A little more than a decade ago a skinny 6-foot 9-inch farm boy named Clarence Franklin (Bevo) Francis sank baskets at a faster rate than anyone else ever had, and immediately won national fame for himself and a little country college in Ohio. The school was Rio (pronounced Rye-o) Grande and few but its student body and their families were aware of its existence before Bevo came along. Then, in 1952, he led its basketball team in a 39-game winning streak that took Rio Grande out of the hinterlands and into such metropolitan basketball centers as Madison Square Garden and Boston Garden.
Bevo Francis had inherited his unusual nickname from his father, who was called Big Bevo because of his fondness for a Prohibition era near beer of the same name. At first Bevo was called Little Bevo, but his height eventually turned that into an absurdity. At the age of 13 he was well over 6 feet tall and still growing.
Perhaps because of his rapid growth, Bevo suffered from anemia and generally poor health which caused him to miss several years of school during his childhood. When he was able to, however, he played basketball constantly, usually on a makeshift court. "We would go up to a neighbor's barn every Friday night," said Bevo. "And we would not come out again until Sunday night. We would even buy food and take it up there and sleep in the hay after we were through playing."
Newt Oliver, the basketball coach at Rio Grande, first spotted Bevo at Wellsville High School in the southern Ohio farm country. Oliver coached the Wells-ville basketball team then, and Bevo, who was in his senior year, had come out for the team for the first time. "As soon as I saw him play I knew he was going to be great," said Oliver. "I was right, too. With Bevo leading the way, we won 23 games and lost only two."
Oliver, who was only 5 feet 9 inches tall and weighed 145, drilled Bevo in the fundamentals of the fast break and made him practice his shooting until he was exhausted. When the season was over, Bevo had scored 776 points and was considered one of the top high school players in the Midwest.
Shortly after Bevo's senior year ended, Oliver accepted the job of coaching the Rio Grande basketball team. Bevo, despite scholarship offers from some 60 other colleges, enrolled at Rio Grande the following fall. He lacked two credits for his high school diploma, however, and to make them up had to attend high school classes during his first college semester.
Oliver worked hard to build a team around Bevo's shooting—a team that would feed Bevo the ball every chance it could. Bevo himself spent long hours practicing his right-handed push shot until he could hit with it from just about anywhere 75% of the time. Led by Bevo, Rio Grande won every game it played—usually by large scores—during the early part of the 1952-53 season. The names of Bevo Francis, Newt Oliver and Rio Grande began to appear in wire-service stories when Bevo's point total approached 1,000 in early January.
Then, on January 9, 1953, in a game against Ashland Junior College of Kentucky, Bevo gained national fame. The first half of the game was inauspicious for him. He scored 38 points, a princely total for any other basketball player but barely enough for Bevo to break his record of 72, made several weeks earlier. During the second half of the game, however, the roof almost came off the Hog Pen—the students' name for Rio's dingy, dilapidated gym—as Bevo sank a shot just about every time he flicked his right hand at the basket.
The black scoreboard at one end of the Hog Pen stopped registering after 99 points went up on it, and still Bevo kept scoring. By the time the final buzzer sounded, Bevo had tossed in 116 points—on 47 field goals and 22 free throws.
The NCAA promptly listed his 116 points as a college record and included Bevo's totals all season in its list of leading college scorers. When the season ended, Bevo had scored 1,954 points, averaged 50.1 a game and Rio Grande had won 39 straight. Most college coaches were outraged, however, over Bevo's records. They felt that since Rio played most of its games against service teams and junior colleges, Bevo's performance was not up to NCAA standards. Because of the uproar, the NCAA finally threw out most of Bevo's point totals—including his 116 against Ashland—and counted only those scored against four-year colleges.
Oliver immediately scheduled only four-year colleges for Rio Grande in the 1953-54 season, and the team drew capacity crowds wherever it played. Against tougher competition Rio lost a few games but beat such major colleges as Butler, Creighton, Miami and Wake Forest. With his teammates feeding him the ball whenever they got it, Bevo still threw in points at a dizzy rate.
When the season was over, Bevo had scored 1,255 points on 444 field goals and averaged 46.5 points a game. These marks still stand in the NCAA record book as one-season highs for small-college players. Also listed under Bevo's name are the four highest single-game totals for small-college players—113, 84, 82 and 72 points.
Bevo never got another chance to improve on his records, however. In the spring of 1954 Rio Grande expelled him for not attending classes (Bevo says he quit school on his own two weeks before). Oliver left Rio soon after and the two got together again on a tour with the Harlem Globetrotters. Oliver coached and Bevo played for the Boston Whirlwinds, a team that nightly opposed the Globetrotters. After two and a half years the two left the tour: Oliver to teach at a rural Ohio school and Bevo to play exhibitions with another team. After spending the 1958-59 season in the Eastern League, a tough pro minor league where he averaged 28 points a game, Bevo retired from basketball. He was bothered by a bad knee, but most of all he was tired of traveling. Today Bevo lives in Highlandtown, near Wellsville, with his wife and two children and works as a truck driver for a cement company. "Sometimes I think of going back," says Bevo, "but I'd rather stay home with my family."