Francis: `right decision'

Weary of speculation, Terps guard chooses to enter NBA draft

Williams didn't try to deter `Accomplished a lot' in one season at UM

April 01, 1999|By PAUL MCMULLEN | PAUL MCMULLEN,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK -- Steve Francis discussed his options with family, friends and Washington Wizards guard Rod Strickland, who works in the league he aspires to. Gary Williams conferred with more than a dozen NBA insiders, and distilled the matter down to the basics.

"You can make $9 million your first three years," the Terps coach told him, "or be the point guard at Maryland."

Francis officially chose the former yesterday, when he ended months of rumors and confirmed that the season just completed would be his only one at Maryland. Francis, 21, will pass on his final season of college eligibility and enter his name into the NBA draft.

The junior guard had little in the way of a high school resume before he bounced from prep school to two junior colleges to Maryland, where his rags-to-potential-riches story was one of the most captivating tales of the season. Francis is expected to be one of the top players chosen June 30, and it didn't sound like his decision was all that hard.

"When I finally decided a couple of days ago, I was more emotional then than I am now," Francis said at yesterday's news conference. "I've worked hard to put myself in this position. This is the right decision."

A second-team All-American, Francis led Maryland to a No. 2 ranking in December and No. 5 at the end of the regular season. When he agreed to accept a scholarship from Maryland a year ago this week, he hinted that it probably would be for only one season, and the speculation considering his future took a toll.

"This is something I've been thinking about, not just this year, even last year," Francis said. "In the latter half of the season, it was real tough. Just about every time I came into the locker room, I had to face that question. Being a team player, I focused on playing basketball.

"This was the time for me to make this decision. Based on the number of phone calls my grandmother was receiving, at 11 and 12 at night, and 6 and 7 in the morning, that was bugging her. I wanted to get it over with today."

Asked if he had secured representation or received any endorsement offers, Francis said no.

Francis said the prospect of financial security "wasn't the No. 1 thing that made this decision," but a multimillion-dollar contract and the chance to test himself at the game's top level overshadowed whatever advantages there would have been to staying in college.

Francis said he will miss the crowds at Cole Field House and the players who will be back at Maryland next year. He was not deterred by missing out on another shot at the NCAA tournament, or his lack of experience at running a team at a high level, since Terrell Stokes handled the point for Maryland.

"If it was just one person saying it, that's one thing," Williams said of the prevailing opinion that Francis will go no lower than fifth in the draft. "Legitimate NBA people had the same opinion of Steve. If that's what Steve wanted to do, I knew he would be OK in terms of the draft.

"You don't want to see a kid go who has an over-inflated opinion of himself. If a kid thinks he's going in the top five, but he's really a late-round pick, then I'd tell him to stay. If Steve wasn't going to go high, I'd tell him to stay."

Francis said he wasn't scared by the experience of Obinna Ekezie, whose college career was ended by a ruptured Achilles' tendon.

"I kind of thought about that," said Francis, who was accompanied by family and friends, including Temple's Mark Karcher. "But it's very seldom a guy coming back for his senior year gets hurt."

As a high draft pick, Francis will likely go to one of the NBA's weakest teams, which will be a new experience. He helped two junior colleges to unbeaten regular seasons, and Maryland to a school-record 28 victories.

"We accomplished a lot," Francis said, "even though we didn't make the national championship."

Williams spoke of Francis' intangibles.

"You like a guy, then it becomes tougher," Williams said. "Watching how he handled the attention, how broken up he was after St. John's [NCAA tournament loss], that's the kind of guy you want in your program. I wanted him back obviously, because of that, and because he would make us a better team."

While Williams would have wanted Francis to stay at Maryland, he apprised the Silver Spring resident of his expected position in the draft. According to Francis, the Terps' six returning scholarship players were a bit more impartial.

"Of course," Francis said, when asked if anyone attempted to talk him out of going to the NBA. "All the guys coming back. They knew the situation. They tried to hold me down."

Francis at UM

Category Avg. Note

Scoring 17.2 Led team

Assists 4.5 Second on team

Steals 2.8 Led ACC

Rebounds 4.5 Fourth on team

FG pct. .523 Led ACC guards

Pub Date: 4/01/99

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