Thursday, 1 October 2009

Francis ready to lead new-look Bears

Francis ready to lead new-look Bears

NEW SHERIFF Head coach Greg Francis is ready to teach a young squad.

It's never easy to step in and replace a legend. The last time the Bears basketball program had a new coach, Pierre Elliott Trudeau was Prime Minister. That was Don Horwood back in 1983, and after 26 years on the job, he retired at the conclusion of last season. In doing so, it left one of the country's most coveted university jobs up for grabs. Enter new head man Greg Francis, whose resumé boasts an impressive list of both playing and coaching experience.

Before entering the coaching ranks, Francis suited up for NCAA Division I school Fairfield University from 1994–97, and also for Canada at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney while making pro stops in the U.K. and Lebanon.

Francis started his coaching career in 2001 when he was an assistant at Monmouth University, earning the team an NCAA tournament berth. Since that time, Francis has been heavily involved with Basketball Canada and has been the head coach of the national men's junior team since 2005 — a position he continues to hold. Francis' work with Canada's best young players lends itself well to not only coaching student athletes, but also recruiting the talent necessary to compete at the national level.

"Most of my job with the national team has been about developing players, and I think that's the beautiful thing about being at a university. You get five years to really work with athletes. I've been doing a lot of development and evaluating young athletes from around the country, so my network that way is very good," Francis explains.

With the expansion of Canada West in recent years with new programs like Fraser Valley and Thompson Rivers, the recruiting landscape has been changing. In turn, coaches have been forced to focus that much more on assessing talent, and bringing in top-end players from outside their traditional sources.

"My time here at the U of A will be a lot of national recruiting and I think that we'll be able to get some of those [top] kids."

Despite coming from the home of Canada's lone NBA franchise, collegiate level basketball didn't receive the same support Francis sees here in Edmonton.

"I am coming from Toronto where there's a lot of basketball, but the university basketball scene in Toronto and southern Ontario, you just don't get the community involvement," Francis explains. "As a coach you want to be involved in a program where the community is just waiting to jump behind the program," he says.

"I can't wait for the season to start because I want to be involved in what's going on in the community here and I would love for the community to get connected with the players and this program, because we'd like to be leaders in the basketball community in this province."

With Francis' impressive background, and the excitement it has created around the Green and Gold, it shouldn't be long before people jump behind this re-invigorated group.

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