Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Records Are Made To Be Broken

As soon as I heard about Jack Taylor's NCAA-record 138 point scoring performance for the Grinnell College basketball team, I thought about Bevo Francis.

Bevo Francis? Yep. He's probably the best sports story Hollywood never heard of. Francis came out of nowhere in the 1950's to put up some stunning numbers, including the 113-point game in 1954 that stood as the NCAA record until Jack Taylor came along.

And after Francis' two epic years at tiny Rio Grande College (now the University of Rio Grande), he pretty much went back to nowhere.  He spent a couple of years playing for a team that barnstormed with the Harlem Globetrotters, turned down a chance to play with the Warriors in the NBA, and wound up back home working in a steel mill.

I grew up fascinated by the notion of a guy scoring that many points in a basketball game--more than Frank Selvy's 100 for Furman (adjudged the NCAA Division 1 record); more than Wilt Chamberlain's 100 for the Warriors (the NBA mark). I loved the guy's nickname: "Bevo", the name of a "near-beer" sold during Prohibition (and apparently, a favorite beverage of Clarence Francis' father). And I thought I had some special inside knowledge because I knew how to pronounce the name of his alma mater: "RYE-oh Grand".

What I didn't really grasp as a kid was that Bevo Francis was more than just an oddity. He burst upon the scene as college basketball was stumbling out of the terrible point-shaving scandal of the early 50's. Rio Grande College had fewer than 100 students when Francis arrived in 1952. He actually had a 116-point game in the '52-'53 season but it came against a junior college. His 50.1 points per game average that season was ignored by the NCAA because Rio Grande played so many two-year schools.

So the next year, Rio Grande upped the ante, and America paid attention. The Redmen played all of their games on the road--places like Madison Square Garden (they drew almost 14,000) and the Boston Garden, opponents like Wake Forest, Villanova, Providence, and North Carolina State. They won their share; Francis averaged 46.5 a game, and capped it with the 113-point night against Michigan's Hillsdale College.

That night, Francis was 38-of-70 (54.3%) from the floor and 37-of-45 (82.2%) from the line, stats that compare favorably with the 52-of-108 (48.1%) floor and 7-of-10 (70%) line numbers put up by Taylor. It's worth noting that Francis didn't have the 3-point shot at his disposal while Taylor hit 27 treys on the way to his 138 points.

Jack Taylor, of course, set his record in the instant-communication era. Tweets were flying even as he was jacking up jumpers en route to the record; Facebook lit up with posts as soon as the game ended. Francis, playing in the pre-Telstar world of 58 years ago, was always a sort of gauzy figure, almost more myth than reality.

No offense to Jack Taylor or to Grinnell College, which plays an exciting brand of press-and-fire basketball that has turned the Pioneers into a reliable 100-plus-per-game scoring machine. But I still like the Legend of Bevo Francis, and that will always be the scoring record I treasure.

No comments: