My favorite part of a new basketball season is seeing how players have grown in the off-season. Yes, physically, but also their game and mental toughness. And how Kelvin Sampson and his staff are going to use them.
The UH coaches agree that players make their most significant jump between their first and second years in the program. Whether from an elite AAU or basketball program, players have never worked with as much intensity as when they step on campus at UH. Under Alan Bishop’s guidance, the offseason program turns kids into young men and young men into warriors.
Certain players come in and have something different about them – a spark. Guys like Galen Robinson, Fabian White, Dejon Jarreau, and Marcus Sasser. They were not the best players in year one, but they caught my eye early, and I always tracked their progress.
The current “it” guy for me is Ja’Vier Francis. He came as raw and extraordinarily long and lean 6’8″ forward. With so many elite centers in front of him, he did not see much action last year. But once he started getting some minutes, he impressed me. Late last year at Tulane, he made me do a triple-take. With time running out, he pulled off a nasty windmill dunk. It was an ill-advised move at that point in the game, and Kelvin Sampson wasn’t too happy. But wow! It showed a rare athleticism, and I have kept an eye on him ever since.
The offseason showed me we are dealing with a completely different guy. When I saw the 2022 version of Ja’Vier in the team photo, I did not recognize him. So I had to pull up individual pictures to ensure it was him. He has completely transformed.
The Work Is Gonna Be There
— Alan Bishop (@CoachAlanBishop) September 22, 2022
His athleticism is incredible. This should not be possible:
— Alan Bishop (@CoachAlanBishop) October 20, 2022
Francis is also starting to show it on the court, getting more minutes and being productive during his time on the floor. The Oral Roberts game showed me what I needed to see to confirm that this guy has a very high ceiling.
In 16 minutes, he racked up a double-double with 11 points, 11 rebounds, two blocks, two steals, and four fouls. I have to throw the fouls in there because I like my big guys to bang, and fouls come with the territory. The dude got his money’s worth that night.
He covers so much ground on that ball screen to force the pass, then gets back to block the shot to send the game to halftime. Fans of the low-post game have to drool at that slick baseline jump hook, then the spinning left-hander at the rim. Those three clips alone showed me that the guy has legit skills and is just scratching the surface of what he can become.
Against Norfolk State, he completely took over the game for a good eight minutes.
He fell just short of another double-double: 11 points, eight rebounds, three blocks, and two steals in 16 minutes. He still has a long way to go, but he gets better weekly.
Kelvin Sampson is slowly unleashing the beast that lives within him. But, with a little more seasoning, Ja’Vier Francis will be a nightmare to compete against.