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Canada Games Alumni Profile

Greg Francis

7/30/20

by: Bill Potrecz, BP Sports Niagara

ALUMNI SPOTLIGHT: GREG FRANCIS

Greg Francis thought he was a hard worker until he met Jay Triano.

Francis was a member of Team Ontario at the 1993 Canada Summer Games in Kamloops, B.C., when he happened upon Triano, who was then the head coach of the men’s basketball team at Simon Fraser University.

Francis was watching a game when Triano, a Niagara Falls native who later became head coach of the Toronto Raptors, sat down beside him and began picking his brain.

“He asks me if I ever take a day off,” Francis recalled. “I told him I took one off here and there and he told me I should never take a day off. 

“He tells me shooting baskets is like breathing. You never want to take a day off breathing. It was a great experience as you meet new people and raise your level by talking to them.”

Francis, who later became an Olympian at the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia, said that chat was a turning point in his career.

“I learned no more days off. That was definitely a key back then to my career learning that from Jay Triano,” he said.

Francis, now the head coach of the UOIT Ridgebacks men’s basketball team, as well as the men’s high performance manager at Canada Basketball, was a part of a Team Ontario squad that defeated future NBA star Steve Nash at the 1993 Games.

“It’s a different experience when you are young because you don’t know anything about that. You just tryout for the team and all of a sudden you’re playing at national games,” he remembered. “It was definitely great memories. We had a really good team and three of my (Canada Games) teammates went on the play in the Olympics in 2000. We had a very talented team and it was great as you were just coming up to play in those national tournaments. 

“We got the experience and to travel and see what that’s like. It ends up being a great experience being able to play with that level of talent when you are just coming up and young.”

He recalled Nash’s reputation preceded him, even then.

“It was incredible competing against him. We had other guys who were at a high level but Steve Nash was the best out of all of us,” he said. “He was just a humble guy back then and was like that throughout his whole career. He was an amazing player who wanted to be part of the team or part of the guys. He never wanted to separate himself, even back then.”

One of Francis’ fondest memories was when his mother, Dawn Francis, showed up unannounced to watch him play.

“Myself and one of my teammates, Michael Hunt, our mothers came to that game by bus from Toronto to Kamloops,” he said. “It was amazing. They came down and began hooking our team up with meals. They traveled on the bus so long their legs were getting sore from the travel.”

Basketball Ontario officials were so appreciative of the support they arranged for the ladies to fly back to Toronto with the team so they wouldn’t have to drive all the way back.

“Incredible memories,” Francis said.

Francis, who said he visits St. Catharines occasionally to see Ridley College basketball coach Tarry Upshaw as well as some friends at Brock, is looking forward to the Niagara 2021 Canada Summer Games.

“It’s such a great launching pad for careers and coaches and basketball people in general who are involved that will be involved all the way through,” he said. 

Francis has a long and impressive resume that includes coaching the University of Waterloo Warriors and University of Alberta Golden Bears. Francis has also served as head coach of the Canadian junior men’s national team, assistant coach of the Canadian senior men’s national team and head coach of Canada Basketball’s National Elite Development Academy.

As a player, he was a member of the Canadian national men’s basketball team that finished seventh at the 2000 Summer Olympics and fourth at the 2003 Tournament of the Americas.

Francis played for the Fairfield University basketball team from 1994 to 1997, finishing his career with 1,570 points, ranking fifth all-time at the school. He also holds the school record for most three-point baskets made in a career with 230. During his senior season, he helped lead the Stags to the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference title and the 1997 NCAA Men’s Division I Basketball Tournament.

He played professionally in the British Basketball League for the Worthing Bears and was selected to the UK All-Star Team during the 1997-98 season and the Chester Jets during the 1999-00 season.

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