Let's Pay Homage To The College Years of Steve Francis on His 40th Birthday

I had heard of the legendary Len Bias. Joe Smith somehow went No. 1 in the NBA Draft. But the first person I'd ever cared about in college basketball from the Maryland Terrapins was Steven D'Shawn Francis.

The Life and Times of Steve Francis is a roller coaster ride filled with incredible highs and scary lows, and on his 40th birthday it feels necessary to remind myself how I was introduced to the man who was formerly nicknamed "Wink" and would evolve to "Stevie Franchise". Mostly because the story on how he got there seems incredible.

A normal car ride from Francis' home in Takoma Park to the University of Maryland in College Park was no more than 20 minutes in duration. Yet for Francis to become a Terp, he might as well have had the worst road map ever. Here's an exceptional snippet on Francis per Tim Crothers of Sports Illustrated in 1998 on his journey:

Francis played one season as a 5'3" sophomore at Montgomery Blair High in Silver Spring, Md., usually as the third-string point guard. He missed his other three high school seasons because of a combination of academic lethargy, transfers and injuries. In March of his senior year, his mother, Brenda, who had raised him and his two older brothers as a single parent, died of cancer at age 39, a loss that led a distraught Steve to do so poorly in school that he failed to graduate.

By that time though, Francis had sprouted almost a foot and had improved enough as a player that he was steered to a Connecticut prep school by a family friend. He couldn't afford the tuition payments there, however, so he returned to Takoma Park in November 1995 and began playing almost every day below the firehouse. He still possessed the ability to create shots in traffic, which he had developed during his days as the shortest runt on the court, but he had also improved his jump shot. Francis dominated pickup games, but he was excelling in obscurity. "You started thinking about playground legends like Earl Manigault, and you wondered if Stevie would ever be anything more than a superstar in the 'hood," Montgomery Blair High coach Dale Lambert says. "But Stevie was always a little kid with a big heart, and he refused to let the bad times consume him."

Steve kept heeding Brenda's advice to never give up on his dreams. (He even got a tattoo on his right biceps that reads IN MEMORY over the name BRENDA, and he rubs it before every foul shot.) Francis finally caught his break in the summer of 1996 when he was invited to play on a Maryland AAU team that competed in the 19-and-under nationals in Florida. He was named to the all-tournament team and, armed with his high school equivalency diploma, got a scholarship to San Jacinto College, the Texas juco powerhouse. The following summer Francis became homesick and transferred to Allegany Community College in Cumberland, Md., where he averaged 25.3 points, 7.1 rebounds and 8.7 assists. "He wasn't just our point guard, he was our best rebounder, best defender and best passer. The way he elevates, it looked like he was posing for pictures around the rim," Allegany coach Bob Kirk says. "We must have had 30 Division I coaches come here to scout him, and every one told me that he's a can't-miss for the NBA." Francis even briefly considered declaring himself eligible for the draft after last season, but instead he enrolled at Maryland--his sixth school in the last six years.

One and done never looked so good. (Photo by Joel Richardson/The Washington Post/Getty Images)

When Francis finally arrived in College Park, he would immediately stake his claim as the best player in college basketball. For one magical season, Francis lit college hoops on fire. He was a first-team All-ACC player, he led the Terps to a #2 ranking in the polls, and he literally tried to dunk on as many people as possible. It's hard to fully appreciate Francis because we just saw another scoring guard rip things to shreds in the DMV, that being Allen Iverson. But Stevie Franchise was a tad different. He was a little taller, a little stronger, and somehow a little more raw. Like he was on his sixth team in six years. Like he was just figuring things out, both with his game and his life. Like he knew greener pastures were in his future.

That turbulent ride to finally get to Maryland would get even crazier after he left as he'd be known for a various of things, from spurning the city of Vancouver before ever stepping foot in British Columbia to forming one of the coolest duos in NBA alongside Yao Ming. From being traded for Tracy McGrady to having his chain-snatched in public, it's hard to understand how things got so crazy with Francis.

However, when asked how he would define his legacy, he answered it in a way only Stevie Franchise could.

Shit—he came, he saw, he conquered.

All hail Steve Francis, happy birthday to you. Let us enjoy some of your college highlights.

Related: Steve Francis, The Forgotten NBA Slam Dunk Contestant

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *