Donovan high on UF signee Francis
Published: Thursday, November 28, 2013 at 9:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, November 27, 2013 at 7:37 p.m.
JACKSONVILLE — Here's an idea how much 2014 Florida signee Brandone Francis loves basketball.
Growing up in a small village outside of La Romana in the Dominican Republic, Francis would play pickup games outside without sneakers until the sun went down.
“It was outside, in the street,” Francis said. “We painted the street and we needed to stop playing sometimes because the cars needed to go through. And we would stop playing and let the cars go through and keep playing. It really was in the street, and we painted to make it our own court.”
From humble beginnings, the 6-foot-5 Francis is hoping to follow the legacy of another Dominican basketball superstar. Francis was 11 years old when Florida won the first of its back-to-back national titles. Gator center Al Horford was a national hero in the Dominican Republic, helping to lead an unforgettable group of selfless players to the first two national titles in UF basketball history.
“He's the best basketball player ever to come out of the D.R.,” Francis said. “I hope I can follow his lead, you know, and be one of the greatest ever to come out of my country and the greatest to ever come out of my city. That's my goal. I'm going to work hard for it. I just let it in God's hands.”
Francis said he's friends with Horford, a two-time NBA All-Star center with the Atlanta Hawks. The two trade texts or Twitter messages from time to time. But Francis is eager to try to create his own legacy at Florida. After watching UF's two national titles on TV, Francis said he knew he wanted to play for the Gators.
“The way they won back-to-back national championships, it just touched my heart,” Francis said. “I just wanted to wear that jersey and see how that feels. I wanted to win a championship and see how it feels.”
Francis arrived in America as a freshman in high school, and has played at Arlington Country Day School in Jacksonville since his sophomore year, developing into a four-star prospect. His high school coach, Rex Morgan, compares Francis to Brooklyn Nets point guard Deron Williams and said Francis is a combo guard capable of playing at the point or off the ball.
“It doesn't matter to me” Francis said. “I think I can play both one and two. I feel good when I've got the ball in my hands because I can drive to the basket and kick it for the shot or drive it and finish it. Either spot I feel good.”
At a recent workout at Arlington Country Day, Francis displayed his varied skill set, which included shooting range out to the 3-point line, pretty no-look passes and knifing drives through the lane.
“I'm really, really excited about him,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said. “He's a really gifted offensive player. Got a really good motor. He's got good size. He can shoot it. He's an explosive offensive player and I'm really, really excited about his potential.
“In just looking at our backcourt, he's a guy that can create for himself. He can really make plays for himself. … I think there will be some times we'll play him at the point, put him at the point. He's got really good vision. Sees the floor. He's a heckuva talent.”
At 207 pounds, Francis also has the physical strength to handle playing in Southeastern Conference games as a freshman. Asked about his strength, Francis joked “it probably came from my dad.” But Francis said he's also worked hard in the weight room and is careful about his diet.
“I was skinny and then my body just blew up really quick and I started eating, eating a lot and I got overweight,” Francis said. “So that's when I realized, my body is going to depend on how I treat it.”
Francis said he knows if he has a weakness, it's on the defensive end of the floor. It's something he intends to work on his senior season at Arlington Country Day.
“I want to be a lockdown defender,” Francis said. 'I think it's all mental. I think I have showed I can play D when I really want to, but this is not when you want to, this has to be consistent, always. And I realize that sometimes I sleep on D, or when I've got a tough player against me it's hard.
“It doesn't matter who we are playing against. I want to play defense 100 percent, my hardest. I think I need to work on that and then I will be fine.”