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Remembering Greg Francis, a Canadian basketball star

The Canadian basketball community is mourning the loss of Greg Francis, a former high school champion, a NCAA basketball star, an Olympian, a coach, a friend and a father figure to many.

Greg Francis, a Canadian basketball star, had an iconic high school career with Toronto's Oakwood Collegiate Barons and scored over 1500 career points in the NCAA with the Fairfield Stags.
Greg Francis, a Canadian basketball star, had an iconic high school career with Toronto's Oakwood Collegiate Barons and scored over 1500 career points in the NCAA with the Fairfield Stags. Illustrations: Edilson J. Silva

The basketball community is mourning the loss of Canadian basketball star Greg Francis, who passed away on Sunday, April 2, 2023 at the age of 48.

A trailblazer on the Canadian basketball scene for nearly three decades, Francis’ lasting impact on the game can be felt both on and off the court.

Born on April 4, 1974, in Toronto, Ontario, Francis blossomed into the spotlight as a high school freshman playing for the senior varsity team. Francis helped the Oakwood Collegiate Barons win three Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations (OFSAA) basketball championships medals in the early 1990s.

The six-foot-three guard cemented his status as a Canadian basketball star, winning a bronze in 1989, a silver in 1990, and a gold medal as a senior in 1993.

Following his star-studded high school career, Francis earned a scholarship to Fairfield University in Connecticut. From 1993 to 1997 the Canadian guard became one of the best three-point shooters in NCAA college basketball history.

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He finished his career with the Fairfield Stags as the all-time leader in three-point field goals made with 230 and currently sits in fourth place. His 1,570 points in 115 games at Fairfield place him eighth in the Stags all-time scoring list and in the top 30 all-time amongst Canadians in NCAA division I history. Furthermore, Francis’ total three-pointers also rank in the top 20 by a Canadian NCAA player.

Fairfield stags canadian guard greg francis defended by north carolina tar heels star vince carter during the 1996 ncaa tournament
Fairfield Stags, Canadian guard Greg Francis defended by North Carolina Tar Heels star Vince Carter during the first-round of the 1996 NCAA March Madness tournament

During his college career at Fairfield University, Francis had many highlight-worthy moments, but none as sweet and as memorable as leading the 8W-18L Stags to a surprise Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) tournament championship and the Most Valuable Player (MVP) award.

As an eighth seed, Fairfield upset the top-seeded Iona Gaels in the quarterfinals, with Francis connecting on 3-of-3 three-pointers and finishing with 20 points. In the semifinals, Francis’ 16 points helped the Stags defeat the St. Peter’s Peacocks 73-61.

In the finals, with a March Madness spot on the line, he poured in 26 points as Fairfield defeated Canisius to secure the MVP and a ticket to the 1997 NCAA men’s basketball tournament.

Playing the opening round of the NCAA tournament, the senior guard scored a career-high 26 points, including eight-of-twelve three-pointers, as the No. 16 seed Fairfield led for the majority of the contest before coming up short (82-74) against legendary coach Dean Smith, superstar sophomore Vince Carter, Antawn Jamison (Washington Wizards), Shammond Williams (Chicago Bulls), Serge Zwikker (Houston Rockets) and the No. 1 North Carolina Tar Heels.

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Francis’s eight three-pointers were the most by a Canadian in a single NCAA tournament game until it was surpassed nineteen (19) years later by Baylor Bears sharpshooter Brady Heslip (Burlington, Ont.). Heslip connected on nine of his twelve three-pointers versus Colorado in the opening round of the 2012 march madness tournament.

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After college, Francis played professionally in several countries, including stops in the British Basketball League, Lebanon and Israel. He also played for the Canadian national team at the 1998 FIBA World Championships in Greece, was selected for the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games alongside Steve Nash, Rowan Barrett, Todd MacCulloch, Michael Meeks, Sherman Hamilton and wrapped up his international career at the 2003 Tournament of Americas in Puerto Rico.

2000 sydney olympics canadian senior mens national basketball team
2000 Sydney Olympics Canadian senior men’s national basketball team – Photo: CP Photo/ COA

In his best effort of the 2000 Olympic tournament, the former Oakwood star, came-off the bench and scored ten points as Canada handed Angola a lopsided 99-54 loss to finish the preliminary round.

In addition to his successful playing career, Francis was also a passionate coach and mentor. Joining the coaching ranks in 2000 as an assistant coach at Monmouth University, Francis found immediate success as the Hawks secured a trip to the 2001 NCAA tournament.

Four years later, he was announced as the head coach of the Canadian junior men’s national team, a role he served from 2005 to 2011. Francis’ also spent four years (2011-2015) as an assistant coach of Canada’s senior men’s national team.

He started his Canadian university coaching career with the Alberta Golden Bears in 2009 and went on to lead three other U SPORTS basketball programs: the Waterloo Warriors (2013-2015) and most recently, the Ontario Tech Ridgebacks (2019-22) in Oshawa, Ontario.

Ontario tech ridgebacks head coach greg francis in the huddle giving instructions to his players
Ontario Tech Ridgebacks head coach Greg Francis in the huddle giving instructions to his players – Photo: Al Fournier

During his nine seasons as a U SPORTS coach, Francis compiled a record of 91 wins and 151 losses. In only his third season and despite the challenges of coaching in a highly competitive league, Francis’ managed to lead the Golden Bears to the 2012 Canada West conference championship. Alberta went on to capture a silver medal at the 2012 CIS/U SPORTS men’s final 8 tournament in Halifax.

Francis’s impact on Canadian basketball cannot be overstated. He was a role model for young athletes and an ambassador for the sport. He was also a devoted father, and friend, his infectious smile and positive attitude will be deeply missed.

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In 2003, Francis was inducted into the Fairfield University Athletic Hall of Fame, an honour that recognized his outstanding achievements on the court. His induction was a testament to his hard work, dedication, and passion for the game of basketball.

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“We are deeply saddened by the loss of Greg Francis,” said Fairfield University Athletic Director Paul Schlickmann. “He was an outstanding player and coach, but more importantly, he was an incredible person. He left a lasting impact on the Fairfield community and the game of basketball in Canada. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family during this difficult time.”

In conclusion, Greg Francis was a true ambassador for the game of basketball in Canada. He was a talented star player, a passionate coach, and a dedicated mentor to young athletes.

Despite his untimely passing, Greg Francis’ legacy will continue to shine bright and inspire future generations of Canadian basketball players and coaches. He was a true leader, both on and off the court, and his contributions to the game will always be remembered.

Rest in Peace, Greg Francis. 🙏

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