By Brent Schwartz
Niles North’s Damaria Franklin was on the wing, where he often is, calling for the ball. Upon securing a pass, he moved towards the basket, except this time, there were three New Trier defenders draped all over him. Franklin then looked right and found Jamaal Stephenson open in the corner. Stephenson promptly drained a three-pointer.
Helping his team out in ways other than scoring was the mantra for Franklin on this night. Earlier in the game, Franklin drew a charge down low before the two teams took a timeout.
“You’re being a stud right now without even scoring a point,” said Niles North head coach Glenn Olson, as he looked at Franklin in the huddle.
Of course, this wasn’t a usual game for Franklin, Niles North’s leading scorer and do-it-all threat. New Trier keyed on the junior guard, opening opportunities for other players to score.
Niles North took advantage in a 65-39 victory over New Trier. Stephenson led the way with a game-high 19 points.
Meanwhile, Franklin who had only 6 points, wasn’t dwelling on the stat sheet.
“To me, it doesn’t matter about scoring that much,” Franklin said. “I just want to get my teammates the ball.”
Either way, Franklin is making an impact at Niles North. It began last season, when as a sophomore he shined in leading the Vikings to the regional championship game. As the Vikings’ second-leading scorer on varsity, Franklin came into his junior season knowing he would be relied on even more. Niles North’s leading scorer from last season, Crishawn Cook, graduated, and is now playing at Southern Illinois.
“We connected really well on the court,” said Cook. “His role has changed big-time. He’s the leader now. When they need a bucket now, he’ll be the guy to do it.”
Franklin is the only returning starter from last year’s team. The Vikings won three consecutive championships from 2010 to 2012, but are still searching for their fourth regional title during the Olson era. If they are to do it this season, much will be riding on Franklin.
“There’s a lot of pressure,” said Franklin. This season, I know I have to step up and be a leader on the floor.”
Franklin is averaging 16.7 points and 6.6 rebounds per game thus far. He leads in both categories for the 14-8 Vikings.
“I think he’s a little more mature this year,” said Olson. “He has to do more this season. He has to score 20, he has to get 10 rebounds, for us to do well. We all really count him.”
Using his 6-foot-3-inch frame, Franklin possesses the power to drive to the basket, but also has enough finesse to play an entire game at the perimeter. Franklin can beat both man-to-man and zone defense with his unique skill set, making him one of the area’s most excitingly dangerous threats to the basket.
“We just give him the green light on offense,” said Olson.
During the Vikings season opener versus Jones College Prep, Franklin saw an opening in the lane, and he took it. He leaped above two Jones College Prep defenders and dunked the ball with ease. That’s the athletic ability Franklin possesses.
Now, teams are beginning to key on Franklin, which means at times he also must create offense away from the basket.
“I have to get everyone else involved,” said Franklin.
Against New Trier, Franklin touched the ball on virtually every possession. The offense still flows through him, but Franklin’s ability to draw double-teams, and find teammates for uncontested shots is a skill that will elevate Niles North during the team’s stretch run.