exhibition at the basketball camp. But
his most significant message came in the form of a heartfelt
"It's all about determination. During the summer I spend six
hours a day on the basketball court," Francis said. "But the most
important thing I can tell you is this: Listen to your parents.
Care about the people who care about you."
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