American Dream Alive and Well for USA U17 Forward Fran Belibi
If it wasn’t for her parents coming to the United States to pursue a better life, Fran Belibi might never have come to play basketball.
She probably wouldn’t be looking forward to college at Stanford University either, and her life could be different in numerous other ways.
Fortunately, Franck and Suzanne Belibi were able make a home in America years ago, coming from Cameroon by way of Belgium. They are raising four children — Fran being the oldest — in a suburb of Denver and giving back to the community, working as physicians.
The oldest Belibi daughter grew up on the tennis court and watching basketball sometimes with her dad. Fran didn’t decide to hang up the racket until after she placed third in the state high school tournament as a freshman. She decided to give basketball a try the same year and has come a long way in that short time.
The 6-foot-1 forward has gone from a rookie in organized basketball to representing her country as a part of one of its junior national teams. She also has worked hard to make herself into a player and student worthy of a scholarship to Stanford, where she will take the court in the fall of 2019.
This summer, she is in her second stint with USA Basketball and hoping to win another gold medal. She is a member of the 2018 USA Basketball Women’s U17 World Cup Team after winning a gold medal last summer at the FIBA Americas U16 Championship as a member of the USA U16 National Team.
“It’s an honor,” Belibi said. “I think representing our country is always an honor. I think it’s a fun experience every time, so I am excited.”
Belibi, a senior-to-be at Regis Jesuit High School in Aurora, Colorado, first gained attention on Jan. 6, 2017, when she became the first girl in Colorado high school history to dunk during a win over Grand Junction High School. She has dunked several more times since, but has also proven that there is a lot more to her game than just incredible athleticism.
She also understands she has a long way to go to reach her full potential as player. She said she focuses much of her energy on improving her shooting and ball handling these days. That includes hours of work outside normal practices with her high school and club teams.
“I kind of got away with it at the beginning, because I’m naturally able to jump high,” she said. “So it was easier to rebound. With shooting and ball handling, I had to really work on my own with that, especially if I wanted to be as good as I wanted to be. I had to do a lot of extra work outside of practice. So, it was a lot of work.”
She played limited minutes during her first experience as a member of a USA Basketball team last year when the U16 team went 5-0 and won a gold medal in Buenos Aires, Argentina. This summer, she expects to have a larger role with the U17 team when it competes in the FIBA U17 World Cup on July 21-29 in Minsk, Belarus.
“It showed me what I needed to work on as a player and how much work I needed to do,” Belibi said of her initial foray into international basketball. “It also taught me leadership and responsibility and realizing that everything I do, I do representing more than just myself.”
Hard work is a part of what makes Belibi who she is both inside and outside of basketball. Her competitive spirit drives her. She said she wants to be the best at anything she decides to do. Sometimes that means devoting all or most of her free time towards that improvement.
Belibi said her work ethic was instilled by her parents; both had to go through parts of the process of becoming a doctor twice, she said, because the requirements for licenses were different in Cameroon, Belgium and the United States. If they could do that, Belibi tells herself, she could do anything she puts her mind to.
Belibi wants to follow in her parents’ footsteps and become a doctor, too. She is so committed to the idea that she doesn’t know if she will pursue basketball beyond her college commitment. She said she first realized basketball could help her achieve her dream when her high school coach told her he thought she had the potential to earn a college scholarship.
“I do believe in the American dream, how you can come from anywhere and become something here,” Belibi said. “I’ve seen that in my parents, and it’s definitely showed me that hard work does pay off. If you’re willing to take the risk and if you're willing to work hard, you can make something out of your life here.”