Coquitlam's Amonda Francis could pitch quite a travelogue when it comes to her adventures on the hardwood.
The Douglas College Royals women's basketball player is quick to laugh about the long and winding route she's followed since graduating from Gleneagle Secondary in 2007.
From Alaska to Burnaby Mountain, Francis has worked the paint and created a strong resume in collegiate hoops at the NCAA Div. II level. The addition of Douglas and the PacWest League to the list, however, wasn't on her itinerary.
"I wasn't planning on playing basketball at Douglas, I was just looking to do the Justice Worker program," noted Francis of her transition from student back to student-athlete nearly 14 months ago. "It just happened - they kind of talked me into it."
It was also a chance to retrace the steps of her father Marcus and godfather Brian Englund, who both played for Douglas about 20 years ago. When it came to selecting a jersey number, the easygoing forward said her dad's 21 was the only choice.
"It was cool that I got to wear [my dad's] number and that I get to be part of Douglas College like him and my godfather did," the 23-year-old said. "It's awesome and I'm really enjoying playing for Douglas and being part of the history books with my dad."
Since joining the club midseason last year, Francis has taken to the court as though on a mission. It has also resulted in her being named the PacWest women's basketball player of the year, announced Monday.
She led the PacWest this year with a 16.57 points per game average, two points more than her nearest rival, and stood second in rebounds with 9.71 per game. The six-foot-one forward has maintained a consistent approach through it all.
As the Royals get ready for this week's provincial championships in Victoria - which begin tomorrow (Thursday) when No. 4-seeded Douglas opens the six-team tourney against No. 1 Capilano University - Francis admits that lacing on her court shoes for Douglas has been a ball.
"It's going along really nicely, because at the start of the season we had nine new players, including eight rookies," said Francis. "It took some time for everyone to adjust and the newcomers hit that rookie wall, but since then it's all been good."
A week ago on Seniors Night, the Royals knocked off Capilano 54-43 to end the regular season, with Francis collecting 19 points and 12 boards. But as Douglas coach Curtis Nelson sees it, that was just another great performance by his co-captain.
"One of the greatest compliments that I can give Amonda is that she plays like a Larry Bird or a Bill Russell did," said Nelson. "Whatever the team needs, or the coaches ask for, she is willing to do. She is a calming influence and a great leader, bringing her best every day and really being a professional at what she does."
For each stop along the way, Francis has learned something new about herself and her capabilities.
After graduating from Gleneagle, Francis joined the University of Alaska-Fairbanks, where as a freshman she contributed 3.6 points per game, including a season-high 11 against Western Washington. Coming in off the bench was a new role, and being so far from home was an eye-opener.
Midway through her second year, Francis decided to return to Coquitlam and spend some time away from the game. She transferred to Simon Fraser University for the 2010-11 season and found her comfort zone, close to family and friends. It also restored her spark for the game.
"It definitely helped rekindle it," she said of her time on Burnaby Mountain under SFU coach Bruce Langford. "Going to SFU was great, it reminded me all about why I loved playing the game."
She also returned to Gleneagle and served as an assistant coach to Tony Scott for one year - another layer to her experience.
"I loved it. It was great to watch and learn from (Scott). We had three guys go on to [Canadian Interuniversity Sports programs] from that team. I saw the game in a different light and looked at what coaches were looking at."
She says her other main sport, netball, is a huge benefit when it comes to becoming a complete player. A member of both the national and provincial netball squads, Francis said the two sports complement each other, with netball giving her a different skillset when it comes to running the floor.
"They are very similar. In netball there is more passing so it helps you to see the open plays and teaches you to cut to the hoop," noted the member of the Canadian national netball team.
At Douglas, Francis is an integral part of this year's run. Playing along side fellow co-captain and fifth-year vet Patti Olsen, Francis has found that despite differences in ages, the young Douglas College has pulled together when it counts. The Royals roster includes Centennial grads Lauren Sollero and first-year Shanice Fuoco-Guy.
"I would honestly say that this team reminds me of my high school team, where we were so close," said Francis, referring to the 2007 Talons who finished second at the B.C.s. "We have players from all over, even Alberta, and we began the season with a loss to Langara - with nine rookies we were nervous - but we haven't looked back."
Her and the Royals are targeting a provincial banner and the accompanying invitation to the nationals for the successful team this weekend. That will be the perfect way to end a fun and fruitful playing career.
"It is bittersweet," said Francis of the approaching end to her competitive hoop days. "Through basketball I've learned to compete at a high level, from high school to university. I've won team awards and made so many friends.
"So when we play that last game, it will be sad to leave, but I'll also be ready for a new page."