By Doug Donnelly
Special for Second Half
ADRIAN – It’s hard to imagine a 15-year-old having a better week on the basketball floor than Joe Francis had last week.
In the span of seven days and three games, the Adrian High School sophomore scored 33 points in a victory over East Jackson, hit a half-court buzzer-beater to force overtime and scored 32 points in a victory over Monroe and broke the 20-year-old Adrian single-game scoring record with 42 points against Manchester.
On the doorway that leads into the Adrian Gymnasium, the school lists all the Maples’ basketball record holders. It may hold off a while before switching Francis’ name with the previous record holder for single-game points, Chris Howard. That’s because Francis has his eyes on breaking that record again. And again.
“I’m not really worried about it right now,” he said. “I’m not satisfied. I’ve got a lot I have to work on still. I feel like I can beat that record, but I just have more work to do.”
Jordan Kelly, an Adrian graduate, became coach of the Maples before last season. One of his first decisions was to put the then-freshman Francis on the varsity. Francis had a steady season with the Maples, concluding it with a season-high 11 points in their Division 2 District loss to Chelsea.
That set the tone for this season.
“Over the summer we had a team meeting,” Francis said. “We set goals and talked about what we wanted to accomplish this year. The seniors and the captains are just stepping up. We were missing the communication part, but we are better now.”
The three-game win streak was Adrian’s first in what has been a trying couple of seasons. But the Maples are 4-4 this winter, and Francis is leading the way.
“He’s the epitome of a gym rat,” Kelly said. “He gets guys together to play. He always wants to be in the gym. We sometimes have to make him take a rest day.”
Francis is from Adrian. His dad, Joe, played college basketball in Missouri and is an assistant coach with the Maples. His mom, Tammy, ran track at Saginaw Valley State University and is the boys and girls track coach at Adrian. Athletics always have been important in the Francis house.
“They’ve always pushed me hard,” Francis said. “That’s what I need.”
Francis has played summer travel ball for a couple of seasons now. Playing on the varsity last year as a freshman didn’t faze him.
“For my teams, I’ve always played up,” he said. “We played against some of the best players in the state.”
Francis not only has matured, he’s also grown up. He was listed at 5-foot-9 on Adrian’s roster last season. He’s almost 6-3 now.
“He’s maturing so much, even since September,” Kelly said. “He’s learning. He’s working on his leadership skills. It’s been very cool to watch him grow.”
Francis gives a lot of credit for his success to Kelly.
“We’re trying to start a new standard,” Francis said. “Coach Kelly keeps talking to us about turning Adrian basketball around, to turn it back to what it used to be. That’s very important.
“He works us hard. He knows how good we can be if we just do the little things and play together. I give a lot of props to him.”
Despite reaching double figures in three of Adrian’s first four games, Francis felt the start to his season wasn’t what it should have been. So, he did what he knows best – got into the gym.
“Over Christmas break I worked a lot with my dad on my shot,” he said. “I had been struggling with my 3. We got into the gym, and I found my groove again.
“We’d start with ball-handling, using the heavy balls for about 15 minutes, then we’d work on spot shooting and then shooting 3-pointers.”
Against East Jackson, Francis made 15 field goals – including two 3-pointers – in the first game back from the break. It was impressive, but four nights later he popped in 42 against Manchester, making 18 field goals, including four triples. Oddly enough, he didn’t score in the first quarter.
He went to the Adrian bench in the fourth quarter with 39 points, but came back in, converted a pair of fastbreak layups to break the record, then went back to the bench. Three days later, he had perhaps his finest performance on the road at Monroe.
He got off to a slow start but came to play in the fourth quarter and overtime, scoring 22 of his 32 points during the last 12 minutes. The halfcourt shot to tie the game brought Adrian back from what looked like a certain loss.
“I got the ball on an out-of-bounds play,” Francis said. “I knew I could hit that shot. I had a lot of confidence. I broke the press, and when I saw there was just two seconds left on the clock, I just shot it.”
The Maples were down 11 and missing three starters who fouled out, but got on Francis’ back and won the game in overtime.
Kelly said Francis has always had a lot of confidence in himself. Now, his teammates have that confidence and he has that same feeling about his teammates.
“He’s going to have a lot of success because of his work ethic,” Kelly said. “This is what he’s worked for. He gets guys playing. We challenge him. We have some good defensive players go up against him because we want to make him better.”
Playing in the rugged Southeastern Conference helps, too.
“There’s definitely some top-tier talent in the league,” Kelly said. “If he can hold his own in our league, he can play anywhere.”
Doug Donnelly has served as a sports and news reporter and city editor over 25 years, writing for the Daily Chief-Union in Upper Sandusky, Ohio from 1992-1995, the Monroe Evening News from 1995-2012 and the Adrian Daily Telegram since 2013. He's also written a book on high school basketball in Monroe County and compiles record books for various schools in southeast Michigan. E-mail him at [email protected] with story ideas for Jackson, Washtenaw, Hillsdale, Lenawee and Monroe counties.
PHOTOS: (Top) Adrian’s Joe Francis elevates to get a shot up over a Chelsea defender Tuesday. (Middle) Francis works to find an opening from the top of the key. (Photos by Mike Dickie.)
We've got a long way to go before the stories of this season conclude with four MHSAA boys basketball champions crowned March 15 at Michigan State University's Breslin Center.
But the first week of the 2023-24 regular season gave us plenty to fill our first installment of “Breslin Bound” – our official tip-off to following more than 700 boys basketball teams through those final buzzers in East Lansing.
Week in Review
The countdown of last week’s five most intriguing results:
1. Flint Carman-Ainsworth 46, Flint Beecher 44 This was their first meeting since January 2022 and it provided a memorable start as the Cavaliers downed the reigning Division 3 champion.
2. Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice 75, Ferndale 66 These two both have several new contributors, but big things will be expected again as well as Brother Rice regularly contends in Division 1 and Ferndale is the reigning Division 2 champion.
3. Lansing Waverly 58, Detroit Martin Luther King 57 Waverly took major strides last season doubling its win total from 2021-22 and could be on the verge of more coming off this impressive victory at the Detroit Douglass Tip-Off Classic.
4. Norway 49, Munising 48 After the Knights gave Munising a tough final regular-season test last season, the Mustangs went on to claim the Division 4 championship. Norway will attempt to build off back-to-back 15-7 seasons starting with this win.
5. Wyoming Tri-unity Christian 64, Grandville Calvin Christian 44 These two combined to finish 46-9 a season ago, when Calvin defeated Tri-unity 63-42 in the regular-season finale (although the Defenders rebounded to finish Division 4 runners-up).
With an eye toward March, here are two teams in each division making sparks:
Rochester Adams (2-0) The Highlanders provided one of the best late-breaking stories of last season, reaching the Division 1 Quarterfinals after finishing fourth of five teams in a strong Oakland Activities Association Red that also featured North Farmington and Ferndale. The momentum started rolling again with wins last week over Milford 52-48 and Macomb L’Anse Creuse North 74-59.
Utica (2-0) Last season’s co-champion in the Macomb Area Conference Blue defeated MAC White reigning champion Port Huron Northern 68-49 in their opener and then Utica Eisenhower 56-41 at the MAC Champions of Champions event at Center Line. Utica improved to 15-7 last season after finishing 7-14 in 2021-22.
Dundee (2-0) After holding its own last season in a strong Lenawee County Athletic Association and finishing 13-12 overall, Dundee is hoping to turn a fast start last week into a climb up the standings with league play starting Friday. The Vikings doubled up East Jackson 52-26 and downed Milan 67-37 to start things off.
Goodrich (1-0) A 22-5 finish last season included a shared championship in the Flint Metro League Stars and a run to the Division 2 Quarterfinals, where the Martians fell by only five to eventual champion Ferndale. The second-to-last of those five losses came to Flint Beecher, 70-55, but Goodrich avenged it Friday with a 58-55 win over the Bucs.
Hillsdale (2-0) The Hornets finished just 4-19 last season, their second sub-.500 in a row. But the turnaround may be starting. Hillsdale is halfway toward last year’s win total after defeating Union City 53-45 and Jonesville 50-40 – and after losing to Union City 52-36 and Jonesville 39-23 last season, with Jonesville going on to finish 19-6.
Royal Oak Shrine Catholic (2-0) This is another team well on its way to bettering last season’s success by Jan. 1. After going 3-19 last winter, Shrine defeated Bloomfield Hills Roeper 48-30 and Utica Ford 55-52 in overtime last week. Ford had defeated the Knights 63-50 last season, and the 55 points Shrine scored this time would have been their second-highest total of 2022-23.
Adrian Lenawee Christian (2-0) Lenawee Christian finished last season on an 11-5 run after a 2-7 start, and might be rolling that right into this season as well after opening with a 74-60 win over Blissfield and 73-58 overtime victory over Hanover-Horton. Blissfield was among teams to deal the Cougars a loss during last season’s tough early stretch. Lenawee Christian is playing in the Tri-County Conference this winter after playing previously as an independent.
Wakefield-Marenisco (2-0) The Cardinals were a solid 13-10 last season, with the final week including a third win over Bessemer as they faced off in a District Semifinal, followed by a third loss to Ironwood in the District championship game. This season’s first week saw the same schedule, but a better outcome – Wakefield-Marenisco edged Bessemer 60-57 and this time defeated Ironwood 48-30. Ironwood was first and W-M third last season in the Copper Mountain Conference Porcupine Mountain.
Be on the lookout for results of these games coming up:
Tuesday – River Rouge (1-0) at Ferndale (1-1) – As noted above, Ferndale was last season’s Division 2 champion, and defeated Rouge 72-60 in last winter’s meeting.
Friday – Kalamazoo Central (0-0) at Battle Creek Central (0-0) – These longtime rivals finished first and third, respectively, in the Southwestern Michigan Athletic Conference East last season.
Saturday – Detroit Cass Tech (0-0) at Holt (1-0) – The Rams host the reigning Division 1 champion Technicians in the 4:30 p.m. game of the Moneyball Classic.
Saturday – Grand Rapids South Christian (0-0) vs. Rockford (1-0) at Calvin University – This will be the 10 a.m. opener of The Invite at Calvin University, with the reigning Division 2 runner-up Sailors taking on a Rockford team coming off an 18-win season.
Saturday – Grand Rapids Catholic Central (0-0) vs. Grand Rapids Northview (1-0) at Calvin University – This will cap off The Invite tipping approximately 7:35 p.m. and pitting last season’s Ottawa-Kent Conference Gold co-champion and White outright champion, respectively.
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PHOTOS (Top) A Westland John Glenn player gets to the basket during U-D Jesuit's season-opening 83-48 win over the Rockets. (Middle) Bath defenders surround a Charyl Stockwell player during the Sentinels' 63-55 victory. (Top photo by Olivia B. Photography; middle photo by Click by Christine McCallister.)