COLUMBIA — Eric Franklin emerged from the boys locker room downstairs, slowly striding up the steps leading to the foyer of Hickman High School’s gymnasium. Dressed in black Jordans, black jeans and a black Jimi Hendrix T-shirt. the Kewpies’ junior point guard played with his cell phone, ignoring the noise that accompanies a typical day after school at Hickman. Other students shouted, laughed, joked and talked on their way to their various activities, but Franklin was silent. He seemed to subconsciously join a group of his teammates huddled by the stairs, and his calm, controlled off-court demeanor made it hard to believe that this was Hickman’s floor general. If the after-school scene at Hickman was a movie set, Franklin would be an extra, he blended in easily despite his all-black outfit.
It’s understandable that Franklin might seem a little energy-deprived. The 5-foot-9-inch guard always seems to be at full speed when he’s on the court. It’s appropriate that he says his favorite players are Allen Iverson and Chris Paul, because with his speed and ballhandling, Franklin plays like a combination of both. Franklin used those abilities to lead the Kewpies in steals and assists last season, his first on varsity. It wasn’t a bad debut for a player who didn’t even expect to make varsity that year, let alone start.
“I was shocked (that I made the team),” Franklin said. “I actually went home and told my mom ‘Guess what? I got the starting spot.’ I couldn’t believe that (coach Kenny Ash) was relying on a sophomore when he had a team full of seniors.”
Such humility might not be expected from a player that set several records before playing a single game for Hickman. Franklin set scoring records for both Lange Middle School and Oakland Junior High, but he keeps these records in perspective. Franklin remembers how hard he worked to set those marks.
“I had to work on my shot, because I always used to rely on getting to the goal,” Franklin said. “And with me being shorter, as other people got older and taller, I couldn’t rely on that anymore. So I developed my jump shot. I got up as many shots as possible.”
The work Franklin put in is evident when he’s in action. In a game against Glendale, Franklin received the ball with the clock winding down in the first half. He streaked to full speed with the acceleration of a Lamborghini and pulled up at half-court, then leaped and shot the ball as if it was a simple mid-range pull-up jumper. His last-second heave was off the mark, but it was clear that Franklin’s form was polished.
“He’s a low-key, hard worker,” senior guard John Reese said. “He’s a team leader.”
Being described as a team leader was probably the last thing on Franklin’s mind last season. Franklin actually started his sophomore year on junior varsity, but it only took one game before he was promoted to the next level. This promotion, however, led to some tension between Franklin and his older teammates.
“I felt real awkward. It was like ‘Wow, I can’t believe this is happening.’ There’s all these seniors, and I’m the youngest person on the court all the time,” Franklin said. “I just had to play through it.”
Reese was honest about his teammate.
“There was no hard feelings. I know he worked hard for his spot,” Reese said
Franklin’s persistence paid off. His influence as a leader was seen during a game against Hazelwood Central. The Kewpies were losing by more than 20 points after two quick fouls sent Franklin to the bench early. As soon as he re-entered in the second half, Hickman suddenly went on a 6-0 run and forced the Hawks to call a timeout. Franklin’s calm presence and careful ballhandling couldn’t get Hickman the victory, but the Kewpies were able to cut the lead down to 12.
Franklin lifts every day before school and focuses on doing squats and the bench press. Franklin can bench press up to 215 pounds and has squatted 295. This strength has helped him on drives to the hoop that would be perilous to most guards. He also boasts a background in football, his first love. Franklin’s father played high school football, and that passion carried over to his son. Franklin looks more like a linebacker storming through the offensive line on his drives as his defined biceps and broad shoulders protect the ball. On defense, Franklin will usually stick one of those arms out to hold an offensive player at bay, stiff-arming opposing guards out of the lane.
“At first I played football because I wanted to be like my dad, but then I started playing basketball and just fell in love with it,” Franklin said.
The football mentality helps Franklin “to be strong,” as he puts it, mentally and physically on the court. Franklin will need that all-around strength if he wants to help his team reach its goals.
“Our goal is for us to be better than we were last year. We went 15-12, and that’s not all that good,” Franklin said. “We got to try and win 20 games this year. That’s our goal. Well, that’s my goal anyway.”
He paused at the end of his statement, as if he wanted to make it clear that his goals didn’t speak for the whole team. Franklin, with his quiet leadership, should be the last person worried about making that offense.
“Our goal is to get past districts,” Reese said. “I think we’re going to have a way better season than we did last year. We play more as a team, and we have multiple senior leaders. And then Eric, too. He’s like a senior leader, but he’s a junior.”