After her dunk: Catching up with Regis Jesuit instant star Francesca Belibi
She is not quite 6-foot-1, but with one dunk, 10 exceptionally long fingers, a 6-8 wingspan and a vertical leap estimated at 30 inches, Francesca Belibi is making believers -- or Belibi-ers -- out of hundreds of college coaches.
The 15-year-old sophomore at Regis Jesuit (Aurora, Colorado), on Friday became the first girl to dunk in a Colorado high school game, getting a steal at midcourt and throwing it down with her right hand in a 78-23 win over in-state opponent Grand Junction.
"It was amazing," said Belibi, who grew up playing tennis and took up basketball less than 16 months ago. "I've tried dunking in practice but never in a game. To do it in a game and get it on film to show the world was a great opportunity."
The dunk came off her own steal, but Regis assistant coach Ross Schraeder is raising his hand for the assist.
"Whenever we have practice, I always yell at her, 'Dunk it!' " Schraeder said. "I've seen her do it, and I want her to get used to that motion.
"When she got that steal [on Friday], I yelled, 'Dunk it!' And when she took that last aggressive step, I said to myself, 'She might actually do this!'
"Then she did it, and the bench went crazy. Our girls were halfway on to the court. We had to call a timeout so we didn't get a technical. It was nuts."
While her dunk has reverberated throughout basketball circles (and beyond), far fewer than 100 people were there to see it live, in part due to a snowstorm that made driving difficult.
Schraeder said he counted only 40 people in the stands at tipoff and figures that a few more trickled in after the game started.
But while few fans saw it live, many, many more have seen it since.
"I think that video got 2 million hits," Regis coach Carl Mattei said. "I know I got about 300 phone calls and texts from college coaches. My phone went absolutely crazy."
Belibi's phone, on the other hand, was quiet as usual because few people even have her number. Unlike seemingly the rest of the world, Belibi isn't on Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Hulu, Lulu, Fulu or whatever it is someone just invented five seconds ago.
Her parents, Frank and Suzanne, were born in Cameroon and moved to Belgium before coming to the United States. Both of them are doctors, and they insist on academic excellence from their four children, of which Belibi is the oldest.
Belibi, who turns 16 in July, is fine with the restrictions on social media.
"People can say mean stuff on social media," Belibi said. "By not being on it, I don't have to worry."
Belibi says she wants to play college basketball -- she likes Notre Dame, Stanford and Princeton at the moment -- and aspires to be a pediatrician like her mother.
She's already accustomed to injecting hope.
She has no problem jumping up and grabbing the rim. It's so easy for her.John Nillen
On Sept. 20, 2015, Belibi walked into a Regis open-gym session and approached a coach and innocently said: "I think I can play basketball."
Mattei was at home with his wife watching "The Voice" when he got a frantic call from one of his assistants.
"When I heard she could dunk a volleyball, I raced over to the gym," said Mattei, who lives 35 minutes from campus. "It was the offseason. I was supposed to spend more time with the family, but ..."
This was something Mattei had to see, and Belibi didn't disappoint, stunning coaches with how effortlessly she could dunk.
"She can palm a men's basketball, that's how big her hands are," Mattei said. "She can take one dribble from the corner 3-point line and dunk."
Learning to play basketball, however, was far more complicated. She didn't become a starter until last February. She averaged 6.3 points and 5.9 rebounds as a freshman but has improved to 18.0 points, 9.4 rebounds, 3.4 blocks and 2.1 steals this season.
She has improved her foul shooting from 33 percent as a freshman to 53 percent this season. And she's just now rounding into form after missing time this season because of an ankle injury.
On Tuesday, Belibi was double-teamed but still had the winning turnaround jumper with 16 seconds left as Regis knocked off defending 5A state champion ThunderRidge 36-34.
Belibi has so much promise that Mattei brought his old AAU team, the Mile Hi Magic, out of mothballs last summer just so she could get exposure.
"We put her at the top of a 1-2-2 zone press, and she had 12 deflections in one game," said John Nillen, a veteran coach who was on the Mile Hi Magic staff. "For her height, she has the biggest hands I've ever seen on a girl. She has no problem jumping up and grabbing the rim. It's so easy for her."
Belibi caused such a stir that Mattei's son, 24-year-old Colton, gave her the nickname, "The Franimal." Over the summer, he had 50 "Franimal" T-shirts made. They're the hottest thing in town.
"Last summer, after she had only been playing basketball for a few months, I saw her in AAU ball," Colton said. "I said, 'Frannie, do you realize you just went through five Division I players and went coast-to-coast for a layup?'
"I told her, 'I'm going to make Franimal T-shirts, key chains, hats ...' "