Fran Belibi is the girl who dunks, and so much more
The Denver Post
AURORA — Like the dunks that built her empire, The Fran Show goes coast to coast now, a commonwealth where the sun never sets. The Regis Jesuit High School girls basketball team was killing time in New York City last month, on a Big Apple tournament junket, when the group sauntered into a bake shop in Queens.
The Raiders were minding their business, 1,800 miles away from home, when the guy behind the counter began staring at Fran Belibi.
“Hey,” he chirped. “Are you the dunker?”
She was. And is.
“So the owners come out,” Regis coach Carl Mattei recalls. “And they all sat down and started talking.
“They wanted to give us free stuff when they heard we were the team from Colorado. They go, ‘Oh, you’re the dunkers.’”
When the mugs in the Big Apple stop and pay homage, kids, you’re big time.
“She just wants to be Little Fran, but it’s too late now,” Mattei says. “So many people know who she is. We go to airports and they say, ‘Are you the dunker?’
“It was mind-boggling to see the celebrity status at away gyms this year. They would be packed. Everyone wants to see The Fran Show. ‘Is Fran going to dunk in warmups?’ Why are boys here on a Tuesday night in an opposing gym when the (local) team sucks? They’re here to see you.”
At another point on the same NYC jaunt, Belibi was in an elevator with teammates. In a blink, she “got ambushed” by girls from other teams at the tourney.
“They were all asking for pictures,” Fran recalls. “It happens all the time. And it’s all right, I guess. There are worse things to be known as. For sure, I’ll take ‘The Dunk Girl’ over something else. I think it sometimes kind of takes away from the fact that I just straight-up play basketball and am a student-athlete, student being first. So it’s nice to get the attention, but once you’ve gotten over the fact that I am ‘The Dunk Girl’, then it’s important to see that I can do other things, too.
“There’s more than just the dunk.”
DUNK CONTEST COMING up
She thinks it’s hilarious. All of it. The hype. The fawning. The screams. The name-dropping from the “SportsCenter” set. Belibi is blessed with a 6-foot-8 wingspan and a 7-foot-2 sense of humor, and both have served her well as the Raiders (23-3) march — although stomp is more like it — to the Final Four of the state’s Class 5A girls basketball championship bracket.
“She’s still kind of, ‘I don’t know why, I just play basketball,’” Mattei says. “(I replied), ‘But you play it in a way that’s never been seen.’”
Once Belibi stole the rock against Grand Junction on Jan. 6, 2017, and punctuated the drive by slamming the ball through the rim, a first for a high school girl in Colorado state basketball history, The Fran Show went viral: As of Thursday afternoon, a search for the words “Fran Belibi” on YouTube brought back a playlist of 58 videos — nine of them garnering at least 20,000 views; five of them at least 40,000; and almost all of them ending with Belibi rising through the air and the crowd, simultaneously, rising to its feet.
A McDonald’s All-American, Belibi is slated to take part in a dunk contest — against boys — at the Powerade Jam on March 25 in Atlanta.
She took up basketball as a freshman on a lark, something more team-oriented than the tennis she’d grown up with. As a ninth grader still learning the finer points of the game — dribbling, defense, passing, sets — she still averaged 6.3 points and 5.9 rebounds per game. This season, the Regis star has bumped those totals up to 22.3 and 12.3, respectively.
Jerry Knafelc’s Arapahoe High squad had scrimmaged with Regis the last few years, so when the teams met in the first week of this season, Knafelc more or less knew what was coming. His suggestion for the best way to defend The Fran Show?
“Hope she fouls out,” he chortles.
“We knew what we had with her to try to defend her, and that is a handful, to say the least. And so we did everything we could to just kind of keep her away from her comfort zone. We were lucky enough that she picked up some fouls and had to sit down. I don’t know if that’s a sound strategy, but it’s one that worked out for us.”
And hey, if all else fails, grab.
“She got tackled (in) the Mountain Vista game because their coach was like, ‘We’re not getting dunked on,’” Mattei says. “When she gets to the next level, you’re going to see a lot more of her (skill). That’s what’s fun.”
SHE SCORES 35 — ON HER ACT
Belibi’s vertical jump checks in at about 40 inches, give or take. Her ACT score — on the first attempt — came back at a 35.
Guess which one she brags about?
“It’s just another cool piece I can tell people about myself when I get older,” Belibi says. “‘Oh, yeah, she was the first (high school) girl to dunk.’ And I got a 35. And I got into Stanford. It’s another cool thing I can add on. It’s very different to compare accomplishments in basketball, compared to school and stuff. (The ACT) score is definitely the coolest thing I’ve ever done in school.”
“I’m like, ‘Who gets a 35 the first time?’ It doesn’t happen,” Mattei laughs. “She walks in and says, ‘I got a 35 the first time, coach. Do you think I should do it again?’
“(I said), ‘You could get into any college in America right now.’ That’s what’s so funny about her: It’s not a big deal.”
Fran’s mother, Suzanne, is a pediatrician; her father, Franck, is an internist and nephrologist. Her parents hail from Cameroon, met at medical school in Europe and eventually settled in the States near Kansas City. The family — Francesca, Fabiola, Hana and Frank — moved to Denver when the Regis forward was in 2nd grade; the long-term plan has always been for Fran to one day join the Belibi medical practice as a pediatrician herself.
“I’ve been mentally preparing myself for this (medical career) for a long time. Basketball was never supposed to change that,” Belibi explains. “Basketball was just going to be like, I showed up and I wanted to have fun and play a team sport. I think just because I’m good now, all of sudden, it isn’t going to change the fact that I always wanted to be a doctor and will be a doctor.”
Although Mattei wonders what would happen if some energy drink company — an American one, this time — decided to someday wave a fat check, some serious scratch, in Fran’s direction.
“I’d like to sit here and say I would 100 percent not take it, just because I know what I’ve wanted to do for a long time,” Fran says. “I don’t know. I haven’t ever been faced with that problem.”
At least, not yet. While WNBA salaries are capped at $110,000 per year, the No. 1 pick in the 2018 draft, former South Carolina standout A’ja Wilson, recently landed endorsement deals with Nike and Mountain Dew. If a corporation wanted to give The Fran Show legs, who knows how long and how far this run might last?
“You can follow your mother’s footsteps as a pediatrician once you’ve actually taken this gift as far as this gift will take you,” Mattei says. “Because I think when she sees what she can do for so many girls and so many women — just like Serena Williams is on the tennis court. You see so many black people playing golf because of Tiger Woods.
“Right now, (pro basketball) is all fluff to them. She’s just a high school girl trying to win the state championship. Like the first time her mother came up to me and said, ‘How did she learn this . . . basketball?’
“I said, ‘God gave her a gift.’”
Several, now that you mention it.