If you’re familiar with men’s basketball, you most likely know the three J’s of the Wildcats. Jaylen, Jaren and Jalone.
Seniors Jaylen Franklin and Jaren Lewis and redshirt junior Jalone Friday have been starters of the men’s basketball team since their second year on campus. They now find themselves as experienced leaders of a squad with six combined freshmen and sophomores.
Before forming a chemistry together in Moody Coliseum, however, they each came from a different area and background.
Friday came to ACU from Oklahoma City, where he played at Millwood High School before becoming homeschooled his senior year.
He was on the same homeschool team as teammate redshirt junior B.J. Maxwell called the Oklahoma Storm. They were able to win the homeschool national championship that year.
The Oklahoma native was given a three-star rating as he began to decide where he would play college basketball.
Friday said he knew about ACU before he became homeschooled.
“ACU was second choice at first, but I enjoyed my visit to campus and thought ‘why not come here,’” Friday said. “I’m really glad I did because it’s worked out well.”
Lewis hails all the way from Orlando where he played all four years on varsity at Lake Highlands Prep. He won two 4A state championships as a sophomore and junior and was named an all-state player his senior year.
He said he was spotted by ACU at an AAU tournament in Mississippi.
“One of the assistant coaches saw me playing and recruited me hard,” Lewis said. “I took a couple visits to ACU, and each visit really stuck out. My relationship with the coaching staff really drew me to come here.”
Finally, Franklin was recruited out of Arkansas, where he also played four years on varsity and won two state championships with Parkview High School.
He played also played AAU basketball for the Arkansas Wings where he teamed up with Malik Monk, who committed to Kentucky in 2016 and is now playing for the Charlotte Hornets after being drafted in 2017.
The Little Rock native had multiple offers from colleges, including Baylor and Arizona. Franklin said he felt most comfortable with ACU.
“It just felt like home,” Franklin said. “I took a Baylor visit, and they didn’t feel like a team at all. When coming here, I felt welcomed and at home right away.”
While Friday took a redshirt his first year on campus, Franklin and Lewis started making their mark quickly as freshmen. They were the top two scorers on the team as Franklin averaged 16.2 points per game and Lewis averaged 9.4.
Franklin’s stat line of 16.2 points per game, 3.8 rebounds per game, 82 assists and 52 steals landed him the honor of Southland Freshman of the Year.
The following season, the Wildcats welcomed Friday to the court for his first year on the active roster. Lewis said Friday made an immediate positive impact on the team.
“Jalone fit right in and he was big piece of our puzzle,” Lewis said. “We knew he could play and work hard. He was going to be a big part of our team and we accepted him right away.”
As if one freshman of the year wasn’t enough, Friday came through and defended the honor for ACU after an impressive first campaign. He co-led the team in scoring with Lewis as they each posted 13.7 points per game. Friday also finished with 5.5 rebounds per game and 34 blocks.
Franklin was right behind behind the two in scoring with 10.8 points per game and also passed for 115 assists giving him an average of 4.4, which was good enough for sixth in the conference.
This season, the three stars find themselves as the leaders of a team that has put together its best start since transitioning to Div. I.
Franklin said they’re simply following the footsteps of the players who were ahead of them.
“We just want to set an example for these young guys,” Franklin said. “Coming in our freshman year, we had a lot of leaders like Parker Wentz and Jalen Little. We just want to work hard and build relationships.”
The Wildcats have faced adversity this year but have seen a lot more upside in their season as they sit at second in the conference to this point.
Ending the season in first or second would give ACU a double bye and an automatic semi-final spot in the Southland postseason tournament.
Lewis said he knows his team can finish strong this season and claim their first Southland title.
“We’re very confident and we know how we can be when we play together as a team,” Lewis said. “We have a lot to improve on and we know we can get better, but we’re highly confident and the sky’s the limit for us.”
While Franklin and Lewis will graduate at the end of this year, ACU will get to hang on to Friday as he stays for his final year of eligibility after redshirting.
“I plan on being here and I don’t see myself going anywhere else,” Friday said. “I love these guys from the freshmen to the seniors and will enjoy sticking around one more year.”
In this season, the men have reached the halfway point in conference and have nine remaining games before postseason play.