He’s got a bit of Stephen Curry in him, dribbling around to set up his shot or simply shooting from long range.
He’s got a bit of Kyrie Irving in him, making plays for himself and his teammates and scoring as much as needed.
And while Curry and Irving may be two of his favorite current players to watch, All Saints guard Aston Francis puts one old-school player above all others.
Francis models his game after Basketball Hall of Famer Larry Bird, who he watches clips of on YouTube.
“Obviously I never got to see him live but on videos he was an amazing shooter, passer; I aspire to be similar to him,” Francis said of Larry Legend.
Something obviously wore off on the Trojans senior as he averaged 21.7 points per game in leading All Saints to the TAPPS 4A title game.
Francis is the Player of the Year on the Tyler Morning Telegraph and ETFinalScore.com’s All-East Texas Basketball Team. Francis follows 2014 winner Anthony Sanders of Athens.
Lindale coach Scott Albritton is the Coach of the Year while John Tyler sophomore Bryson Smith is the Newcomer of the Year.
Francis’ numbers were eye-popping. In addition to his point totals, he averaged 5.0 assists, 5.3 rebounds and 2.9 steals per game while hitting 51 percent from the field, 38 percent of his 3-pointers and 81 percent on free throws.
He dropped 40 on Whitehouse and surpassed 30 points seven times. In one district game he recorded 27 points, 11 assists, nine rebounds, and seven steals, coming quite close to a quadruple-double.
Much of it stems from his basketball-oriented family. His father, Eddie, is the team’s coach. Having grown up around the game, he became a natural shooter, picking up cues from clips on YouTube of Curry, Irving and Bird.
“I don’t try to mimic their form but see some of the main things: their elbow’s always under it, their hand’s always on the side, always squared up, stuff like that,” Aston Francis said. “I just try to work on doing that stuff as much as I can when I’m practicing by myself or with the team.”
The work paid off, capped by a senior year that included a 37-3 record, a TAPPS 2-4A championship and a number of tournament titles.
Yet Aston is quick to note he couldn’t have done any of it without his teammates, many of whom he’s played with since elementary school.
“I definitely couldn’t be here without all those guys, especially playing with my buddies and playing with them the past 10 years,” Aston Francis said. “I couldn’t have done it without them being as good as they were and we wouldn’t have gotten as far as we did if they weren’t as good as they were.”
Like Francis, his teammates put up some impressive numbers as well. Jaired Maddox scored 16.3 points per game, Luke Lee averaged near a double-double and Spencer Ball returned from an ACL injury last season to provide 6.7 assists per game.
Together the senior-laden group became the winningest team in East Texas, often doing it in style (unless a certain cross-town team was holding onto the ball for multiple overtimes).
“To accomplish things with them, playing in huge games with huge crowds, people cheering with those guys is the best feeling that I’ve ever encountered,” said Aston Francis, who turned down looks from NCAA Division II and III schools to attend Texas A&M next fall.
“Obviously I’m going to miss that a lot next year. We’ve all watched … highlight videos and look at each other like, ‘We had it pretty good.’ Just the environments and stuff that I got to experience with my best friends is really big for me.”
He also got to experience it with his father. As coach of the Trojans, Eddie Francis saw firsthand how hard his son worked to earn the title of best in East Texas.
“I know he’s put in a lot of time and effort to be the best player he can be and for him to be recognized as the best player in our area is a compliment to his hard work and really a tribute to our team and without our team success he doesn’t get this award,” Eddie Francis said.
The two agree on that, but they didn’t always see eye-to-eye on the court. The coach did not hesitate to yank his son off the floor if he shot too much or wasn’t doing what was in the best interest of the team.
Aston Francis admits he was a bit stubborn when he was younger — still is, he says — but their relationship has grown as both coach and player and father and son.
“It got better as time went on and I think we did a good job of keeping the home and court life separate, so that helped a lot,” Aston Francis said. “Overall it was a great experience. I think it helped our relationship a lot and we’re closer than we’ve ever been, so I cherish it.”
The bond of teammates as brothers and coaches as fathers culminated in a memorable season for the Trojans.
“The relationships and the experiences shared are invaluable,” Eddie Francis said. “To me as a coach and a dad, these guys are like brothers and that showed on the court. Anytime you have a selfless group of kids who accept their role and play their role to the best of their ability, you get a special year.”
That All Saints ultimately came up short against Houston Westbury Christian in the TAPPS 4A title game took nothing away from the season for Aston Francis and the Trojans.
“I definitely wish we would’ve won, but … that night they were better than us; they deserved to win,” Aston Francis said. “We were proud that we got there. We obviously wish we could’ve won it all but we don’t feel any shame about not winning. We’re proud of what we accomplished.”
Many people looked at the Lindale boys basketball team heading into the 2014-15 season and wondered if they could keep up in District 16-5A.
The Eagles graduated their three first- and second-team all-district selections from the year before and outside of Newcomer of the Year Jordan Gray, there were a number of question marks.
But coach Scott Albritton knew better.
After turning the corner in at the Wagstaff Classic in late December, Lindale began to build momentum. The Eagles were at the top of the 16-5A standings at multiple times before finishing third.
After edging Longview by a point in bi-district, Lindale nearly did the unthinkable, going toe-to-toe with eventual state champion Lancaster before falling short of the upset.
The Eagles have a saying “94-32” — they’re going to play all 94 feet for all 32 minutes. That was never truer than when they gave Lancaster so many fits the Tigers decided they needed to stall to hold off the pesky Eagles.
Though they ultimately lost, the Eagles had gained respect and Albritton earned the All-East Texas nod. He follows Laneville’s Hosea Lee and Brownsboro’s Tobin Reid, who shared the honor last year.
“I want us to improve from the beginning of the year when we start and where we finish,” Albritton said. “It’s almost more gratifying to me when people come up and tell me how hard our guys played because that means I’m doing something right.”
The Eagles began coming together during an overnight trip to the Royse City Tournament. The most influential of many bonding experiences was a starting point for Lindale’s season.
At the Wagstaff Classic the Eagles began to play the kind of defense necessary to win in 16-5A and soon Lindale would knock off Jacksonville, Lufkin and John Tyler in consecutive games. Against the Panthers, the Eagles blew a lead in regulation before controlling overtime to move to the top of the standings.
“I think right there that’s where the guys also knew we had something special going,” Albritton said. “That win kind of gave us respect from a lot of people in this area.”
With top scorers Gray and Laettner Greenhill leading the way, the Eagles were no easy out in an ultra-competitive basketball district.
Next year Lindale will be aiming for even higher, with most key parts returning. Albritton said his team can be better, but the players have to keep working to improve, knowing they won’t be surprising anyone this time around.
But with Albritton leading his charges, coaching won’t be issue for the Eagles.
“Even if we’re down, we’re not going to stop, we’re not going to quit and just lay down,” Albritton said. “We’re going to continue to play until that last buzzer goes,”
Bryson Smith’s first season on the John Tyler basketball team was delayed until late December. The reason for the holdup also gave him the confidence he needed to succeed at the varsity level.
Smith was a standout receiver for the Lions’ football team and his varsity experience reaching the state semifinals on the gridiron primed him for a breakout year on the hardwood.
“Football season, it gets you prepared for the crowd and stuff so you won’t be nervous and all that,” Smith said. “It prepared me well.”
Smith follows Lindale’s Jordan Gray as Newcomer of the Year on the All-East Texas team.
The 6-0 guard was named District 16-5A Newcomer of the Year and was a vital spark to the Lions off the bench after he joined the team midseason.
With a long wingspan, Smith used his defense to shut down opponents and grab steals to start fast breaks.
“I think I just brought an intensity on defense, just being wherever I need to be, helping everybody out,” Smith said.
Smith said the season highlight was beating Marshall 84-82 in the Class 5A bi-district playoffs, handing the Mavericks their second loss of the season.
Though the Lions were senior-laden, Smith said he thinks JT can go further in the playoffs next year.
In line to be the next starting quarterback for Lions coach Ricklan Holmes, that experience is sure to make him all the more ready for another season of basketball.
“We’re going to be back ready, hungry to win more games,” Smith said.
All-East Texas Boys Basketball Team
Player of the Year: Aston Francis, All Saints
Newcomer : Bryson Smith, John Tyler
Coach: Scott Albritton, Lindale
Jordan Gray, Lindale
Garrett Thibodeaux, Robert E. Lee
Davis Moore, Martins Mill
Tiandre Jackson-Young, Marshall
Trey Conrod, Kilgore
Jaired Maddox, All Saints
Grant Hanks, Brook Hill
Ja’Khari Lewis, John Tyler
Tyler Underwood, Nacogdoches
Will Bailey, Brownsboro
Chaston Brooks, Tatum
James Jackson, LaPoynor
Tralon Alexander, Laneville
Hunter Conway, Martins Mill
Courtland Lyons, Athens
Alba-Golden — Dylan Harle, Kyle Morrow, Dalton Wright. Alto — Keenen Johnson. All Saints — Spencer Ball, Luke Lee, Sean Phillips. Athens — Miles Koehler, Kynden Crist, Nikell Roberts. Big Sandy — Mason Macwell, Caleb Smith, Jordan Womack. BishopGorman — Judah Bell. Brownsboro — Tamrick Pace, Chris Givens, Kenneth Woods, Logan Compton. Bullard — Major Tennison, Andrew Thomas. Bullard Brook Hill — Chase McDermott. Canton — Jake King, Logan Nace. Carlisle — Ricardo Pereles, Bryce McGowan. Chapel Hill — Caleb Hampton, Andrew Anderson. Cushing — DeRodney Thomas, Blake Ham. Daingerfield — Torrian Chism. Douglass — Trenton Carrigan, Jack Garner, Hunter Lee. Edgewood — Trent Phelps, Christian Davison, Kobe Huett. Elkhart — Jonathon Simmons, Chad Taylor. Frankston — Kendrick Rogers, Justice Bean, Ozzie Buckner. Gilmer — Andrew Hollis, Nick Smith. Gladewater — Caleb Williams. GraceCommunity — Trevor Gunter. Grapeland — Ricktavius Lomax, Jacques Faulk, Riley Chipman, Rodney Davis. Hallsville — Blaine Parker. Harmony — Bentley Miner. Hawkins — Lavon Davis, Derek Craft. Henderson — Zane Boles, LaKendrick VanZandt. Jacksonville — De’Vun Hamilton, Shawn Ragsdale. Kilgore — Xavier Gaona, Nick Orange. Laneville — Kendrick Anderson Jr., Ty Johnson, Jaylon Grant. LaPoynor — Nate Betts, Keandre’ Eldridge, Zach Solis, Lane McClelland, Xavier Oliver, Jacorey Williams. Lindale — Laettner Greenhill. Longview — Trez O’Quinn, Kyle Shields. Lufkin — Keke Coutee, Ja’Darrien Bennett, Cameron Hart, Royce Kenebrew. Mabank — Dalton Burleson, Peyton Lee, Cole Smith. Martins Mill — Logan Jenkins. Marshall — Jayton McKnight, Shimar Jones, Chris Jones. Mineola — Travis Browning, Lincoln Fisher, Rapheal Ogueri, Kourtland Sinches. Mount Enterprise — Christian Hammett, Dhailon Phillips. Nacogdoches — Dequan Batiste. Neches — Grant Dickson. New Summerfield — Angel Marroquin. Overton — Julian Herndon. Palestine — Kevin Parrish, Gee Clark, Vay Davis, Dakedrick McMorris. Palestine Westwood — Tray Hicks, Sam Carlisle, Dejuan Hickerson, D.J. Hicks. Quitman — Evan Henry, Keaton Cameorn, Dalton Capps, Matt Mix. Rains — Dakota Miller, Markell Spigner. Rusk — Antonio Tilley. Sabine — Tanner Sharp. Slocum — Ethan Becton, Taylor Hunt, Connor Dickson, Parker Wilson. Tatum — Martin Williams, Jalan Horne, Jakoby Lee. Tenaha — Tyler Davison. Union Grove — Tristan Thompson, Hunter Gray, Austin Owens, Hayden Gray, Ethan Tillery, Cole Wood. Van — Layton Myers. White Oak — Jake Pullen, Dax Davis, Landry Sheridan, Nike Simmons. Wills Point — Jah Golden, Hunter Sanford, TreVaughn Williams. Winnsboro — Quinton King, Chase Wood. Winona — Trajan Johnson, Trevonte Wade. West Rusk — Dee Starling, Breyon Thurman.