The University of Maryland basketball fanatics and curiosity seekers arrived early last week at Harford Community College to get a glimpse of dynamic Allegany Community College point guard Steve Francis in action.
They wanted to see what all the fuss is about over the 6-foot-3 junior college kid.
Is he really good enough, like some coaches are saying, to transform Maryland into a Final Four team next season if coach Gary Williams wins one of the most important recruiting battles in his nine years at the school?
As usual, Francis didn't disappoint.
He put on a breathtaking clinic in what was supposed to be a tough game for unbeaten Allegany (24-0) against Harford.
The Francis clinic was divided into five stages:
He whipped no-look passes all over the floor to wide-open teammates for easy layups.
He effortlessly hit threes and a variety of other shots and once drove the lane with a stutter step, glide, ball fake and dish to Neil Roberts for a layup.
He soared over three and four bodies for some graceful and spectacular slam dunks.
He pounded the boards consistently.
And he played relentless defense and a number of times went sprawling across the floor into a pile of players for the basketball.
The final tally in just 26 minutes in a 92-45 rout of Harford was 20 points, 10 assists, eight rebounds and four steals.
Just another game for the 20-year-old hotshot who averages 22.7 points, 9.2 assists, 6.9 rebounds and 5.8 steals for the Trojans, who are ranked second in the nation in the National Junior College Athletic Association Division I poll.
That is a brief portrait of how the explosive Francis plays and why 50 Division I college coaches have paraded through Allegany CC in Cumberland in just two months to see him play or talk to him.
Many of those coaches believe Francis will choose Maryland and they have told veteran Allegany coach Bob Kirk the Terrapins "are a Final Four team this season with Steve."
In accordance with NCAA rules, Williams and the other coaches recruiting Francis are not allowed to discuss any potential recruit until he is signed.
Kirk screens every visiting coach and monitors every interview.
Kirk already has called Francis the "best point guard we've ever had" at Allegany and "potentially the best player ever here."
That is saying a lot since two former Allegany players, Eric Mobley (Milwaukee Bucks) and John Turner (Houston Rockets) went on to be first-round NBA draft picks, and four of the school's former point guards were first-team NJCAA Division I All-Americans.
One of those four point guards was Rudy Archer (Southwestern High), who starred at Maryland in the 1987-88 season, and another was Michael Horton, who is the starting point guard for Cincinnati this season.
Williams has made no secret of his love for Francis as a player, traveling twice to Cumberland to see him perform.
"Maryland is really working hard to get Steve," said Kirk. "He loves the ACC and Maryland and only lives 10 minutes from Maryland [Takoma Park]."
But Francis insisted last week he isn't rubber-stamped for the Terps.
He only will say that Maryland, Clemson and Oklahoma are the three schools he has visited and are "among my options."
He didn't want to talk about the seven other schools that apparently are still on his list.
"He's down to 10 schools from the 50 who have recruited him," said Kirk.
Francis, a sophomore, said he won't make a decision until after he tries to lead the Trojans to the first NJCAA Division I championship in the school's history.
"I have so many choices," he said. "Me, my coach and my family will make the final decision. Maryland is close and convenient, but I have to weigh my decision on all the positives and negatives of each situation."
When asked what would help him make up his mind, Francis said, "I know you need a coach, but I'm a good point guard, and if I can control the team on the court, that would mean a lot to me."
There are two reasons why a player the magnitude of Francis didn't wind up at a big-time college right out of high school.
First, he broke his ankle as a junior at Montgomery Blair and missed the entire season. Then he was devastated before the start of his senior season when his mother, Brenda Wilson, died.
Francis didn't play as a senior and still pays tribute to his mother every day, wearing a tattoo on his right arm that has a cross and his mother's name on it.
"I play every game for her and myself," said Francis, whose high school career was limited to his sophomore year, when he was only a 5-8, third-string point guard.
It was during the summer after graduation from high school that Francis made the push to rescue his basketball career.
He began working out every day in the gym, grew to 6-3 and played for Team Maryland out of Takoma Park in the 1996 Amateur Athletic Union national championships in Winter Haven, Fla.
He averaged 18 points, six assists and five rebounds to grab the attention of San Jacinto (Texas) Junior College, where he would spend one season before transferring to Allegany after making a phone call to Kirk last June.
"Playing at Allegany is just like being at a major Division I school," said Francis. "We have large crowds, a lot of talent [all five starters from last season's 31-2 squad have gone on to Division I schools] and a lot of pressure to win. The only thing we don't have is a big enough campus to be a Division I school."
Pub Date: 2/03/98