As a child, as Little Beve, he had suffered bouts with anemia and consequently had missed two years of school. By the time he was a senior, he was 20 and too old to play for Wellsville. No matter: His Wellsville coach, Newt Oliver, had loftier plans.
Oliver, while a basketball player at Rio Grande, had led the country in scoring in 1948 with 725 points. His master's thesis included 75 pages on the art of shooting free throws. Bevo needed no help there, but by then, to be sure, Oliver needed Bevo. With Rio Grande in desperate financial shape, Oliver had taken the $3,500-a-year job as head basketball coach; had coaxed a rich alumnus, a car dealer, to come up with $3,000 for basketball scholarships; and had gone right after Bevo, who was still 1½ credits shy of graduating from high school. That did not deter Oliver.
A coach by trade, a promoter and salesman by inclination, he figured that the jump shot of Bevo Francis was the key to Rio Grande's salvation—the ticket to selling tickets everywhere. "I knew that people wouldn't pay to see five players score 15 points each," Oliver says now. "But I knew they'd flock in to see one player score 50."
One evening late in the summer of'52, Oliver found Francis at his mother-in-law's house—Bevo had married his high school sweetheart Jean Chrislip earlier that year—and said to him, "Well, are you ready to go?"
"I'm not goin'," Bevo said.
"We don't have the money," Bevo said.
"I'm not going down there without you," cried Oliver. "You're the reason I took that job!"
Francis, the simple homebody, was no match for the persuasive promoter. He ultimately gave in, and thus began the rarest, wackiest, damnedest two years in college basketball history—a kind of circus wagon winding amiably across America on a long road show, with Bevo performing on call and Oliver bagging peanuts and playing the calliope.
The Rio Grande campus lies in southeastern Ohio, in the village of Rio Grande, a dozen miles northwest of Gallipolis, in Raccoon Township. As a married man, Francis had been given a scholarship consisting of tuition, books, $75 a month for groceries, $35 a month for a furnished apartment—whose bathroom the Francises shared with Oliver and his wife, Maxine—and a campus job, which paid 50 cents an hour. Actually Francis attended two schools at once. "I enrolled him at Rio Grande High School at the same time I enrolled him at Rio Grande College," says Oliver. "He needed those 1½ high school credits to graduate."