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MEN’S BASKETBALL: Francis familiar with role

Bobby Griffin | Friday, November 11, 2005

Torin Francis knows a lot can change in a year.

Last season, Francis, Chris Thomas, Chris Quinn and Jordan Cornette were ready to lead the Irish to the NCAA tournament.

When Notre Dame was left out on selection Sunday and then lost in a first-round home game against Holy Cross in the National Invitation Tournament (NIT), those hopes quickly faded.

Francis’ team now looks very different.

Chris Quinn started at point guard last Thursday against Lewis University, though he spent last season as the off guard in Thomas’ offense.

Colin Falls moved to his natural shooting guard spot. And Rob Kurz and Russell Carter – who have one regular season start between the two of them – filled the small forward and power forward positions, respectively.

Only Francis was completely used to his responsibilities.

“That’s going to be the key this year, seeing how everyone fits in their role,” Francis said before practice Tuesday at the Joyce Center.

The senior captain from Boston, Mass. knows much of Notre Dame’s success this season will ride on his performance.

“I have to do better in other ways as far as being a defensive stopper, not letting anyone get to the basket and just being a physical presence out there,” Francis said. “That’s one of the ways I have to lead the team.”

Registering nine blocks, eight points and seven rebounds against Division II Lewis was a start.

Irish coach Mike Brey said after Lewis he was impressed with Francis’ ability to patiently handle and pass the ball out of the double team.

“I thought Torin handled the ball against the double team better than he ever has, and that usually bothered him,” Brey said. “They watch a lot of tape of us obviously.”

Outside of Francis’ on-court performance, the senior is going to be responsible for leading a young team that includes four freshmen. While Francis was also a captain as a junior last year, he said more depends on him this season.

“This year, I’m a senior,” Francis said. “When Chris Quinn and myself … are out on the floor, we’re supposed to be the leaders. We’re supposed to be the coaches on the floor.”

Much of this leadership will involve the development of freshman power forward Luke Zeller. Francis spent time before this season working with Zeller and said because they both operate in the low post, he has a lot to teach Indiana’s reigning Mr. Basketball.

“[Our older guys] experienced everything, and we really know what to tell the freshman in order to make themselves better,” Francis said. “They do look up to us.”

Last season is still fresh in Francis’ mind. He remembers the disappointment that came along with not making the NCAA tournament and hopes to grow from last season.

“I just learned that every game counts,” he said. “You can’t take any games off. Not only that, you can’t take any possessions off. There were so many games I can think of where we should have won. We had the lead, and we let it slip away.”

He learned valuable lessons last season about himself and his game, as well.

Francis averaged 9.3 points and 7.8 rebounds in 26.4 minutes per game last season, down from the 14.2 points and 8.8 rebounds he averaged during his sophomore season. He scored 25 points and grabbed 10 boards as a freshman against Arizona in the Sweet 16.

Following the end of his junior season, Francis declared himself eligible for the NBA draft. He went to Chicago and participated in pre-draft workouts.

But Francis said everybody at the workouts was a solid basketball player, and he realized that foregoing his senior season would mean possibly selling himself short.

“I just realized that I wanted to come back to school,” Francis said. “I didn’t really accomplish what I wanted to last year. We lost [in the] first round in the NIT and I didn’t want to go out like that.”

Francis is back and is ready to lead the Irish. He said he is prepared to handle the individual responsibility of taking charge so last season’s mistakes do not repeat themselves.

“I need to learn that I have to step up in those situations when we’re up by four with a minute to go,” Francis said. “I have to step up and say we’re not losing this game. We’re winning this game. That’s the difference between losing and being successful.”