In Spain, soccer is a religion. It’s what brings people together, and it’s what drives them apart. Team loyalty runs deep. Fierce rivalries often reflect regional differences off the field.
Yet growing up as a young boy in Málaga, a port city on the southern coast of the peninsula, it was basketball, not soccer or fútbol, that captivated Francis Alonso.
For the Alonso family, basketball is the religion. His dad, Paco Alonso, played and coached professionally for years in Spain, and his brother Carlos is now a coach as well. Alonso grew up surrounded by the sport.
“As soon as I got here, it felt like home. And that’s all I care about – having a place where I can feel comfortable and can be myself.”
“I was 5 years old, going to my dad’s practices and hanging out with the players. To me, that was the best time,” Alonso says.
By the time he was a teenager, Alonso was already representing Spain on the court at the international level. With so much early success in Spain, which boasts one of the most competitive professional leagues in the world, why come to the United States? Alonso says it was the opportunity to be a student-athlete – to both study and play at a high level – that drew him here.
“In Spain, it’s a different structure. There isn’t the same opportunity to get a degree and play basketball competitively at the same time,” explains the business administration major. “Coming here – getting to practice in these facilities, and then have great professors who are flexible with my schedule as a student-athlete – it’s a great opportunity.”
Several schools were recruiting Alonso while he was at prep school for a year in the Northeast. Head Coach Wes Miller and his staff stood out among the others because of their personal touch – specifically the way they waited and allowed Alonso to take the time needed to make such an important life decision.
“UNCG showed me its values and its culture by waiting on me,” he says. “As soon as I got here, it felt like home. And that’s all I care about – having a place where I can feel comfortable and can be myself.”
Over the past three and a half years, Alonso, now in his final semester, has grown into a model student-athlete. In July, he was named to the 2017-18 Southern Conference Honor Roll for earning a grade point average at or above the 3.0 mark. He’s studying business so that, after his career as a player, he can work on the business side of basketball – perhaps as an agent or coach.
On the court, he’s not just an elite player, but a strong leader. Last year, he helped lead the Spartans to a SoCon Championship and their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2001. He was named to the First Team All-SoCon and ranked 16th in the nation in 3-point field goals made per game (3.2).
This year, he’s already become UNCG’s all-time 3-point leader. But according to Alonso, none of the personal achievements matter if he can’t help his team win.
“Like a lot of the guys before me, I’m trying to leave a legacy here of winners,” he says.
And so far, the Spartans are on track. The men’s basketball team is off to its best start in program history, with Coach Miller recently becoming the winningest coach in program history.
The stage is set for Alonso to make his mark – to cement his name in the record books, to notch more wins and hopefully another conference championship, and to walk across the stage in May with a bachelor’s degree in hand, all while having some fun along the way.
“This past summer, my friend and former teammate Jordy [Kuiper] told me, ‘Whatever you’re going to do your senior year, it’s going to be the last thing you do, so enjoy every single second of it.’ It’s something I won’t forget. That’s my mindset right now – enjoy every second.”
The Spartans will face off against two conference foes this week at home: Furman on Thursday, Jan. 10, and Wofford on Saturday, Jan. 12. To view the complete schedule and to purchase tickets, visit uncgspartans.com.
Story by Alyssa Bedrosian, University Communications
Photography courtesy of UNCG Athletics
Videography by Grant Evan Gilliard, University Communications