Former Notre Dame basketball forward Torin Francis still going strong as a pro

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

Winter has been a rumor across the last two calendar years for former Notre Dame power forward Torin Francis.

Bundling up to go to or return from a basketball practice or a game or a road trip was all part of the plan for Francis for so many years. He was born and raised in Boston, where Nor’easters are normal. He went to college in South Bend, where lake-effect often seems endless.

He spent his first nine seasons playing professionally in Europe. Dealing with the cold in Greece and Germany and Belgium and Turkey was part of the contract.

These days Francis doesn’t feel much of it, except when temperatures dip below 50 degrees. Wind chills? Forget them. Snow? Doesn’t have to walk through it or shovel it. Winter coats and hats and gloves? Doesn’t need them.

That’s what life is like playing professionally where it’s summer when it’s winter about everywhere else.

“Here, the seasons are opposite than in America,” Francis said in an email to the Tribune some 5,000 miles away from South Bend in Formosa, Argentina, where he’s finishing up his second season with LaUnion, a Liga A (highest level) team. “After living around Europe for nine years, I thought it might be a bit of a transition to South America, but it was easier than I thought. It’s great living in Argentina.”

Located in extreme Northern Argentina on the southwest border of Paraguay, and with a population of around 258,000, Formosa sits 800 miles north of Buenos Aries.

Every September Francis arrives in Argentina from New York City, where he and his wife, Mia, and their four kids call home. At that time, it’s already spring south of the equator. The bulk of his 10-month basketball season takes place during what’s summer. Fall now is just about ready to arrive while Francis soon will return to the United States for a few weeks of rest before yet another season starts.

“Warm weather year-round, not too bad!” he said.

The same can be said for Francis, who turns 34 on June 26 but played this season as if he was 24.

In 55 regular-season games, Francis averaged team highs in points (14.5) and rebounds (8.7) in 27.6 minutes per game. As the only American “import” player and the second-oldest on the team, Francis shot 62.2 percent from the field and 65.1 percent from the line for LaUnion, which finished 21-32 and eighth place in the 10-team Norte Division.

His best game was Jan. 20, when Francis finished with 21 points, 13 rebounds, one assist and one steal in an 87-76 victory over Aguada. He also had nights of 15, 14 and 12 rebounds.

“I still love the game,” said Francis, a former McDonald’s high school All-American and the 2002 McDonald’s national Player of the Year. “I’m healthy. I’m still playing at a high level, still making good money. And, most importantly, I’m having fun.”

The early years

Following a fine freshman season at Notre Dame — he averaged 11.1 points and 8.4 rebounds to earn Big East all-rookie honors as a starter on an Irish team that advanced to the NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 for the first time in 16 seasons — Francis’ basketball future looked in jeopardy the following winter. He missed the final 12 games of his sophomore season after surgery to repair a herniated disc in his lower back.

The procedure robbed Francis of his explosiveness around the rim, yet he returned to the lineup the following fall and started the final 59 games of his career. By the time Francis graduated in 2006 with a marketing degree from the Mendoza College of Business, he became the first player in school history to lead the Irish in rebounding average in each of his four seasons.

He started all of his 113 career games. He played over 3,200 minutes. He averaged 11.3 points and 8.6 rebounds. When his career ended, the two-time team captain was one of only 10 players in program history with at least 1,000 points (1,280) and 800 rebounds (969).

"He's the most underrated player in recent history of the program," said former Irish teammate and still good friend Jordan Cornette. "He was an absolute stud. No ego. Huge heart. When he was on, you couldn't stop him."

Cornette had his eyes on challenging for a starting spot when he was a sophomore. That was before Francis walked in the door as a freshman. It didn't take long for Cornette to realize he'd have to find a different role — a supporting one — on that Sweet 16 team. Francis was just that good.

"He was unbelievable in practice," Cornette said. "He commanded such respect from teammates."

The 6-foot-11 Francis played at 255 pounds during his collegiate career. These days, his ideal playing weight usually hovers around 240.

“With age has come knowledge and discipline,” Francis said. “Back then, my diet consisted of whatever I wanted to eat.”

Not now. Out went processed carbohydrates and sugar. No more soda. Fast food once was a staple of Francis’ diet; now he might eat it three times a year. Burgers and fries have been replaced by proteins (fish, chicken, beef), vegetables, fruit and a whole lot of water.

“As I’ve gotten older, I wanted to keep the same strength but lose weight to maintain my speed and agility,” he said. “I’m still playing at a high level.”

Something that Francis believes he still can do in Argentina for another season. Maybe two. Or three.

“When I can walk away from the game as a player without regrets, that’s when I’ll know,” he said.

The future years

Francis was one of 14 former Irish to play professionally at some level this past basketball season (see box). Three years, ago, he was part of an Irish alumni team that won the $500,000 championship prize in the first year of The Basketball Tournament. He was on the team the following summer when the Irish defended their TBT title but lost in their second game.

Thanks to social media, he stays in regular contact with former teammates, with everyone often scattered across the globe chasing their hoop dreams. Cornette traded text messages this week about a possible get-together after Francis returns home.

“When we do get to see each other, it’s like we didn’t miss any time together,” Francis said. “I’m grateful for all the brothers I made at Notre Dame.”

What will life be like after basketball for Francis? Who knows? He and his wife have tossed around a few future business ideas. But being a traditional businessman might not be one of them.

“I want to do a little bit of a lot of things,” he said. “I don’t know after spending 10 years on the hardwood if I can work a traditional ‘desk job.’

“But I definitely want to be around the game.”

His wife, an attorney, and their children live with him in Argentina during the season.

"Torin wouldn't be doing all of this if it wasn't for the love of his life holding it down for him," Cornette said. "He's made a great life over there. He's done it consistently at a high level. It's remarkable."

The Francis home in Formosa has a pool, which comes in handy. So does the Spanish that Francis studied in high school. They’re always anxious to get back to the States for summer and see family.

Francis spends what down time he does get often dividing time between New York and Boston, where he still has family. He’ll stray from his in-season diet here and there for some city street food before jumping back into his workout routine as the American summers wind down.

Still, if there’s somewhere to go in June or July or August that involves a beach, Francis likely will find it.

“I deserve it after 10 months on the road,” he said. “I like to enjoy my summers.”

On and off the court.

tnoie@ndinsider.com

(574) 235-6153

@tnoieNDI