Torin Francis was one of the highest rated recruits coming out of high-school, and became one of the top big men in Notre Dame history. I caught up with him about his college and pro careers.
ME: As a highly rated recruit, what other schools looked at you?
TORIN: Being a McDonald’s All-American, I had the opportunity to choose almost any school I wanted. I wanted to commit early at the beginning of my senior year. In the summer prior, I took unofficial visits to Duke, North Carolina, Georgia Tech, Florida, Virginia, Boston College, Kentucky, Louisville, Notre Dame and a few others. I didn’t want to travel too far from home, so I wasn’t interested in any schools out west.
ME: Why did you choose Notre Dame?
TORIN: I chose Notre Dame because my mother and I both felt welcomed by Coach (Mike) Brey and the rest of the coaching staff. They made me feel like I was a priority rather than another expendable player.
When I actually visited the campus, the other guys welcomed me and I felt like I was already part of the team. The campus was more beautiful than I ever imagined. They were members of the Big East. To me, this was the strongest conference at the time. And playing many teams on the east coast would make it possible for my family and friends go and watch me play. Most importantly, I knew Notre Dame would prepare me for the rest of my life after basketball.
ME: Playing in the Big East with guys like Carmelo Anthony and Troy Bell, how would you describe the competition?
TORIN: Like I previously mentioned, in that time, the Big East was the strongest conference. And to be the best, you have to beat the best. Every night was a battle and I loved it! Pitt was loaded, Syracuse was always good and with Melo they were contenders (and won the National Championship my Freshman year). Georgetown had (Mike) Sweetney. Troy Bell and BC were good. Villanova was loaded with guards. The list goes on and on.
ME: Who was the toughest player you had to go up against in college?
TORIN: The toughest player I matched up with was Mike Sweetney. He was so big and had such nice touch around the basket.
ME: You were there at the very beginning of Mike Brey. How was he as a coach?
TORIN: Coach Brey was one of the main reasons I chose Notre Dame. He is a genuine person who had a ton of experience before Notre Dame. He knows how to relate to his players while still holding them accountable for mistakes on and off the court. For me that’s one of the most difficult parts of coaching, is finding the balance between discipline and respect with players. Coach Brey has found the formula and that’s why he continues to be successful each year.
ME: Do you still keep in contact?
TORIN: Yes, we are in touch via email. And I’m also in touch with some of the former players who are now on the staff. (Harold) Swanagan, (Ryan) Humphrey and Ryan (Ayers). We were always like family.
ME: How did Notre Dame prepare you for professional basketball?
TORIN: Playing at the highest level prepared me for professional competition. Even though the European game was a little different, I had the work ethic, skills and experience to be successful. Unfortunately I didn’t play in the NBA, but I’ve had an amazing career and have lived all over the world.
ME: Can you elaborate on your pro career?
TORIN: I’m currently playing in my 14th season (overall) and fifth season in Argentina. My first two seasons I played in Italy, next two seasons in Greece, one in Berlin, three in Turkey, and one season in Belgium. I played a couple summers in Venezuela and had a couple short jobs in Israel and Uruguay. And I’ve competed in many other countries.
I’ve always played in the top leagues. I played in the finals my first season in Argentina and I won a championship in Venezuela.
It has been an amazing journey filled with highs and lows, but it’s been a blessing and I wouldn’t change it for anything.
ME: What has that experience been like playing overseas?
TORIN: People have the misconception that I’m on vacation out here. Yes I do get some free days and the opportunity to do some sightseeing, but for nine months out of the year, I’m here working.
It takes a player that is mentally tough to deal with some of the BS of playing overseas. The facilities are nothing like college, the road trips sometimes can be long and by bus usually. There are leagues and teams that are unprofessional. There’s been a few cases early in my career where I didn’t receive my money. And like College and the NBA, it’s still a business, and as players we are expendable. I’ve always used that as motivation to perform at the highest level possible.
And for all the negatives, there are so many more positives. Living in and seeing new countries and cities and learning about the different history and cultures has made me much more open minded than I already was. And more importantly, establishing relationships and friendships that will last a lifetime.
My whole career has been an amazing journey and I’m blessed to be healthy and still have the opportunity to continue the journey.
ME: You’ve competed in the TBT for a few years. How has that tournament helped you and basketball as a whole?
TORIN: I haven’t competed in TBT in a couple years, but it was a great experience. With ND, it was a reunion of Irish family. For a few of us, it was the first time meeting, but we we’re all good people who play the game the right way. And that’s why we were successful winning it the very first year.
I think TBT has been great exposure for many overseas hoopers. We don’t really get the recognition playing overseas. TBT is being promoted all year, plus games are nationally televised, plus there are many alumni teams with huge fan bases. People can clearly see that overseas athletes compete at a very high level also.
I believe TBT will continue to grow and get stronger each year. I’m not sure if TBT will be able to compete this year with the current state of not only the states but also the world, but I’m hoping for the best.
ME: Anything else you’d like to add?
TORIN: Right now my season is suspended like every other league in the world. Don’t get discouraged. No matter how bad everything is right now, we will get past this if we all work together to stay safe and prevent the spread.
I’m anxious to get back to the hardwood, but I’m more anxious for the well being of the world. Our everyday lives are changed for ever, but we will be able to live without fear again. And we will all be able to play the game we love again.