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McKenzie had hand in Bevo’s success

DEERING – As a senior basketball player at Boyd County High School, Jim McKenzie was just like everyone else when it came to Rio Grande College.

Thursday, December 07, 2000

DEERING – As a senior basketball player at Boyd County High School, Jim McKenzie was just like everyone else when it came to Rio Grande College.

McKenzie was traveling to Marshall University to work out for the team and coach Cam Henderson. One fateful day he received a letter from coach Newt Oliver of Rio Grande.

"I told my mom, ‘My God, that’s down in Texas!’" McKenzie said with a chuckle. "I didn’t know it was only 40 miles away."

McKenzie eventually decided to attend Rio Grande and played for Oliver and along side a 6-foot-9 player named Bevo Francis.

McKenzie was recently interviewed for two hours by ESPN for background information on a special program on Bevo Francis that will air at 8 p.m. Thursday on ESPN Classic.

As part of Oliver’s plan, McKenzie was one of the starting guards whose job was to feed the ball to Francis. The plan worked as Francis rewrote the record books.

Francis set the NCAA single-season scoring average record at 48.3, best two-year average, and most points in a game with 113.

Bevo’s NAIA records are similar: single season scoring average of 50.1 and most points in a game, 116.

The NAIA recognizes all games that Rio Grande played in determining Francis’ records, while the NCAA only acknowledges games with four-year degree-granting institutions.

"(ESPN’s) just want to hit the highlight games when he scored 116 and 113 points," McKenzie said.

"My primary job was to get the ball to Bevo Francis. He was a scoring machine. He could score from anywhere. I don’t know how many teams he outscored by himself."

McKenzie remembered Francis as a congenial man who always praised his teammates.

"I never saw him mad. He did what he had to do to satisfy the crowd and he signed autographs after games and sometimes before games," McKenzie said.

The scoring of Francis not only made Rio Grande a national power but a major attraction. Oliver scheduled games all over the country including New York.

"The biggest thing was being in Times Square in New York and looking out our hotel window at the marquee of Madison Square Garden and seeing the name of Rio Grande which had only 92 students and another school which had 1,700 students," McKenzie said.

Oliver’s promotional tour helped save the college. Money was so tight the professors weren’t getting paid. That changed after the two-year tour of Rio Grande and Bevo Francis.

"Oliver was a great public relations man. He got 64 percent of the gate plus expenses. He made a lot of money for the school," McKenzie said.

After the two years with Francis, McKenzie transferred to Findlay College but due to eligibility problems, he returned to get his degree at Rio Grande.

A retired teacher, McKenzie coached at Boyd County, South Point, Symmes Valley, Rock Hill, and Wellston.

An outstanding golfer, McKenzie has been the Ironton Country Club champion on several occasions and the state left-handed champion in Kentucky, West Virginia and five times in Ohio.

Only seven members of the Rio Grande team as well as Oliver are still alive including local stars Dick Myers, Wayne Wiseman, and McKenzie.

"We were just 14 country boys. (Oliver) said he would take us to Madison Square Garden and he did. We played a schedule with teams like Creighton in Nebraska, Villanova, N.C. State, Wake Forest, Miami," McKenzie said.

"Bevo Francis left his mark for scoring in every arena we played in."