At 6-foot-8, 250 lbs, LeBron James dominated on both the football field and the basketball court in high school. His athletic build and skill set made him almost a shoe-in for a top draft pick for either the NFL or the NBA. As most know, King James ended up running out coast-to-coast dunks, rather than touchdown routes.
For freshman Jaylen Franklin, his story isn’t that far off from his favorite NBA player. In fact, Franklin loved football growing up, and didn’t really care about playing on the hardwood.
“To be honest, I really didn’t like basketball all that much. I played football when I was younger and I was pretty good,” Franklin said. “I felt like I could’ve played Div. I football anywhere I wanted.”
It was Franklin’s parents who told the youngster that he could try both sports, so he figured he’d at least give it a shot. Basketball came naturally for J-Frank, but he still wasn’t sure if it would ever overcome his love for football.
“I tried basketball one year, and I was doing pretty good,” Franklin said. “I didn’t like it as much as football, but I liked it because I picked it up pretty quick. I started playing in school and something was just telling me that basketball was the one I needed to chose. I started getting better every day, and I started thinking ‘I could really make something of myself in basketball.'”
When it came time to play football again, Franklin’s mindset had surprisingly changed on him. He described the change as a “flip-flop” and made the decision that basketball was where he’d put his time in.
Fast-forward a few years and not only is Franklin playing Div. I basketball, he’s also the top freshman in the entire Southland Conference. Not bad for someone who didn’t even like basketball not that long ago.
“It really is funny how things turn out,” Franklin said. “But I’m glad to be at ACU and I’m definitely excited to have an opportunity to turn this program around.”
As a huge LeBron James fan, Franklin regularly has to hear from the haters. He normally doesn’t say anything, and just let’s the stats do the talking. The same can be said about his own game.
Franklin has turned into one of the most dangerous offensive players the conference has. His 15.9 points per game ranks sixth in the Southland, while his shooting mark of 50 percent is fourth best. And as if his ability of getting to the rim at will and making plays for others weren’t enough, Franklin has also added another weapon to his arsenal.
“I’ve put in a lot of work with my threes and my mid-range shots,” Franklin said. “Coach Golding kept telling me that if they [defenders] were going to back up, I had to shoot it so they would respect me. There’s been a lot of early morning shoot arounds with the assistant coaches, and it’s really changed my game and most importantly helped the team.”
Franklin started off the year 0-7 from beyond the arc before having one of his best shooting weekends of the season. He knocked down three of four three-point attempts and scored 27 points against Lamar on Jan. 30, then went 2-3 from deep in their next game against Houston Baptist, as he poured in 21 points while handing HBU its first conference loss of the year.
The 6-foot-2, 195 lb point guard takes a beating almost every night. Franklin’s explosiveness off the dribble has allowed him to get to the line and attempt 152 free throws so far this season, which ranks second in the conference. But after constantly getting knocked down every game, it can take its toll over the course of an entire year.
“To maintain your weight, speed and quickness is a big help,” Franklin said. “Coach preaches about us going to the weight room, to pound our body and continue to get better. Sometimes, it really sucks, because you get tired of being in there. But I know I don’t have a choice and that it helps make me better.”
The Southland Conference has one of the more exciting freshman classes in the country. For Franklin, earning freshman of the year and proving how talented these newcomers are is a challenge he thinks about going into every game.
“I really want to get freshman of the year, it would mean a lot to me,” Franklin said. “I feel like I’ve played pretty good throughout the season so far and I’m going to continue to do that. After the game against Lamar, I talked to [freshman] Nick Garth and he told me to keep working, that I was a great player and I told him the same thing. There’s a lot of great freshman around here and I’m glad to be a part of that.”
Franklin has definitely received much of the spotlight this season, but as great as he’s been, there are three other freshmen, and two redshirts who are looking to lead the team to exciting places. When asked about the possibility of one day being a powerhouse in the conference, Franklin was very clear in his answer.
“Absolutely. We got Jalone [Friday] and B.J. Maxwell coming next year, so we’re excited about that,” Franklin said. “Our freshmen class is legit, we are the future. It’s going to be fun next year, you can count on that.”
END OF SEASON UPDATE
Jaylen Franklin challenged himself to be the best freshman player in the Southland Conference this season. On March 7, he achieved just that. Franklin was named as the Southland Conference Freshman of the Year and was selected to the Second-Team All-Southland Conference. Franklin finished his first season as the Wildcats leading scorer at 16.3 points per game, which also ranked sixth in the conference. He also led ACU in steals with 1.7 a game, also ranking sixth in the Southland. His 16.3 points per game are highest of any other freshman in the conference and his 52 percent shooting mark makes him one of four players in the entire conference to shoot better than 50 percent from the field (minimum five attempts per game).