As Francis Fills it Up, Adrian Record Falls

January 17, 2020

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.)

Little Provides Major Stride as 1st Woman to Officiate Boys Hoops Final since 1995

By Keith Dunlap
Special for

April 13, 2023

Delonda Little was already a trailblazer to many before this year’s MHSAA Boys Basketball Finals.

Greater DetroitBut what happened last month at Breslin Center made her even more of one on a statewide level.

A referee and assigner for 20 years in the Detroit area, Little is a female boys and girls basketball official who mentors both male and female referees – no matter the gender or level, as she officiates high school and college games.

Officials often go to Little for guidance, direction and assignments, which has made her respected for years throughout Metro Detroit in the prep basketball community. Then, her status as a trailblazer grew even more.

Little was assigned as an official for the Division 3 Boys Basketball Final between Flint Beecher and Traverse City St. Francis, and she became the first female referee to officiate an MHSAA Boys Basketball Final since Traverse City’s Barb Beckett 1995.

“It was a very good feeling to know I was the one selected,” said Little, who officiated the Final with Matt Olson and Zach Porritt.  

In fact, while attending a Semifinal game the Friday before the Final, Little received a phone call from an area code she didn’t recognize.

She answered, and it was Beckett.

“At first I didn’t know the name,” Little said. “I said, ‘No, I don’t know you, but that’s fine.’”

Beckett then explained she was the first female referee to be assigned a Boys Basketball Final, and just wanted to offer support to Little.

At that point, Little became excited and thankful she answered the call.

“It was very nice to hear from her because she wanted to reach out and if not pass the torch, to congratulate me,” Little said.

Little, 51, said she found out she was going to be refereeing the Division 3 boys championship game just before the start of the postseason when she received an email from the MHSAA.

“I’m looking at the email and I’m like, boys?” Little said. “I was shocked.”

But she was shocked in a good way, and obviously excited for the honor.

Little monitors the action between Flint Beecher and Traverse City St. Francis.Little didn’t find out until a couple of days before the St. Francis/Beecher contest that she would be officiating that specific championship game, but the Monday of boys championship week was when she really started to receive congratulations from friends and colleagues.

That’s when an article came out in the Detroit News detailing her selection, which led to countless calls, texts and congratulatory messages on social media.

“I couldn’t even (keep up with the comments),” she said. “That’s how overwhelming the actual tags were. It came from all across the state with officials, men and women, because I do women’s college (games). Some of the college ladies were reaching out. I was getting all the hoopla before the game.”

Little said she normally doesn’t get nervous for games, but not having some nerves became a bit harder once so many people knew of her achievement.

However, she settled into a normal routine quickly once the game started.

“I wanted to get it done, get it over with and do well,” she said.

Little did do well, which is no surprise to everyone who knew her before she officiated on the boys championship stage.

It was just another feather in the cap for Little, who in 2016 became the first woman to officiate a boys Detroit Public School League championship game.

“Delonda is one of the top officials in the Detroit area, and our staff doesn’t look at Delonda as a female working a boys game – we see one of the top officials in Detroit working a basketball game,” MHSAA Executive Director Mark Uyl said. “There are females officiating in the NBA and female officials in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. The aspect that made Delonda’s selection for this MHSAA championship game nearly unique will soon be the norm at all levels of athletics.”     

Little graduated from Detroit Osborn in 1989 and starred on the basketball court at Wayne State, earning induction into WSU’s Athletic Hall of Fame in 2005.

Her day job is as an officer for the Michigan Department of Corrections, but her passion is officiating. She’s been an MHSAA-registered official for basketball for two decades and also was registered for volleyball for four years. This past fall she registered for football for the first time.

“I get something from it because it keeps me in shape, I love the people I work with and I like the kids,” Little said. “You are always teaching, and I like training the newer officials. I just enjoy it. I don’t know what I’d be doing if I wasn’t refereeing.”

Going forward, Little hopes her championship game assignment will now be an inspiration for other female referees.

“There aren’t very many women who would like to work boys basketball or feel comfortable,” Little said. “If that’s something they desire, I’m hoping more women are selected to work the games if they feel comfortable.”

Keith DunlapKeith Dunlap has served in Detroit-area sports media for more than two decades, including as a sportswriter at the Oakland Press from 2001-16 primarily covering high school sports but also college and professional teams. His bylines also have appeared in USA Today, the Washington Post, the Detroit Free Press, the Houston Chronicle and the Boston Globe. He served as the administrator for the Oakland Activities Association’s website from 2017-2020. Contact him at [email protected] with story ideas for Oakland, Macomb and Wayne counties

PHOTOS (Top) Delonda Little takes her position on the court during the Division 3 Boys Basketball Final on March 25 at Breslin Center. (Middle) Little monitors the action between Flint Beecher and Traverse City St. Francis.