MIKE BURKE

Allegany Radio Corporation Sports

There is the adage, “You can never go home again,” which has been adopted from the title of a 1940 Thomas Wolfe novel, “You Can’t Go Home Again.”

The saying is meant to infer how nostalgia causes us to view the past in overly-positive tones, and how we tend to remember people and places from our past in far more crystal and remarkable, and perfect, focus than they, in truth, ever actually were.

You can never go home again? Maybe. But don’t tell Steve Francis that; he’s already been home, and he plans to keep coming back and back and back. He said so last Sunday at Bob Kirk Arena when he paid his first visit in over 20 years to Cumberland and to Allegany College of Maryland, where he electrified us all in one brief shining moment of a season for the Allegany Community College Trojans, before becoming a national star at the University of Maryland and then in the NBA.

In the last 51 years, the three best basketball players I’ve seen play in Cumberland, in order of appearance, are Adrian Dantley, Rudy Archer and Steve Francis. Joe Divico and Morgan Wootten brought the first player here. Bob Kirk brought the other two.

“Driving up here, it just made me understand that this is where I grew up,” Francis told the Times-News’ Kyle Bennett following the Allegany men’s 69-61 loss to Niagara County on Sunday. “I grew up being a high school dropout to actually a college student-athlete. Coach Kirk made sure he emphasized that basketball wasn’t going to be the only thing that defined me. If you follow my career, you know my foundation (The Steve Francis Foundation) has defined me for the past 23 years. So it’s been a great journey.”

There is so much I remember about covering Steve Francis for the Times-News, beginning and ending with my jaw being dropped in awe and in wonder pretty much every time I saw him play.

Other than Len Bias, I have never seen a better or more electrifying basketball player in person than Steve Francis over an extended period of time – although, he was only here for one season.

I remember going to Allegany games when I wasn’t working, just to see him play. I remember the Trojans going undefeated until falling to Hagerstown in the Region XX final, but being granted a forfeit victory because Hagerstown used a player who was academically ineligible (which Kirk knew about well before the game was even played).

I remember Steve Francis carrying the Trojans to a blowout win over a team from New York, seemingly effortlessly scoring 35 or 36 points as Allegany advanced to the NJCAA National Tournament once more.

I remember standing near my colleague Steve Luse that Sunday spring afternoon in Trojan Square Garden and hearing Luse say to the New York coach, “You couldn’t have been happy with your defense …”

To which the coach calmly and matter-of-factly replied, “I thought we played outstanding defense. But when a guy makes very comfortable jump shots from close to halfcourt, there’s really nothing you can do about it. We had no answer for Steve Francis. I doubt anybody else does either.”

What I will remember the most is Steve Francis came back, thanks in large part to his friendship with ACM head coach and athletic director Tommie Reams, but in larger part, and from the heart, because of the late Bob Kirk, who brought him here to begin with.

I’ve long said it: For over 30 years, we never appreciated what we had here on Willowbrook Road and at Trojan Square Garden, now Bob Kirk Arena, because it was so special, and so unique and so wonderful. We had become spoiled and human naturely took things for granted — this national brand of top-rate college basketball will last forever, we foolishly told ourselves.

We were reminded last Sunday afternoon of just how much we had taken for granted. Yet it hit squarely home just how fortunate we were for so long and, in our heart of hearts, how we always knew we were. And will be for as long as our memory allows us to be.

There is the adage, “You can never go home again,” which has been adopted from the title of a 1940 Thomas Wolfe novel, “You Can’t Go Home Again.”

The saying is meant to infer how nostalgia causes us to view the past in overly-positive tones, and how we tend to remember people and places from our past in far more crystal and remarkable, and perfect, focus than they, in truth, ever actually were.

Steve Francis remains crystal in our minds. He is the most remarkable basketball player who decided to take residence in Cumberland, Md., and then come back to visit. Was he perfect? Well, nobody’s perfect. But the Trojans were undefeated.

Steve Francis, Stevie Franchise; no matter how we care to remember him, showed last week that you can – and must – go home again, and happily state as much.

It’s just nice and, actually, kind of sweet, that he thinks as fondly of us as we do of him.

Mike Burke writes about sports and other stuff for Allegany Radio and Pikewood Digital. He began covering sports for the Prince George’s Sentinel in 1981 and joined the Cumberland Times-News sports staff in 1984, serving as sports editor for over 30 years. Contact him at [email protected] and [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @MikeBurkeMDT