Bevo Francis; basketball scoring legend who saved his college dies

Bevo Francis and his Rio Grande College teammates and classmats in 1953. Photo: Life magazine

Bevo Francis and his Rio Grande College teammates and classmates in 1953. Photo: Life magazine

Bevo Francis is doing something he hasn’t been able to do for a long, long time. He’s dropping jump shots from every place on some basketball court far removed from earth, far removed from physical boundaries and his battle against throat cancer. Bevo’s former Rio Grande teammate and friend Don Vyhnalek told me that Bevo died today at his eastern Ohio home with his family close by.He was 82-years-old.

Wayne Wiseman, another former teammate and friend of Bevo’s said he had talked by phone with Bevo a couple of days ago. “Bevo said he just wasn’t doing any good,” said Wiseman. “We’re at that age where these things happen. Can’t stop it. Can’t do anything about it. You just live with it, until you can’t,” Wiseman said.

I had the extraordinary opportunity to meet Bevo years ago when I produced and directed a documentary about him, his fiery coach Newt Oliver, and his talented teammates. The documentary is called “They Could Really Play the Game: Reloaded.”  It’s largely about Bevo, the legendary former college basketball player who still owns several all-time college scoring records.
Bevo Francis and his Rio Grande University team barnstormed across America in the early 1950’s, winning most of its games against far larger foes, capturing the attention of the national press, and saving their school from going broke through the tickets they sold. This unlikely team, from an impossibly small college in rural Appalachia, also helped revive America’s love affair with college basketball after a nasty national gambling scandal in the early 50’s that involved star players from major college basketball schools.
Bevo and his Rio Grande teammates also kept the doors open at their college which provided a path out of poverty for thousands of residents who came from the Appalachian country surrounding what is now called the University of Rio Grande.
In his brief two-year college career, Francis destroyed almost every major scoring record in college basketball. Imagine a player averaging 47 points a game in the days before the 3-point scoring line and one-and-one free throw. That was Bevo Francis. Imagine a player who broke the 100-point-per-game scoring mark twice in his college career. The last time he did it was in 1954 against Michigan’s Hillsdale College. Even though he was double and triple teamed by his opponents, Bevo scored 113 points in the 40 minute regulation basketball game. Whenever someone called Bevo a star, he was the first to say he owed his success to his teammates.

We don’t sell copies of the documentary, but click here or on the “Watch on Vimeo” link below and you, as well as people everywhere can watch it for free. Many viewers on public television have seen the documentary and liked it. It even won an award from the Canadian International Film Festival this year.

Chris Hedrick, WOSU, the College of Journalism and Mass Communications at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, R. Bruce Mitchell, Diana Markley Guidas, Brad Richmond, Eric Smith and so many others contributed their talents to the documentary.

Tonight, Bevo is free of his battle against cancer. He deserves to be remembered for what he and his teammates accomplished; for the game of college basketball, and for his school. Bevo’s family could also use your your prayers. Spread the word and send it forward.

They Could Really Play the Game: Reloaded from Blue Skies HD Video & Film on Vimeo.

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About Bernard McCoy

My views are my own and not a reflection of my employer. I'm a professor of Journalism at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. I've also been a working journalist for the past 29 years. I have covered news stories in war zones, reported on human and natural disasters, presidential conventions, a presidential inauguration and the September 11th, 2001 attack on the World Trade Center in New York City. My career experiences include work as an award-winning documentary producer, television news reporter, photographer, producer, and anchor. I worked at WIBW-TV, Topeka, KS., KCTV, Kansas City, MO, WKBD-TV, Detroit, MI., WILX-TV, Lansing, MI. and WBNS-TV, Columbus, OH. I have also worked as a contributing reporter for The Columbus Dispatch, Associated Press, CBS, CNN, the Ohio News Network and lecture at the Kosovo Institute of Journalism and Communications. I have a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Kansas and a master’s degree in telecommunications management from Michigan State University.
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