Vongni Yang, The Union Democrat

Rick Francis is a year retired from being the head coach of the Sonora Wildcats boys basketball program, but his success on the hardwood is still being recognized.

Francis, 64, was one of 32 individuals inducted into the 2014 Sac-Joaquin Section Hall of Fame Sunday at Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento.

"It was quite an honor," Francis said. "It is a very humbling experience. You just feel like, 'Wow.' You see the names of those who have been inducted in the past and this year's class, you just go, 'Wow.' It was an honor to be included with those group of people.

"It's hard to put into words when you're recognized by your peers and the number of people you worked with and worked against. The committee recognizing the work you've done for many, many years is quite an honor."

Francis, who took over for Bud Castle in 1978, stepped down in 2013 after compiling a 660-337 record in his 35 years at the helm. With his 660 victories, he is the winningest boys basketball coach in Sac-Joaquin Section history.

He led Sonora to its first boys basketball Division III Sac-Joaquin Section title in 1992 when the Wildcats beat Del Oro after being down by double digits early in the contest. His teams also made return trips to the championship games in 1996 and 1997.

"The section championship was a moment that you will never forget, especially when we were down 18-4 and came back to win that game," Francis said. "That's a moment that you never forget."

During Francis' tenure, the Wildcats captured 10 Valley Oak League titles and he finished with 31 winning seasons. His teams made 23 straight postseason appearances from 1985 to 2007.

Francis' teams were known for their commitment to fundamentals and strong play at the defensive end.

"The bottom line is I had some great players," Francis said. "That's why I got inducted. My players believed in me and believed in what we were trying to do. The memories are incredible. I still have all my scorebooks, and every now and then, I look back at them and I remember the times.

"I have a lot of people to thank for that. My family, especially my wife (Pattie). All the non dinners or late dinners for me being gone. The support of my two daughters (Kimberly and Jill) over the years was incredible. If you don't have a loving spouse or family, you won't be a successful coach. I had that support."

Although he no longer roams the floor at Bud Castle Gym, Francis still serves as the Sonora Wildcats athletic director.

And his love for basketball is still strong.

In the winter, Francis will enter his second year as an assistant coach for the Columbia College men's basketball team under the leadership of one of his former players, Rob Hoyt.

"It's such an honor that one of my former players asked me to help him," Francis said. "I'm just thankful that I get to keep coaching. That's a thrill within itself."

When Hoyt took over the Columbia program in 2013, Francis was the first person he approached to help him lead the Claim Jumpers in a new direction.

Hoyt, who played for Francis in the early 2000s, built his philosophy around similar core ideals and principles to that of his former high school coach.

"A lot of the things we are doing are his ideas," Hoyt said. "It's just coming out of my mouth. It all originated with his upbringing and his experience, and what he's learned along the way."

Francis has coached at the high school level for 42 years, and during his time at Sonora, he also taught physical and special educations.

He has previously been inducted into the Sonora and California Coaches Association Hall of Fame.

"I've just been blessed with a loving family, great mentors and great athletes," Francis said. "It just gives me goosebumps."