Blue and Gold Illustrated

Sept. 19, 2020

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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50 SEPT. 19, 2020 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED IRISH IN THE PROS BY ANDREW MENTOCK T orin Francis is at ease as he sits on a gray couch in his New York City apartment. Even the occasional voices from his family echoing in the background do not disrupt his train of thought during a Zoom call. The former Notre Dame men's bas- ketball player is relieved to be home. When the pandemic caused pro- fessional sports leagues across the world to shut down, Francis was in the midst of his fifth season in Ar- gentina and soon would learn that returning home was near impossible for the foreseeable future. "I was actually stuck in Argentina for a couple of months because we weren't able to travel," Francis said. "They closed all the airports domes- tically and closed down all public transportation domestically. I had to wait for a couple of months until they started bringing Americans back on special flights from Argentina." To stay sane, Francis read con- stantly, ran up and down the stairs at his apartment building and worked out near the pool. But mostly, he was alone. This was unfortunate timing for Francis and his family because this was the first of his 14 professional basketball seasons that the 6-10 power center wasn't accompanied by his family. Instead, they stayed back in New York while his oldest daughter began high school. Francis said this was part of their life-after-basketball transition. Over the summer, he turned 37 and knows his basketball career is nearing its end, especially given the uncer- tainty from the COVID-19 pandemic. Right now, he says foreign leagues are monitoring the NBA's bubble in Orlando, Fla., closely — but a major factor in the return of international basketball will be how each country the various professional leagues are in handles the pandemic. "Each country has been affected differently, just like we've been af- fected differently," Francis said. "There are some countries in Europe that are actually already signing players, and they plan on having a season at the normal time starting at the beginning of September." Despite the uncertainty, Francis feels at peace with the idea that his basketball career may have come to a premature conclusion this spring, es- pecially given the ailments he expe- rienced while at Notre Dame, which easily could have ended his profes- sional career before it even began. He entered Notre Dame in the summer of 2002 as a five-star recruit, McDonald's All-American and the No. 3 center in the country according to Rivals. As a freshman, Francis started all 34 games, and averaged 11.1 points, 8.4 rebounds and 1.8 blocked shots. That season, Notre Dame reached the Sweet 16 in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1987. Unfortunately for Francis, back issues hindered the remainder of his Notre Dame career. He averaged 14.2 points per game in 2003-04, but missed more than 10 contests that season. The Fighting Irish big man was able to stay on the court more throughout his junior and senior seasons, but his numbers peaked dur- ing his sophomore campaign. Francis went undrafted after col- lege and immediately became an NBA free agent. This allowed him to play for the Miami Heat in the Orlando Summer League. He saw action in four games and started one, and averaged 5.3 points and 2.8 rebounds per contest, but was not picked up by the franchise. While disappointed at first, Francis ended up with a rewarding 14-sea- son career overseas. "I always say that everything hap- pens for a reason," Francis said. "Ob- viously, my dream from the first day I got serious about basketball was to play in the NBA. Even though I never played in the NBA, I still had an amazing career. "I lived all throughout Europe. I visited many more countries. I played in Argentina, and I speak Spanish flu- ently now. I have all these other ex- periences that have been amazing. I guess it just wasn't meant for me to play in the NBA, but I still had a great career and a long professional career." After his NBA audition with the Heat, Francis slimmed down, which had a tremendous impact on his health. "At Notre Dame, I was probably about 255," Francis said. "Once I left Notre Dame, I dropped down to about 240, 245. That took a lot of pressure off my back. Then I just tried to take care of my body. I did a lot of core work. "Everyone needs a strong core, needs a strong midsection, but es- pecially if you have back problems, you need to strengthen up your core to take the pressure off your back." In July, Francis was still without a Torin Francis Is At Peace With His Long International Basketball Career Although he never played in the NBA, Francis has experienced a rewarding 14-year basketball career by playing overseas. PHOTO COURTESY TORIN FRANCIS

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