For decades, top baseball prospects have flocked from the Dominican Republic to the United States in search of fame and fortune.
The Dominican Republic has never really been known for its basketball prowess, but that, too, is starting to change. Tito Horford played college basketball at LSU and Miami (Fla.) and, in 1988, became the first Dominican-born player to play in the NBA.
Of course, his son Al Horford was a member of two national championship teams at Florida and averaged a double-double this season for the Atlanta Hawks. Another son, Jon Horford, was a key member of Michigan’s team that reached the NCAA title game this season.
One of the fastest rising prospects on the 2014 horizon also hails from Tito Horford’s hometown of La Romana, D.R. His name is Brandone Francis, a 6-5 combo guard who toils for Jacksonville (Fla.) Arlington Country Day School as well as the Florida Elite AAU team.
“He came over here after his freshman year,” said Arlington Country Day coach Rex Morgan. “He’s been at Country Day since he came to the States. He played baseball and basketball growing up. He was on the radar a bit as a ninth grader.
“Some people talked to us about him. We inquired about him. In the meantime, he e-mailed us. They filled out an application. We sent over an I-20 (visa for an international student) and they came over.”
After injuries held Francis back over the last year, he has put up back-to-back dynamite performances at AAU tournaments in Texas and Georgia. That has led a number of top schools from coast to coast to come at him with scholarship offers.
This was the moment the ever-humble Francis was hoping for when he left his homeland two years ago to come to America.
“I just want to be somebody on and off the court,” Francis said. “I wanted the chance to play college ball and, if God let’s me, the chance to play in the NBA and pro basketball. I want to try and help my family out, reach my potential and become the best player I can be.”
Francis was the MVP of the adidas VIP Exclusive Run in Texas in April
Francis suffered a broken wrist a year ago that kept him out of action. His high school season at ACD was then cut short by a knee injury.
“He’s really come into his own in the last six weeks,” Morgan said. “He had a couple of setbacks. He was in an AAU game last year in May. He went up and dunked on (Illinois standout) Cliff Alexander. He came down and broke his wrist. He was out all summer long, so people didn’t see him.
“This year, he hurt his knee and was out about three weeks. It did not require surgery. He got healthy and went to Dallas and did what I felt he could do.”
As a junior, Francis averaged 16 points per game for an ACD team that went 30-4. But he missed his team’s Sunshine Independent Athletic Association Tournament title game loss to Rock with a knee injury.
“We had seven different guys lead us in scoring in one game or another,” Morgan said. “He had a lot of talent around him.”
Francis rehabbed the knee injury and was able to join Florida Elite for the adidas VIP Exclusive Run event April 19-21 in Duncanville, Texas. This was his coming-out party as Francis won MVP honors at the event. He followed that up with a fine showing at the Bob Gibbons Tournament of Champions this past weekend in Suwanee, Ga.
“Last year, I broke my wrist,” Francis said. “Then, this year in the semifinals, I went up to block a shot. I came down on my knee and injured it. I was out for two or three weeks. I started working out and getting healthy. I started playing AAU again. Our first tournament was in Dallas two weeks ago. I was healthy and I was able to do what I love.
“It’s amazing to play against the best teams in the nation week in and week out. It’s tough, but you also have fun with it. Anytime you can play against top players, you show them you can compete.”
Morgan likened Francis to former Illinois and current Brooklyn Nets star Deron Williams. Williams, listed at 6-3 and 209 pounds, is a rugged lead guard.
“He’s Deron Williams,” Morgan said. “That’s what he looks like. Bruce Weber was here from Kansas State. He coached Deron at Illinois and he said that Brandone reminded him of Deron.
“He’s 6-5, 203 pounds. He’s a point guard. He really doesn’t have a weakness. He can go to the hole, he can post up and he can shoot the three. Against the Atlanta Celtics last week, he had seven threes and five of them in the last five minutes of the game. He’s got an in between game. He can guard, he can rebound and he can really push the ball. He can see the floor.”
Francis added, “I think I make my teammates better. I can play the one or the two. I can play the shooting guard or I can bring the ball up. I can drive to the basket, get my teammates the ball. I play hard all the time.”
Morgan said the offers started pouring in after Francis’ stellar play in Texas.
“He’s just really taken off,” Morgan said. “He’s been offered by West Virginia, Louisville, Cincinnati, Florida, Florida State, Miami (Fla.), Oklahoma State – just about anybody you want to talk about.”
Asked for some of his top schools, Francis listed Florida, Indiana, Louisville, Kansas State, West Virginia, Cincinnati, Illinois and Connecticut.
“I’m not ready to make a decision,” he said. “I will take my visits this summer and make a decision after the AAU season ends.”
It was reported this past week that Louisville could have an inside track. Rick Pitino just hired Mike Balado as an assistant. Balado is a former assistant at Florida Atlantic, Miami (Fla.), High Point and Florida International. According to Francis, Balado was instrumental in helping him find his way to Arlington Country Day.
“Mike Balado brought me here and helped get in touch with Coach Morgan at Arlington Country Day and got me to school there,” Francis told 247Sports.com’s William Gunter. “Yes it will definitely have an impact but I am open to any school that offers me a scholarship but Louisville is a good school.”
It has been two years since Francis left the Dominican Republic to come to the U.S. His family has stayed back there as he chases his dream here in the States.
“We talk on the phone,” Francis said. “It’s hard. That is what makes me keep going. I think about my family back home and I need to help them. I just have to keep going. The last time I was home was nine months. It will be almost a year away from my family.
“It’s tough, but that’s my motor. I always think about that and it keeps me going.”
Francis is a 2.8 GPA student and is preparing for his college entrance exams this summer.
A Scout’s Take
Recruiting analysts have been aware of Francis after watching him play for Arlington Country Day in national prep school events this past year.
But he was little more than an afterthought and was hardly ranked by any of the national services. That all changed after his showing in Texas. Jerry Meyer, the national basketball recruiting editor for 247Sports.com, installed Francis as the network’s No. 26 prospect overall, No. 8 shooting guard and No. 3 prospect in Florida for 2014 after seeing him at that adidas event.
“I was excited about what I saw,” Meyer said. “He is a very good prospect. He was flying under the radar. He’s not going to be anymore. I saw him a little bit during the high school season and he wasn’t the kind of player you’re looking at now. He wasn’t really a showcase player. The injuries held him back some.
“I think he’s a guy who, by the end of the summer, people will realize he is as good as any shooting guard out there.”
Meyer said that Francis’ versatility and strength are what make him special.
“He’s a tough match-up at the two or the one,” Meyer said. “He’s a legit 6-5 and he is very strong. I love the physicality of his game. He gets where he needs to be on the court. He has quickness and athleticism but the physicality sets him apart. He is a good 200 pounds. He knows how to use it. He has the body control to finish in traffic or make the tough pass.
“I don’t if point guard will be his position. But I think it’s safe to say he is a combo guard. I look at him as a shooting guard who can make plays like a point guard. He has a great feel for the game and really sees the game.”
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