|Franklin's development and maturity has come on and off the court. (US Presswire)|
SAN DIEGO -- Jamaal Franklin never got that call he yearned for from the University of Florida, or he just may have gone the football route. Instead, it came down to UConn, Oregon and San Diego State. It wasn't about tradition, coaching style, television exposure, playing time or even what it is for nearly every kid nowadays -- the place that could get him to the next level as quickly as possible.
"It was all about my mom," Franklin admitted. "She's not just my mom. She's also my best friend."
|More college hoops|
So he committed to the Aztecs, which was a 2½-hour jaunt from his home in Victorville, Calif.
It's been all about Franklin and his mother, Felicia Price. Franklin hasn't seen his biological father since he was about 8 years old, just before his mother took him out of inner-city Los Angeles out to the High Desert.
"Someone got killed around the corner," she said. "I didn't want him around that environment. I grew up there and wanted a better life for Jamaal, so we packed up and got out of there."
Price had no idea she had a potential NBA player on her hands. What she did know was that she had a rebellious only child, one that was suspended, expelled and often reprimanded as he tried to find himself throughout the latter portion of elementary school and into middle school.
"He was angry before we moved, but it got worse," Price said. "His father wasn't in his life and all his friends had two parents. He didn't understand."
It's been an evolution for Franklin, who was also a football star coming out of Serrano High. He played wide receiver and safety, and was recruited by numerous D-I programs. He had 30 receptions, 553 yards and eight touchdowns his senior season.
There were times Price would have to come out of the stands onto the court to instruct her son how to properly behave, multiple phone calls from teachers and principals. There was no shortage of phone calls from teachers along the way.
"I was always getting into trouble," Franklin admitted. "Then in high school I started to become a better person."
"He's come a long way," Price added. "From that child people said would never amount to anything."
He sure has. There have still been slip-ups, such as the underage DUI a year ago that resulted in a three-game suspension. Then came the middle finger incident at the Mountain West tournament, when he flipped the bird to a fan following what he said were racial taunts.
"I've definitely made mistakes," Franklin said. "And I'm just trying to learn from them."
Franklin's development and maturity has also come on the court. When he arrived in San Diego, Aztecs coach Steve Fisher desperately wanted to redshirt him. He had a veteran group with four seniors that included Kawhi Leonard and Fisher knew it would be difficult to get Franklin on the court for more than occasional mop-up duty. The young and talented frosh had the athleticism and potential, but his jump shot was broken and, again, there were proven vets in front of him.
But Franklin fought and elected not to sit out. He didn't get onto the court at all in 12 of the first 21 games of his freshman season and there were times on the bench when he'd be praying for a 20-point blowout just so he could get off the bench. He'd call or text Price after every game and she'd have to remind him to be patient, that his time would eventually come.
"I was thinking about transferring," Franklin said, "But I got so close to everyone on the team and that's why I ended up staying."
Franklin eventually got his opportunity. Guard Chase Tapley got hurt and Leonard was sick. He played 17 minutes against Utah in early-February and wound up with 13 points and 10 boards. After the season, Franklin was still disenchanted enough to ask his mom about putting his name in for the NBA Draft. She quickly talked sense into her son, who was coming off a season in which he averaged just 2.9 points and 1.9 rebounds per contest.
"I felt I was ready, but I wasn't -- and it was a tough situation with Kawhi, Chase and James [Rahon] all playing my position," Franklin said. "There were no minutes for me."
Franklin entered last season as a virtual unknown on a team that was expected to struggle. No one knew about Tapley, who was the fifth wheel on the team that spent much of the year in the top 10 the previous season -- and no one knew about Franklin outside of San Diego. Leonard's work ethic was legendary around these parts. He'd always be the first one in the gym and the last to leave. Franklin was a close second, often spending late hours in the gym working on his jump shot and the rest of his game.
It paid off as he and the Aztecs shocked the country. The 6-foot-5 Franklin, a natural wing forced to play out of position at power forward, averaged 17.4 points and 7.9 rebounds while earning Mountain West Player of the Year honors. More importantly, Franklin was key in leading the Aztecs to a third consecutive NCAA tournament bid and a 26-win season.
"A lot of people still don't know me," Franklin said. "But as long as we're winning, that's what matters."
Franklin and his mother sat down and had another talk after the end of last season. Franklin had put himself on the NBA radar, as a likely second round pick, and he thought long and hard about leaving college and being able to buy his mother that beautiful house he'd been thinking about for years. While Price had always struggled as a single parent who worked with kids her entire life, she still found a way to spoil her only child with $150 sneakers and other items that didn't exactly fit into the household budget.
"He wanted to go pro and take care of momma," Price said. "But I told him, ' Momma's going to be OK. I can hold off. Don't do anything drastic.'"
So Franklin decided to return for at least one more season. Price hasn't ruled out the option of her momma's boy spending two more in college and getting his degree, either.
Franklin enters the season with expectations -- both on and off the court. He got rid of his Facebook account and doesn't Tweet. The mechanics on his jump shot still aren't picturesque, but it's come a long way -- and now he's the star of a team that some have ranked in the preseason top 10.
"A lot of people look at me differently now," Franklin said. "I know I've made mistakes and that I have to make better decisions, but what matters to me is that the coaches, my teammates and the fans are happy,"
And, of course, his mom.