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  •   For Francis, Big Money, Big Demands

    NBA Draft Logo

    By C. Jemal Horton
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Sunday, June 27, 1999; Page D1

    Steve Francis was exhausted, slumped over in a big, soft chair in his agent Jeff Fried's office, which looks down on 13th Street. His already-deep voice was even lower than normal, and his eyes were pink because he had left a Takoma Park gym at 1 a.m.

    It's not that Francis, the former University of Maryland star who could be the top pick in Wednesday's NBA draft, isn't used to a fast pace – he attended six different schools in six years, and plays basketball with Latrell Sprewell-like energy – but this . . . this has been ridiculous.

    Everyone, it seems, has been begging for some of Steve Francis's time.

    "Things were worse than they were in college," said Francis, minutes after a recent interview on "The Jim Rome Show." "Everyone wants to talk to you. The number one questions that I'm facing now are, 'What team are you going to? Who do you want to play for? Can I get you involved in this?'

    "I don't know, I'm just thankful that I'm in a position to fulfill my dreams. But it's tough sometimes."

    Since announcing in April that he would bypass his senior season with the Terrapins for the NBA, Francis has had few breaks. His schedule has been filled with pickup games in his native Takoma Park, conversations with representatives of apparel companies, dinners with NBA general managers and flights to NBA cities.

     Steve Francis (AP Photo)

    The frenetic pace may result in the highest honor for which any draftee can wish.

    "The feedback that we're getting is that he is the leading candidate for the number one pick in the draft," Fried said. "A number of teams are talking to the Chicago Bulls to get that number one pick from them. Charlotte [which drafts third] and Toronto are interested in moving up."

    Many NBA general managers and scouts have supported Fried's assessment.

    Francis spent three days in Chicago this month, interviewing with General Manager Jerry Krause and other Bulls officials. Francis went to Charlotte for three days to work out and talk with team officials there, too.

    Last week, officials from the Vancouver Grizzlies and Toronto Raptors came to Washington to watch Francis work out, along with other Fried clients: Jason Miskiri (George Mason), Darren McLinton (James Madison) and Damian Owens (West Virginia).

    "We respectfully declined to travel there" to Vancouver and Toronto, Fried said, citing the already hectic schedule Francis has endured.

    In addition, Seattle SuperSonics General Manager Wally Walker came to Washington to watch Francis, Miskiri, McLinton and Owens in an informal workout.

    "It was important to Steve that those guys get a chance to work out, too, because these are the guys that helped him get to where he is today," Fried said. "That's kind of his way of giving back."

    But in the three months since Francis's announcement, he has found it to be a struggle at times just to get on the basketball court. Fried said he and Francis have talked with each of the major apparel companies, with the total reaching seven. Francis has not chosen a company, and the decision isn't expected to come until after the draft.

    "I've visited some shoe companies, and it's kind of strenuous because I want to just play basketball," Francis said. "Sometimes, when I go out to meet people, I can't get the workout in that I want and need. I'm sitting in the hotel room with nothing to do but talk on the phone.

    "A lot of people are coming up with business proposals. It's been wild. But I tell them that I've worked real hard to get where I am. In time, if it's good, maybe something can happen later. But I need to relax and get myself centered before I do anything."

    The abnormal pace hasn't dampened Francis's enthusiasm, though. During a recent interview, he said, "I'm so excited" countless times. Last Friday, Francis called Fried's office with some big news: He wanted to let everyone know what suit he was going to wear to his pre-draft party Tuesday.

    Francis knows that he will be a millionaire soon, but he and many who know him said he refuses to let it change him. He said he has not made any major investments at this point, but he has one in mind.

    "The first thing I'm going to do is get my little sister the Internet in the house, because we don't have it," Francis said. "We definitely need it. She's 9 now, and once she gets to college, she'll be smart."

    He also said he will get his grandmother, Mable Wilson, "whatever she wants. But I'm not worried about that now because those things will come.

    "It's tougher now because this is the top level of basketball. This is playing with men who are strong and work out just like I do, who can jump as high as I do, who can shoot just like I can. So I have to keep my head on and use my brain."

    In addition to introducing Fried as his representative in April, Francis also said longtime family friend Nate Peake will be his manager, completing a deal in what Francis, Fried and Peake all called a "family atmosphere."

    Peake, 28, temporarily will move to the city of the team that drafts Francis.

    "I'll go with him, and he'll take a cousin or two," Peake said.

    But after overcoming so many obstacles in his life – the death of his mother when he was a senior in high school, all the different schools and the scrutiny and pressure that came with being a young superstar in college – Francis is looking forward to new challenges.

    "All of this has been a long process," Francis said. "It wasn't easy. Even during the season, agents were contacting me. There were over 100 agents offering me cars and jewelry, but I wasn't going to risk that for my team.

    "God is going to lead me in the right direction, no matter what. Soon all this draft stuff will be over. Then, just like in college, just like all my life, I'll continue to play hard."

    © Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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