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Steve Francis isn’t around the NBA much anymore, but he and his mentor, Nathan Peake, had a great impact on how the high school to college to NBA transition happens these days.
In 1996, Steve Francis was an 18-year-old with unparalleled athletic potential, no high-school diploma, and way too much free time. He'd been in and out of high schools in the are and dropped out for good after his mother died of cancer in 1994.
Nathan Peake was a basketball coach at Langley Park Boys and Girls Club in the summer. He was seven years older than Francis, and Peake was known for taking young athletes from the streets to courts and colleges.
"Nate's always been like a brother to me. There's nothing I won't tell him or he won't tell me," said Francis.
"You do A-B-C," Peake said to Francis, "and D will happen."
"D" was going to the NBA.
Peake talked Francis completing his GED and going to San Jacinto JC in Texas. He played well there, but got homesick and enrolled at Allegany JC in Cumberland, Maryland which was much closer to home. He averaged 23 points, nine assists, and seven rebounds and led the team to the championship game.
He then decided to go to the University of Maryland, but after excelling for one year he decided to turn pro. Peake was trying to get his young star in the best situation to succeed, so he wanted him on the right team. The Chicago Bulls whom Peake desperately wanted to take Francis chose Elton Brand number one overall.
The Vancouver Grizzlies had the second pick. Peake and others around Francis felt going there would destroy his endorsement deals.
Francis’s representatives told Grizzlies GM Stu Jackson that "I just want to reiterate that it presents personal and professional problems if you select Steve."
"I understand," Jackson responded, "but I have to do what's in the best interests of the Vancouver Grizzlies."
The Grizzlies chose Francis anyway and as expected his representatives demanded a trade. After long deliberations the Grizzlies and Houston Rockets completed the largest trade in NBA history, an 11-player deal. Going to the Rockets allowed Francis to land one of the largest rookie shoe deals ever with Reebok.
Francis had a very up and down career in the NBA and was traded many times, but his play was not his biggest impact on the NBA.