Out On The Break
Francesca Pan will be cramming a lot into this summer
By Jon Cooper
The Good Word
Trying to stay with Francesca Pan proved difficult for Georgia Tech’s opponents this season.
But staying with her for 40 minutes may be easier than trying to keep up with her this summer.
The “Find Friends” app may be the only way to do that.
The soon-to-be-20-year-old (her 20th birthday is Saturday), will be working out on campus and taking two classes until June 16. That day she’ll fly back to her native Italy to train with the U20 National Team in preparation for the European Championships in Matosinhos, Portugal, from July 8-16. She’ll then come back to Atlanta for individual workouts, resumption of classes and a trip back to her home country in August with the Yellow Jackets.
Suddenly, trying to follow Pan around the court, trying to guess where she’s set up to drain a three isn’t so hard.
Pan is especially excited about workouts for the European Championships. The 6-1 guard can’t wait to show her teammates, friends and coaches what a year in Atlanta has done for her.
“They’re going to be surprised,” she said, with a laugh. “The under-20 national coach (Andrea Liberalotto) is my coach of (Team Bassano) Reyer-Venezia so he already knows me well minus the one year that he hasn’t seen me. He’s going to be surprised at my change.
“I will get to see people that I haven’t seen for a long time and people that play in America, too, like Carlotta Gianolla, who plays at Kennesaw, Mariella Santucci who plays in Toledo,” she added. “So I’m excited to see them and see how they have gotten better, how they have improved their skills. To be honest, I don’t know what they know. But I think they know what I did here. They know that I was ACC Freshman of the Year. So I think they have high expectations for me.”
It’s hard NOT to know.
Pan ranked second on the Yellow Jackets in scoring (11.4 ppg), field goals made (148), and three-point field goals made (61), hitting double-figures 21 times. She also played defense as she was one of four Jackets with more than 10 blocks during the season (16) and was second in steals (38). She also proved durable, missing one only game — precautionary rest against Princeton prior to the ACC opener — and played 26.8 minutes per game, second on the team. During the WNIT she raised her game, averaging 14.5 points, grabbed 4.8 rebounds, on the way to earning WNIT All-Tournament Team honors with Zaire O’Neil.
All-Tournament was the last of a season full of honors for Pan. The honors parade began when she earned MVP of the Freeport Division of the Junkanoo Jam over Thanksgiving. During the season she was named ACC Rookie of the Week five times, became only the second Yellow Jacket to earn ACC Freshman of the Year (joining Niesha Butler in 1999) and was the 11th GT player to make the All-Freshman Team, the first since 2014.
Pan will try and build off this season when she resumes play with the U20 team, in much more familiar surroundings.
“Here it’s physical basketball. Everything is around athleticism. Home is more thinking basketball,” she said. “When I came here I struggled at the start to get used to here but when I go home I know what to expect and I have the physical skills that I had before. I’m excited to show how I’ve grown.”
She’ll look to continue growing in the Italian National Team ranks. She’s worked her way up from the U12 team to helping the U15 and U17 teams claim the Italian Championship, then was part of U18 teams that finished sixth in ‘15 before last year’s U20 team nearly captured the grand prize in the European Championships, finishing runner-up to Spain. Heading into last season, Pan ranked the No. 3 international recruit by ProspectsNation.
Pan expects to play a much bigger role this time around, being a year older, especially with much of that year being spent at Georgia Tech, playing in the ACC and playing under Coach MaChelle Joseph.
She credits Joseph for improving her work ethic, especially in practice.
“During games I used to play very hard but during practices I was used to taking it easy,” she explained. “Coach Jo told me, ‘Don’t be lazy. Give everything in practice.’ She said I play how I practice so I needed to be more consistent and focusing the whole practice, not just the beginning.”
Pan’s work ethic resulted in the same kind of excellence and resilience in overcoming obstacles in the classroom as on the court.
She also was named to the All-ACC Academic team, one of only six freshmen in the entire conference to do so. That honor was especially rewarding, considering where she started.
“When I came here I never thought that it would happen because I was struggling with school,” she said. “It was very hard. I was like, ‘What am I going to do? I’m not understanding anything. How am I going to do exams or homework?’ Then my English got better so I started understanding. I saw advisors after school and they helped me think positive so I continued with that. I finished with a great GPA. So I’m very happy.”
Pan will keep working at a high level in the classroom and on the court during the summer. She’s actually taking her History final early so as to get to Italy in time for the start of National Team workouts and is relishing the idea of improving her strength through individual workouts.
Getting to participate in individuals is something she never did in Italy nor did even last year prior to the start of the Georgia Tech season.
“Last year I came here at the end of the fall so I didn’t do a lot of individuals,” she said. “But I expect a lot about that because I know that we’re going to work hard to improve my skills — what I do well and what I don’t do well. I’m excited about that and to get better.”
Adding to Pan’s excitement of playing with the National Team is her anticipation of the Yellow Jackets’ tour of Italy in August. The trip will be icing on the cake for what’s shaping up as a momentous summer.