Francis Leads Jordan to CIF-SS Title Game
"Being an alumnus, being the first former player Massey hired there when he took over, I am extremely happy for them,'' said Rob Willis, a current co-coach at Lakewood High and former assistant coach at Jordan during its heydays. "It is amazing to see where the program has come from in two seasons, advancing to a CIF final. Two years ago, they were bottom of the barrel. It takes a coach four to five years to reach where he is. I knew they were going to do well in their division. Regardless of the outcome, they are going to play hard. They are going to play fast and tough. Chris got his players to buy into his system. This team reflects Chris' personality to the heart. Whether they win by 100 or lose by 100, the effort will be the same.''
Francis— who earned a Master's in Athletic Administration and a bachelor's degree in Kinesiology from the University of LaVern, where he competed in NCAA Division III basketball before heading to play professional ball overseas — teaches his basketball players how to play the game he loves, and blends life lessons into his unofficial curriculum.
They have listened and responded to his hard-nosed discipline, motivational tactics, and coaching philosophy and bought into his system.
Student-athletes have to possess a steel jaw to play for Francis. He does not sugar-coat anything. His distinctive voice and tongue lashing keeps his players in line. After all, basketball is a mental game, too. They need to be prepared for the real world.
"It is an acquired taste,'' Francis said about his coaching style. "People think I will be yelling and screaming and cursing. But it is a lot that comes with it. I like to consider myself an educator of basketball.''
His student-athletes hustle and swarm the court like hellhounds chasing intruders. They work the hardwood, and he works referees. They win.
"I just wanted to re-establish the tough culture at Jordan,'' Francis said. "It has always been known for being tough-nosed, disciplined, and well-coached by Ron Massey. I think we are moving in the right direction.''
The Panthers, who toppled Santa Monica Pacific Christian, 84-64, to advance to the finals, will have their hands full against Sage Hill, which dispatched Littlerock 55-49, last Friday. The Lightning features Carter Bryant, a 6-foot-8 versatile wing that has received athletic scholarship offers from Duke and Gonzaga.
The last time Jordan lost in the finals was in 2006. The Panthers lost, 71-61, to Los Alamitos, which featured Landry Fields, a 6-foot-7 deadly shooter who went on to star at Cal Berkeley before being selected 39th overall by the New York Knicks in the 2010 NBA Draft.
Francis isn't scared. He hopes that having Jerome Wilson on the squad will help his team as much as his uncle Donnell Fleming did during championship runs with King Drew in 2004.
"The last championship I won, Donnell was a part of it. I hope we capture some of that magic,'' said Francis, who took over as head coach of King Drew after the athletic director offered him the job in 2000. "She asked me if I would be interested. I wanted to run my plays,'' he said. "If I can run my plays, I will take the job.
"In my first year, I had one of my parents serve as a coach,'' he said. One of his friends, who bet Francis would lose every game, decided to join his staff. They had a great run, winning two LA-City Section titles in four years.
Since King Drew, Francis has coached at Compton Centennial High, Compton College, and Millikan High. He has had a successful campaign at every pitstop. In 2007, he lead the Apaches to a 19-6 overall record and went 10-0 to win the Pioneer League. However, they fell to Long Beach Jordan, 77-73, in overtime during the first round of the CIF-SS Playoffs.
In 2012, he guided Millikan to a 14-15 overall record and 8-4 in Moore League and finished in third place. This was a Rams team that had a 4-22 overall record and a 1-11 record the year before his arrival.
His accomplishments are quite a step up from his first coach gig began in a park.
"I used to work out at this gym at Wilson Park,'' Francis said, about a facility in Compton. Marvin Hunt, who supervised a program there, asked him to coach a youth team because its coach did not show up for a game.
"This is how my coaching career started. I ended up coaching many kids at that park,'' said Francis about his good old days.
Now, he preaches to a different audience that needs to be taught life lessons before they walk through the gymnasium as student-athletes for the last time.
"I tell them, 'This is your first job. I am your first boss.''' Francis said. "The assistant coaches are your first supervisors. Your teammates are your first co-workers. I am getting you ready for the rest of your life. I am going to do it the right way.
"There are repercussions for not coming to work, and there are repercussions for coming to work late,'' he stressed. "There are repercussions for not wearing the right uniform. It is stuff like that we instill here. What we do as a program is stick to our principles and morals. We pound it into values daily so they can go out and execute.''
FORMER STUDENT-ATHLETES UNDERSTAND CHRIS NOW
Some of his former players reminisce about the good old days and some of the values Francis tried to instill in them. Now, they get it.
"I did not see it then, but I see it now,'' Francis said former players tell him. "That is how it normally works. That is how we were youngsters. We did not see it. I lost my mother and father. A lot of the things they taught me, I see it now, even at 52.''
On Oct. 10, 2020, Thimothy Francis Sr., a retired police officer and former pitcher in the Houston Astros farm system, passed, four years after Chris's mother, Verda Mae passed on July 16, 2016.
Both had the opportunity to see Chris, who got into trouble as a youth, earn a Master's degree in Athletic Administration and a bachelor's degree in Kinesiology from the University of LaVern, where he competed for NCAA Division III basketball before heading to play professional ball overseas.
Chris has had a positive impact on the lives of student-athletes who he has had the pleasure of playing a role in their development, including former Millikan forward Melik Marquette, who competed at USC and Louisiana, Lafayette, and overseas. Josh Green plays for the Dallas Mavericks, and Nico Mannion completed his stint with the Golden State Warriors and elected to sign with a top Italian pro team in FIBA Europe, the highest tier.
Chris, who grew up playing baseball, did not have the opportunity to play high school basketball. However, he has been where his current players want to go. The Lake Charles, Louisiana native competed for Compton College, earned an athletic scholarship to the University of Seattle, and transferred to Champman University and the University of LaVern before embarking on a professional basketball career abroad.
Tonight, the Panthers are taking him back to a place where he has never competed as a player: a CIF championship game. They have survived the playoffs. They defeated Montclair, 79-30; Liberty, 76-69; Cate, 89-74; and Pacific Christian, 84-64, to get there.
"I tell kids every day, you are doing something I will never be able to do: play high school basketball,'' Chris said. "It is a privilege and blessing to win CIF championships.''