After a childhood filled with punishments instead of presents and abuse to go alongside her accolades, as a survivor of eight suicide attempts to come out on the other side as an advocate for mental health awareness, Little Rock forward Angelique Francis has been named the 2023 recipient of the Pat Summitt Most Courageous Award as announced by the U.S. Basketball Writers Association on Thursday.
Francis has been open about the issues she has faced, helping create a dialogue about the challenges shared by many other athletes. She will be honored at the upcoming Women’s Final Four in Dallas.
The senior forward has said “Basketball saved my life,” but by bravely sharing her story of fortitude, self-belief and vulnerability, she is touching many others’ lives in a positive way. As a child in the Dallas-Fort Worth metro area, she endured years of childhood mental and physical abuse and struggled through the process of emotionally healing from those wounds. Through sports and supportive mentors and coaches, she found an outlet.
The announcement, coming just two days after Little Rock was named the USBWA’s National Team of the Week, is the first time an Ohio Valley Conference player – men’s or women’s – has ever won such a national award.
As a 15-year-old, Angelique began a foundation called ALF – which stands for Angelique Lizette Francis – to help youth dealing with abuse. She delivers motivational speeches to local schools and appeared at the Save AR Students Rally Focused on Preventing Substance Misuse, speaking on the steps of the state capitol alongside Governor Asa Hutchinson.
“It is truly an honor and blessing to receive this award, one that is named after an icon,” Francis said upon learning of the honor to be bestowed. “I hope that my journey helps to inspire others to never give up and to keep pushing because you have a purpose in life. I want to thank my family for all the love and support, as well as my coaching staff, teammates and everyone who has believed in my vision. Thank you to the USBWA for this amazing opportunity. And for anyone out there that ever has doubts, know that you are valued and loved.”
On the basketball court, she averages eight points per game and 6.2 rebounds per game while shooting a team-best 53 percent. Her leadership has not only guided Little Rock to first place in the Ohio Valley Conference standings, but the Trojans have already clinched at least a share of the OVC regular season title in the OVC Tournament with two games still to play. Thanks to Francis’ tenacious post play, Little Rock ranks fourth nationally in scoring defense by holding opponents to just 52 points per game and has held four different teams to less than 40 points in a game this season.
The USBWA has presented a Most Courageous Award since the 1977-78 season. Since 2012, the association has also recognized winners from women’s basketball with the Pat Summitt Most Courageous Award. Last season, the men’s Most Courageous Award was named in honor of Perry Wallace, the SEC’s first Black athlete to play a full four-year career in any sport. This year’s winners, Terrence Hargrove of Saint Louis and Connor Odom of Utah State, have also spoken out about their experience overcoming mental-health issues.
The USBWA chose Francis, Hargrove and Odom not only to honor their courage in coming forward to discuss their mental health and helping remove any stigma still associated with that, but to acknowledge the many issues college basketball players – and athletes in all sports – have faced before, during and after the pandemic.
The U.S. Basketball Writers Association was formed in 1956 at the urging of then-NCAA Executive Director Walter Byers. With some 900 members worldwide, it is one of the most influential organizations in college basketball. It has selected an All-America team since the 1956-57 season. For more information on the USBWA and its award programs, contact executive director Malcolm Moran at 814-574-1485.