"We pulled off something nobody ever did before," he says. "It will never be repeated. How could that ever happen again? I had a major college basketball team in a school with 92 students beating Providence and Wake Forest! And we saved the school! We were idolized across the United States. We did the Today show, The Ed Sullivan Show! It's still like a dream to me."
Not to Francis, though, who got over it long ago. He turned down a contract offer from the Philadelphia Warriors of the NBA in 1956, untempted by a life that would take him too far from his wife and his family, his dogs and his hills.
He might have played for a living, but instead he has worked. He has made dishes in a pottery plant, he has driven a cement truck. He worked in a steel mill, loading trucks, for 19½ years, until the the plant closed in '82, throwing 6,000 people out of work. "I missed the pension and medical benefits by six months," he says. "I was out of work for three years and three months. We lived on savings. But I built that garage over there."
That fits too—as neatly as he folds himself into his red Chevy pickup and makes off toward Sarah's court. Come November, down at the University at Rio Grande, now an institution of 2,137 students, they will be holding the 10th annual Bevo Francis Classic basketball tournament. "They're gonna do a big thing at the tournament this year," he says. "It's 40 years ago that it all started to happen. What's most pleasing to me is to see how the place grew. It's a delight for me to see that."
On Sarah's court he takes a bounce pass, dribbles twice to the left side, reaching up as he nears the rack, and curls in a lefty layup off the board. Then he dribbles back to the top of the key and turns, softly sending the ball skyward.