His name rates with immortals Oscar Robertson, Pete Maravich and Earl Monroe as one of the best scorers in college basketball history. In the process his team accomplished one of the most unbelievable tasks in college cage annals.
"He" is Clarence "Bevo" Francis and in 1952-53 his Rio Grande College basketball team accomplished a nearly impossible feat when they streaked to a perfect 39-0 record. That win total still ranks as the most victories in a season by a college team.
Francis nearly rewrote the NCAA and NAIA record books in the process. Among his outstanding laurels are the NCAA top single season scoring average (48.3), best two-year average (47.1) and points in a single game (113). His NAIA marks are similar-- single season scoring average (50.1) and points in a game (116). The NAIA recognizes all games that Rio Grande played in determining Francis' records, while the NCAA only acknowledges games with degree-granting institutions.
The Rio Grande success story actually began in 1951, when Rio Grande alum Newt Oliver took the head basketball coaching position at Wellsville High School. It was Oliver's first meeting with a gangly, relatively unknown basketball player named "Bevo".
"As we started practice that year," Oliver said, "it did not take me long to realize that Bevo Francis would some day be an All-American basketball player. And, I was sure he would make it in any college in the country-Rio Grande, the University of Dayton or Ohio State-he was that good."
In his only year of varsity basketball at Wellsville, Francis scored 776 points in 25 games for an average of nearly 32 markers per outing. In the process, he led his team to a stunning 19-1 regular season record and a berth in the state playoffs. He was a unanimous all-state performer.
The following year the basketball coaching job opened up at Rio Grande and Oliver filled the vacancy. With him went Francis, a highly touted 6-9 center who was sought by numerous major college powers.
The newspapers around the state gave the announcement of Oliver's appointment at Rio Grande only three or four lines. This would soon change.
The Rio Grande campus consisted of only four buildings in 1952, including Community Hall, home of the Redmen basketball team. It was not exactly a basketball palace, but it did serve as an acceptable home court.
Despite its cleanliness, the hall was affectionately tabbed by players as the "Hog Pen". The facility did not have a shower room and players would dress in their dorms, run through freezing temperatures on many occasions to practice, and then do the same following a three or four hour workout.
With five newcomers and the same number of returnees in fold for the season, Oliver clearly had his work cut out for him. The nucleus of the team would be Francis and Wayne Wiseman, a two-year veteran who ended up leading the team in assists with 388 and the nation in field goal accuracy, connecting at a 62.9% rate.
"The first thing I did was let the team in on my plan… a plan that was in the back of my mind since the 1947-48 season when I led the nation in scoring," said Oliver.
"We're going to play in some of the biggest basketball arenas in the country," Oliver told the team. "We're going to be the toast of college basketball. We're going to play a basketball game in New York's Madison Square Garden."
Wiseman, who had played in some of the more obscure gyms during the previous two years, mumbled something that brought a laugh from his teammates.
"What's so funny?" Oliver asked.
"The only garden we'll ever see," Wiseman sheepishly responded, "is one with a hoe."
Here was a coach with no collegiate coaching experience talking to 10 players at a school with only 92 full-time students and predicting an appearance in the basketball capital of the world. Moreover, the school had finished just 4-19 against small college competition the year before.
But how wrong Wiseman would be, as Rio Grande sprinted out to four wins in their first four starts against the Redman Alums, Cumberland (MD) College, Sue Bennett (KY) College and Waynesburg (PA) College to match their win output of the previous season. The streak reached 10 with wins over Dayton, Wilberforce, Bluefield (VA), Denison, Marietta and Beckley (WV).
Suddenly, fans packed into the "Hog Pen" for games, and Rio Grande was getting national attention.
The big break for the program came on January 9 before a packed house at Community Hall, when Francis scored an unbelievable 116 points to lead Rio Grande to an astounding 150-85 victory over Ashland (KY) College for their 18th straight win. Francis converted 47 field goals and 22 free throws as he boosted his scoring average to a miraculous 50.7 markers per contest.
The most amazing fact about the Ashland game was that Francis had "only" 61 points heading into the final 10 minutes of play to reach the mark.
The highest previous point total in one game was 87 set by Jack Duncan of Rio Grande in 1941 with Paul Arizin of Villanova University next at 85.
Suddenly, media representatives, from all over the country, were traveling to Rio Grande to see basketball history in the making. And more suddenly, Rio Grande was playing in large arenas in front of thousands of spectators.
After Francis' stellar showing, Rio Grande was in high demand throughout the eastern United States. They went on the road for 17 straight road tilts, before returning to Community Hall for a meeting with Bluefield. The Redmen whipped the Big Blues for their 36th consecutive win.
They would close down the season with another victory over Ashland, and wins over Cincinnati and Wilberforce.
The team cracked the 100-point barrier on 23 occasions in averaging 101.1 markers per contest, compared to their opponents slate of 68.2. They also established a collegiate record with 39 straight wins.
Francis was a United Press International (UPI), Helms Foundation, and Associated Press All-American.
Along the way, he set NAIA season standards for field goals (708), free throws (538), points (1,954) and average (50.1).
Francis went on to hit nearly 50 points per game the following year, including 113 points in one game against Hillsdale College (MI), which is recognized today as the collegiate record. The Redmen went 21-7 in 1953-54, ranking in the top 20 in the nation.
It proved to be Francis' final season as he moved on to the professional ranks. In all, Francis scored 3,272 points in two seasons at Rio Grande in leading the Redmen to an astounding 60-7 overall mark.
During his final year at the school, Rio Grande played and beat such powerhouse teams as Arizona State, Buffalo State, Creighton University, Wake Forest and Providence. They packed crowds into gyms in Nebraska, Missouri, Indiana, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Florida, Michigan, Massachusetts - and even Madison Square Garden in New York City.
The following statistics are some of the great accomplishments of the Legendary Clarence "Bevo" Francis. Francis played for Rio Grande from 1952-54.
NAIA Individual Scoring
113* 1954 Hillsdale (MI) 38 FG, 37 FT
Average per game, season
48.3 1953 580 Points in 12 Games.
Most Field Goals
38 1954 Hillsdale (MI) 70 Attempts
38 1954 Alliance (PA) 71 Attempts
Most Field Goals Attempted
71 1954 Alliance (PA)
Most Free Throws
37 1954 Hillsdale (MI) 45 Attempts
Most Free Throws Attempted
45 1954 Hillsdale (MI)
*Francis scored 116 points in a game versus Ashland (KY) Junior College on January 9, 1953. Bevo connected on 47 field goals and 22 free throws. Rio Grande won the game, 150-85.
1952-53 Team: Clarence "Bevo" Francis, Wayne Wiseman, Jim McKenzie, Roy Moses, Dick Barr, John Viscoglosi, Bill Frazier, Bill Ripperger, Jack Gossett, Zeke Zempter, Bob Mundy, student coach Carroll Kent, head coach Newt Oliver.
1953-54 Team: Clarence "Bevo" Francis, Hammondsville, OH; Wayne "Wonder" Wiseman, Waterloo, OH; Bill "Shotgun" Ripperger, Norwood, OH; Roy "Bull" Moses, Upper Sandusky, OH; Dick "Cheta" Barr, Ashland, OH; Jim McKenzie, Catlettsburg, Ky.; Richard "Dick" Myers, Coal Grove, OH; Leory "Cat" Thompson, Waynesburg, OH; Don Vyhnalek, Crete, Neb.; Robert Zurcher, Minerva, OH; Lee Weiher, Rio Grande, OH; Al Schreiber, New York, NY; head coach Newt Oliver.
Information courtesy of "His Records Stands " a book by Juanita Evans Dailey, Ph. D. and "Basketball and Rio Grande College Legend" a book by Newt Oliver, Bevo's coach.