The following is the fourth in a series of blog posts about English High’s basketball team and the school’s efforts to hold their athletes to higher academic standards. The posts are a follow up to the Boston Globe Magazine story I wrote about the school increasing its eligibility threshold for athletes to a district-high 2.5 GPA.
By Justin A. Rice
Junior guard Frantz Francois turned his head away from English High basketball coach Barry Robinson, or Coach Rob, and cursed to himself through a half smile when the coach reminded his team about a 6:30 a.m. study hall shortly after a tough loss to New Bedford on Jan. 9.
“Who needs a ride and who needs to get picked up?” Coach Rob asked his team after the 103-83 loss that ended at 8:44 p.m. “I’m waking you guys up at 5:30 in the morning and I’m not playing, if you are not here at 6:30 in the morning you are NOT playing Wednesday [against Burke]. This week is basically going to break or make this team. I’m being serious man. I’m not joking with you right now.
“You will not be getting into that library after 6:30 and you will be sitting on that bench on Wednesday. We will be doing this all this week man, until you show me we don’t need it no more. But right now as a team we need to get that two-five. You got it?”
The following morning Francois was one of 16 bleary-eyed teenagers in the library, including all 11 varsity players and six members of the jayvee squad.
“When I woke up at five [Coach Rob] texted everybody at 4:46, ‘If I’m up so should you. Let’s go,’” said Francois, who is one of about three varsity players in danger or failing off the basketball team when the marking term ends in less than three weeks.
“Man, I didn’t even go to sleep last night, I’m running off two cups of coffee, some Red Bull and I’m wide awake,” Francois, who got home around 9:30 the previous night, joked shortly before confessing that he actually fell asleep at about 10 or 11 p.m.
At first Francois said he didn’t do any homework the previous night before remembering that he did an English worksheet, although at the moment he is unable to locate it as he’s shuffling through his binder.
Despite dire academic straits, Francois had his best game of the season against New Bedford—who was 5-2 going into the game compared to English’s record of 3-2 record. New Bedford was ranked in some preseason polls but quickly fell out of the Top 25 after a few loses.
“Last week I put that in my mind to come out and do what I can do,” Francois said after the game. “The majority of my games I feel like I haven’t been playing to my potential so I decided to step up. Basically it’s a mindset. If you know you know how to play basketball you know how to play basketball.”
After the Whalers posted their best first quarter to that point of the season to lead 29-19, Francois scored back-to-back buckets in the middle of the second quarter to put English down 37-26 with 4:15 left in the half. The basket capped a 6-0 run for English that forced New Bedford to call time out. English Co-captain Wiley Shipman slapped Francois in the back of the head as they head to the bench.
English scored two more consecutive baskets coming out of the time out before New Bedford ended what was ultimately a 10-2 English run with a baseline dunk by New Bedford senior Jonathan Fortes (21 points) that even excites some English fans and made the score 41-30 with 2:39 left in the half.
But about five seconds later Francois put back a missed shot that kicked off a 15-4 English run to close out the half tied at 45.
“We gotta just ball,” senior guard Marquis Lewis tells his teammates in the locker room at the break. “All that rank. All that stuff [about them] being a top team, it doesn’t matter at the end of the day. We showing we can play ball with them. I don’t even think we are reaching our potential.”
Coach Rob came into the locker room at that point and took over the floor:
“Now don’t be excited about what you just did,” he says. “You’re supposed to do that. I expect that out of you. Because you know what there ain’t a man in this room who’s a quitter. Okay. We been down before and we came back. We been up before and lost it and still came back and won by double digits. So I know what we have here. I know what we have here. You know what we have here.
“This is yours if you want it. I know you want it but it’s not going to come easy. It’s NOT going to come easy. You are going to have to fight like hell. … If a guy tires to dunk we flush it we come right back and handle our business.”
But the dunks kept coming for New Bedford in the second half as they pulled away with a 78-62 lead after the third quarter.
The Whalers opened the final quarter with a dunk before Francois converts a three-point play. He darted down the lane, banked a shot off the glass and was fouled before coolly sinking the extra shot from the line to cut the gap to 15 points. But 84-72 is the closest English gets the rest of the game and Francois fouls out with 1:33 left in the fourth.
After the game Coach Rob put his clip board down in the locker room as he asked what his players learned. They went down the bench ratting off lessons such as making sure they get back on defense.
“You learned your lesson but at the same time I hope you realize you can play with them,” he said. “We did a lot of mental breakdowns and a lot of simple basketball 101 stuff … having said all that I’m proud of you guys. You guys are getting nasty. You’re not backing down form no body and you’re not taking shit from anyone. Learn your lesson from this game. Flush it and get ready for the Burke.
“Now we are 3-3 we can’t keep winning one and losing one somewhere down the line we gotta take two, we gotta take three, four. We cannot go to states with a .500 record.”
Coach Rob then paid a compliment to Francois:
“One thing I was impressed about tonight was Frantz,” he said. “Frantz for your sake I hope you keep playing at a high level son, I really believe he had a double-double tonight,” Coach Rob says before the team claps. “You still have some lessons to learn but we are all growing.”
With two week to go before the end of the marking period, Francois had made up a good chunk of his missing assignments but still had work to do.
“Knowing I can benefit the team and my coaches know I can benefit the team it would be disappointing on my part,” Francois said of the possibility of failing off the team. “I would feel like I’m letting down the team if I fail off. As a student and as a teammate those are basically my brothers I’m going to try my hardest to get that two-five if I do end up failing off I’d still come and support but I’d feel like I’d be letting down my team.”