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How Oshawa Memorial park has served the community and honoured the legacy of veterans

Editor's Note: This story is part of a series called the Land Where We Stand (LWWS). Uncovering the hidden stories about the land our community is built on is what the Chronicle's feature series, the LWWS, is about.
HomeNewsCampusAj Cummings and his coach's relationship runs deeper than basketball.

Aj Cummings and his coach’s relationship runs deeper than basketball.

Aj Cummings had always heard stories about Greg Francis, but until a high school basketball tournament at Humber College in November 2018, their paths had never crossed.

Francis, 46, had recently been named head coach of the Ontario Tech Ridgebacks Basketball Team and he was doing what all university coaches do, recruiting players.

Francis was unaware he was in the same gym as an old high school friend’s son until he saw the last name ‘Cummings’ on his jersey.

Francis was very impressed with Cumming’s talent and immediately began to recruit him to Ontario Tech.

“When he approached me, I didn’t know his face but as soon as he said his name, I knew who he was,” says Cummings. “I’ve known about coach Greg before I even met him. My dad always used to talk about him because they’re from the same neighbourhood and he had that historic game against Vince Carter where he scored 24 points on Vince when he was at Fairfield.”

Francis and Cummings’ father, Andy, attended the same high school and Francis recalls the first time they met.

One day, while he was in grade 9, Francis went to play basketball at his school, but he wasn’t allowed to play on the main courts where Andy was playing. Francis was forced to play on the smaller courts and eventually, he and Andy eventually ran into each other while playing, and their relationship grew from there.

In fact, Cummings’ father was one of the first people to congratulate Francis on getting the job. It was the first conversation they’d had in over 20 years and it would set the stage for the two of them to see each other more often.

When Francis began recruiting Cummings, Francis sold him on the idea that Ontario Tech would be a family environment.

Before Cummings committed to Ontario Tech, the 19-year-old got a chance to experience what it would be like to play for Francis. The two of them, along with other high school players, travelled to France to play in a tournament against pro teams. This trip really allowed their bond to begin.

While watching Cummings play, Francis could tell that he had a serious desire to be great.

“One of the things I wanted to recruit him for, other than his game, is that he wants to be a pro, and I think I just coach kids like that better. If you have goals to play at the next level, you’re going to work harder,” says Francis.

Cummings had plenty of options for where he wanted his basketball career. One of those options was a fifth year of high school at a prep school in the United States.

Francis thought this would’ve been a mistake.

He felt Cummings was too talented to play another year of high school. Francis saw a lot of his game in Cummings and this became a big reason why Cummings chose Ontario Tech.

Francis played Division 1A basketball at Fairfield University in Connecticut from 1994-1997. Francis was known for his excellent shooting ability and the same can be said for Cummings, who shot 39 per cent from beyond the arc in his first year at Ontario Tech.

Cummings is very happy he chose to play for Francis, who knows what his ultimate goal is and how to get there.

“He’s showing me the steps I need to get to where I want to be. He’s just been guiding me, and he made a promise to my parents that he was going to get me where I wanted to go, and I know he’s going to keep that promise,” says Cummings.

Outside of basketball, both Cummings and Francis have tremendous respect for one another.

“He’s been a big influence for me, just for the little I’ve known him, you can tell he puts his time into his players, not even as far as basketball but outside of basketball. He’s a coach that you can just crack jokes with and talk to whenever,” says Cummings.

Francis thinks Cummings is going to be a future role model. He says Cummings is wise beyond his years and his leadership qualities will rub off on future generations.

While Cummings is only in his second year of university, his leadership and work ethic are beyond his years, according to Francis, who is ready to watch Cummings shine both on and off the court.

He’s a high-level young man who knows what he’s going to do not only in the game of basketball but the game of life,” says Francis.

While there is no season this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, both Francis and Cummings continue to work together. The Ontario Tech Ridgebacks train twice a week in the campus fieldhouse. Cummings remains focused on eventually going pro, and Francis plans on getting him to that next level.