Francis burning up Wheaton College nets
Wheaton College junior guard Aston Francis plays basketball as if he's demanding style points.
Making 3-point baskets from beyond NBA distance or spinning, off-balance shots from the corner, the entertaining Francis plays like he's good from anywhere this side of midcourt. He's got some funky moves on the drive to the basket in his arsenal too.
He's a self-professed shooter first, but then there are his passes. A behind-the-head flip or a court-length baseball pass, Francis can turn it into an assist. He's the Thunder's version of Pistol Pete Maravich.
"He doesn't fully appreciate how he's really re-energized our program," Wheaton coach Mike Schauer said after his Thunder lost to No. 5-ranked Augustana 86-84 Wednesday night in Wheaton. "It's disappointing to lose tonight, but to see King Arena kind of back to where it was a few years ago is exciting, and a lot of that is not only his play, it's his style of play.
"I love him. He's just such a tough competitor. And I've never coached a kid who can score like he can."
Francis is scoring like Thunder legend Kent Raymond, and he hopes to soon have the Thunder (13-5, 6-3) winning like Raymond did too. Raymond, a three-time All-America guard, scored more than 2,300 points for the Thunder before graduating in 2009 as the school's second all-time scorer and best 3-point shooter.
Francis, from Tyler, Texas, poured in 37 points in 39 minutes against Augustana, a figure that increased his season average to 27.9 points a game.
"My teammates did a really good job of getting me open, getting me the ball in places that I felt comfortable scoring," Francis said. "... In hindsight pretty insignificant. I would much rather take the win than play well, but I thought we had a great chance to win. Just didn't execute."
Last year -- his first season in Wheaton after transferring from Tyler Junior College in Texas -- Francis led the CCIW in scoring with 23.4 points a game. He set a school record by making 94 3-point shots.
Francis developed this style of play as, he said, an overweight child.
"At the time I didn't like it but when I was younger I was kind of the chunky kid and my only option was to shoot if they backed off me," said Francis, now a muscular 6-foot-1, 190 pounds. "I think it really helped me to work on my jump shot first, and I really got that going before any other part of my game.
"And as people tried to take away my jump shot I started to incorporate other things in my game. I think the jump shot is the most important thing to have in your game because it makes you so much more difficult to guard. And so I was fortunate I guess to be the chunky, slow kid when I was younger and was almost forced to do that."
And those degree-of-difficult shots are no accident.
"I do work on it, actually," Francis said. "Just situations in the game, coming off picks, I know guys are going to be hugging on me and going to be guarding me tight, so I know I'm going to have to take tough shots. So I try and practice tough shots and shots coming off picks and fadeaways and things like that."
He's earned a long leash.
"Fortunately Coach Schauer doesn't yank me when they don't go in," he said with a grin.