The Sports Then and Now Vintage Athlete of the Month for February is one of the most prolific players in the history of college basketball. However, unless you followed sports in the early 1950s, chances are you have never heard of Clarence “Bevo” Francis.
Quite simply, Francis was the most prolific basketball scorer of his generation and an intriguing answer to trivia questions.
It was 58 years ago, February 2, 1954, that Bevo Francis of Rio Grande College forever sealed his name in college basketball lore by dropping 113 points on Hillsdale College in a 134-91 victory for an NCAA single game scoring record that will likely never be matched.
Heck, the closest any college player has ever gotten happened just 11 days later on February 13, 1954 when Frank Selvy from Furman scored 100 points against Newberry College. The closest anyone has gotten to 100 points in a single game in the ensuing 56 years is 81 points by Freeman Williams of Portland State against Rocky Mountain on February 3, 1978.
What is even more remarkable about Francis and his scoring record is that his 113 point game wasn’t even the best of his career. He scored 116 points the previous season against Ashland Junior College in a game that was not recognized by the NCAA.
The story of Rio Grande, with just 38 men in the entire school and a basketball team that couldn’t lose spread like wildfire across the country. A 6-foot-9 center and the best player on the team, Francis became a national folk-hero in a time before ESPN and even Sports Illustrated (which started in August 1954).
During the 1952-53 season Bevo Francis averaged 50.1 points per game playing against a schedule that included some legitimate four-year college programs, but also an assortment of junior colleges. In all, the 1952-53 Rio Grande Redmen played 39 games (going 39-0) and Francis scored an amazing 1,954 points.
The NCAA had never previously done much about regulating schedules and records, but following Bevo’s amazing exploits the NCAA retroactively stripped him of the scoring title and declared the 116 points he scored against Ashland Junior College to not be counted in his official NCAA total.
The following season, coach Newt Oliver scheduled a number of tougher opponents including North Carolina State, Wake Forest, Creighton, Providence, Miami, Butler and Villanova in an effort to bring legitimacy to the program and give Francis the national recognition he deserved. Francis and Rio Grande didn’t win all of those games, but Francis did play well enough to cement his reputation as a scoring machine.
He scored 39 points in an overtime loss to Villanova, 41 in a victory over Providence, 48 in a victory over the University of Miami and 32 (including the game winner) in a victory over Wake Forest.
His 113 point explosion against Hillsdale was one of nine games of 50 or more points he registered during the 1953-54 season. In fact, during his career Francis had 20 games where he scored 55 or more points.
Francis led college basketball with an average of 46.5 points per game during the 1953-54 season and that total is still the highest single season mark in NCAA history. The closest anyone has come to his season average was Pistol Pete Maravich with an average of 44.5 points per game during the 1969-70 season.
Following the 1953-54 campaign and just two years of college basketball, Francis, along with Coach Oliver, left Rio Grande and spent two years on a barnstorming tour with the Harlem Globetrotters as a member of their regular opponent, the Boston Whirlwinds.
Francis was drafted by the Philadelphia Warriors of the NBA (ironically the team for which Wilt Chamberlain later scored 100 points in an NBA game), but never suited up in the NBA.
The amazing story of Bevo Francis has been immortalized in the book “Shooting Star: The Bevo Francis Story.”
You can also check out the exploits of Francis and Rio Grande College in the following video clips: