By Maggie Franke
Anyone at Wheaton or with access to a computer could look up any fact they would want to know about Wheaton senior Aston Francis and his skills on the court. However, basketball is more than just numbers to Wheaton’s star player.
“I started playing when I was four or five, but I’ve been around it all my life. I played soccer and baseball and everything when I was really little, and as I grew up I really started playing just basketball and baseball in high school,” Francis said.
Francis’s dad was his athletic director and coach when Francis was in high school in Tyler, Texas. During his childhood, Francis’s dad would point out different plays on TV which allowed Francis to watch basketball in a different, more critical way as he grew into a basketball player himself. “We butted heads a little bit when I was younger,” Francis said. “When I was a junior and senior I matured a little bit because I knew where he was coming from. It made our relationship a lot stronger, and I am very thankful that I had the opportunity to play for him growing up.”
Francis also noted that his skills drastically improved when he was a junior in high school. Thoughts of playing in college turned into plans to play in college. One of Francis’s high school crosstown rivals was a now Wheaton senior: Trevor Gunter. Wheaton’s Head Coach Mike Schauer was recruiting Gunter during his senior year and ended up watching a game where Gunter and Francis played each other.
“[Shauer] ended up recruiting me,” Francis said, “and then I actually enrolled at Texas A&M to just be a student but changed my mind last minute and was able to go to a junior college. Coach Shauer kept recruiting me and then I came up after that freshman year at TJC.”
Tyler Junior College is located in Tyler, Texas and Francis attended TJC during his freshman year of college. Academically, Francis noted that the school was not entirely challenging, but the majority of players that he played against and with were DI-bound.
“The level of play was pretty high and very athletic,” Francis said, “so I had to get bigger, faster, stronger really quick to be able to compete with those guys.”
At TJC, Francis said that he averaged four-five minutes of play per game and did not get the same amount of play time that he gets here at Wheaton, but introducing a rigorous weight-lifting regimen changed Francis’s game and took it to the next level.
“It definitely made me work hard,” Francis said. “I think I was really fortunate to go to TJC because my work ethic changed a lot while I was there.”
Then Francis’s journey as a basketball player brought him to Wheaton College. Coming in as a sophomore during the 2016-17 season, Francis noted that he made fast friends with some of the freshmen, specifically Jay Spencer and Spencer Peterson. As he played, practiced and spent more time with the entire team, Francis found himself identifying with the entire team and knowing more of his teammates at a personal level.
“It’s definitely been good socially because I’ve met some people through basketball that I wouldn’t have met otherwise,” Francis said. “I’ve formed some really long-lasting relationships especially with the guys on the team, the coaches and even the guys in the training room.”
As a member of the Thunder Men’s Basketball team, Francis said that beating Augustana College and Whitworth College last year were two games that were especially special to him looking back. “We played super well as a team, went into their place and beat them and got some national exposure,” Francis said.
The Wheaton Thunder Men’s Basketball team lost to Augustana yesterday night with a final score of 93-83. Francis’s 38 points were not enough to overcome the top ranked team in the CCIW.
“Being at Wheaton has helped me to find the correlation between my faith and competing; they aren’t separate. They work together,”Aston Francis
Francis hopes to continue playing basketball as long as possible and would take the opportunity to play professionally if it became a possibility. However, after he can no longer play himself at a competitive level, Francis sees himself following in his father’s footsteps and becoming a coach because he loves the game wholeheartedly.
“Being at Wheaton has helped me to find the correlation between my faith and competing; they aren’t separate. They work together,” Francis said. “I definitely still have a ways to go, but I think I’ve gotten better at seeing that I am a Christian first and an athlete second, so I need to show that while I am on the court.”
Francis and the Wheaton Men’s Basketball team will host their final home game of the season, and of Francis’s collegiate basketball career, on Wednesday, Feb. 13 at 7 p.m. in King Arena against Millikin University.