Pistol Pete and Wilt 'The Stilt,' could light it up, but they have nothing on 'Bevo.’
As we speed through an always-short February — with March and its Madness dead ahead — this seems a good time for a pop college basketball quiz.
So, who is college basketball's all-time leading single season scorer?
That's easy, you say: Pistol Pete Maravich.
But, no, that's not right. The Pistol was remarkable but he does not hold that distinction.
Then, Wilt “The Stilt” Chamberlain? Good guess, but wrong. Wilt once scored 100 points in a single NBA game, but he wasn't the most prolific scorer in a single college season.
And before you go there, it's not Michael Jordan ... or Rick Barry ... or Larry Bird ... or Oscar Robertson ... or Steph Curry, either.
His name was Clarence “Bevo” Francis. He played at Rio Grande College (pronounced Rye-O Grande) in Ohio in the 1952-53 and 1953-54 seasons. He once scored 113 points in a single game.
Bevo, born on his family's farm in Hammondsville, Ohio, grew to be 6 feet, 9 inches tall. Not only was he tall, but Bevo learned to shoot his shots at the top of his jump. That is, he developed a jump shot, something relatively new in the early '50s when most basketball players shot a “set shot” from a standing position.
What's more, Bevo could shoot that jumper moving to his left, or to his right, or twisting around in mid-air after facing away from the basket. He used that shot to score 50.1 points a game through a 39-game season in 1952-53.
Turning down the powers
As a high school basketball star, Bevo Francis was recruited by many colleges, including big ones across the land. The exact number, Frances later said, was 63.
He chose the one right down the road, Rio Grande, because that's where his high school coach, Newt Oliver, went to coach. Nowadays, we would call it a package deal – and what a deal it was from Rio Grande, a struggling little Baptist school of 97 students.
As a freshman, he led Rio Grande to a 39-0 record, and I know what you are thinking: Surely, this was against inferior competition. Well, some of it was. He scored 116 points in a game against Ashland (Kentucky) Junior College. He averaged 50.1 points a game, but the NCAA lowered it to 48.3, taking out the games against two-year schools. The 48.3 per game is still the NCAA record, but you don't know the half of it.
Coach Oliver was incensed that the NCAA would not recognize the record of 116 points in a game or the 50 points a game. “We'll show them a schedule next year,” he declared.
And he did. Playing almost all games on the road – for then-huge guarantees – Rio Grande played at Buffalo, at Madison Square Garden against NYU, in Philadelphia against Villanova, at Providence, Miami, Wake Forest, Butler and Creighton.
Taking on the big boys
Bevo scored 64 against Butler, 39 against Villanova and 32 against NYU in the Garden. He helped tiny Rio Grande pull off huge upsets over Providence, Miami, Wake Forest, Butler and Creighton. Bevo averaged an even 48 points a game as a sophomore.
“We challenged all the big schools and some wouldn't play us because they said they had nothing to gain and everything to lose,” Bevo once told long-time Iowa sports writer Bob Brown. “But some of them took us on.”
Turns out, all those guarantee checks were sent back to struggling Rio Grande College and used to pay the professors. Bevo's traveling show saved the school is what it did. Today, it's Rio Grande University and Community College, a combined school of more than 2,000 students.
Rio Grande did play a few home games during Bevo's sophomore season. One was against Hillsdale College. Bevo scored an NCAA-record 113 points on 38 field goals and 37 of 42 foul shots.
That off-season, Bevo Frances signed with the Boston Whirlwinds, who traveled with the Harlem Globetrotters. He was later drafted by the NBA Philadelphia Warriors, but there was little money in the NBA at the time. Besides, Bevo was homesick. He went home to eastern Ohio, where he became a truck driver, then a steel mill worker, and then a tire factory worker when the steel mill closed. Bevo Francis died of cancer in June 2015. He was 82.
Rick Cleveland is a Jackson-based syndicated columnist. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.