DALLAS — When Brandone Francis decided to transfer from Florida to Texas Tech, he probably never imagined he’d come head to head with the Gators.
But that’s the case Saturday night as the No. 3-seeded Red Raiders take on the No. 6 Gators in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
Francis, a reserve guard averaging 5.3 points per game, said he’ll treat it as any other game. He has only positive feelings toward Florida, but he’s happy with his decision to resettle at Texas Tech.
“It was a hard decision, but at the same time I’m happy to be at Texas Tech. It’s like when you have a girlfriend, you know, and you all go through stuff and things don’t work out and you’re like, ‘OK,’ and then you meet somebody else,” he said Friday. “I’m at Texas Tech, she gave me another opportunity and I was like, ‘OK, let’s keep it going.’ Just really happy to have a second opportunity in life and hopefully I can take advantage of it.”
Francis started his collegiate career under former Gators coach Billy Donovan and then played in 29 games for Florida as a redshirt freshman during the 2015-16 season under coach Mike White, starting two, averaging 10.8 minutes per game and 2.0 points.
After sitting out last year, he has played in all 33 games this season for Texas Tech, making one start and averaging 15.7 minutes.
Sitting in the locker room Friday at American Airlines Center, Francis didn’t want to get into the details of why he left Florida.
“I don’t feel comfortable talking about that, but you know, it was a decision that it happens, but I’m happy to be here,” he said. “I love Texas Tech, I love Lubbock and I’m just really thankful and grateful for the opportunity Coach [Chris] Beard gave me. …
“I wanted to be coached hard, I wanted to break some habits I had in the past, I wanted to become better. I wanted to achieve my ultimate goal, and I felt like Coach Beard had all that and I was right. He changed my life, he changed my habits and he helped me to be in the position I’m at today.”
Most of the Florida players Francis was close with have moved on, including Kasey Hill, Dorian Finney-Smith and Devin Robinson. He still keeps in touch with injured Gators center John Egbunu as well.
Meanwhile, Florida point guard Chris Chiozza and center Kevarrius Hayes are other holdovers from Francis’ time in Gainesville. He didn’t expect to talk with them much before the game, though.
“Just probably a what’s up. When you tip up the ball, it’s go time. After the game we’ll talk,” he said. “I’ve got a lot of respect for those guys. Some of them are my brothers. I’m really close with some of them. But when we’re on the court, the same mindset they have, they ain’t going to feel sorry for me.”
Chiozza said the same, while acknowledging it will be a little strange seeing Francis on the opposing team Saturday night.
“I don’t think I’ve played against him besides practice,” he said. “Even in high school, we never really got to cross paths except for maybe like camps or something. Even in the all-star games we were on the same team because we both had committed to Florida so they used to match us up on the same team. So it will be interesting going against him. We’re good friends, [but] when we’re on the court, it’s going to be like we don’t know each other.”
Francis had 5 points in Texas Tech’s win over Stephen F. Austin on Thursday, including a key 3-pointer to help the Red Raiders pull away. It was a 61-58 game when he connected from long range to push the lead to 6 with 2:34 remaining. Texas Tech would go on to win 70-60.
“I’m happy for his success. He’s such a likable kid, he’s got such an outgoing personality. So just really happy to see him,” Florida assistant coach Dusty May said. “He hit a big shot [Thursday] night and played well, looked like he was having fun and he’s fit in well. So just happy for him as a person.”
Whatever prompted Francis’ transfer that he doesn’t feel comfortable discussing, he doesn’t sound like he harbors any ill feelings toward his time in Gainesville.
He said he was rooting for the Gators on their Elite 8 run last season and appreciates his time with the program.
“Of course. I don’t have anything against Florida. It’s a part of me. It’s a part of my past. I can never deny I had an amazing time over there. It was my dream school,” he said. “I loved Billy Donovan since I was in the Dominican Republic, and I love the job Coach White is doing down there. He’s doing an unbelievable job last year, this year, so you’ve got to respect that and you’ve got to know that Florida is one of the elite programs in the nation.”
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