Boys basketball preview: Evergreen's Franks keeps focus on court

Evergreen star not yet concerned about attention from colleges

By Paul Danzer, Columbian community sports reporter

Published:

 

Robert Franks is 6-foot-7, 205 pounds.

And the Evergreen junior is not sure he has yet had his growth spurt.

Whether or not that is true, big things are expected of Franks.

Ten different NCAA Division I college programs -- including the four Northwest Pacific-12 Conference schools and Gonzaga -- have shown interest in Franks. He has enjoyed the attention, he said, but with two high school seasons and a summer of AAU ball ahead of him, he is not thinking much beyond the here and now.

Boys basketball preview capsules

4A Greater St. Helens League

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Robert Franks, jr., Evergreen

Jamie Ford, sr., Battle Ground

Trevor Jasinsky, jr., Camas

Jahmil Johnson, sr., Evergreen

Micah Paulson, jr., Union

LEAGUE OUTLOOK

The league is marked with new coaches all around: Skyview’s Matt Gruhler, Battle Ground’s Wes Armstrong and Union’s Blake Conley. Amstrong’s Tigers and Conley’s Titans are expected to battle Evergreen for the league title. Camas and Skyview are looking for new leaders to step up and help them contend for a playoffs spot, while Heritage is looking to replace some key players.

For more information and team schedules, click here.

3A Greater St. Helens League

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Nate Hawthorne, jr., Col. River

Torey Jones, sr., Columbia River

Mason Pack, sr., Prairie

James Phillips, sr., Prairie

Alex Torson, sr., Mountain View

LEAGUE OUTLOOK

Despite losing 11 seniors to graduation, River looks to defend its league and district title. Team captains Pack (6-4) and Phillips (6-5) lead a young Prairie team, along with 6-6 sophomore Ronnie McPherson. New Mountain View coach Aaron Shepherd looks for a breakout season from Torson. And league coaches are looking for improved teams at Hudson’s Bay and Fort Vancouver.

For more information and team schedules, click here.

2A Greater St. Helens League

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Grant Gibb, jr., Mark Morris

Alan Haagen, sr., Hockinson

Jack Klodt, sr., Hockinson

David Potter, sr., Ridgefield

Austin Tran, sr., Washougal

LEAGUE OUTLOOK

Mark Morris has history (13 consecutive league titles) and size (four players 6-5 or taller) on its side. Hockinson has seven seniors who have played together since grade school. Potter leads a Ridgefield defense that will challenge opponents. Washougal and R.A. Long both lost key seniors and are looking for new players to fill the void to contend for playoff berth.

For more information and team schedules, click here.

1A Trico League

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Wyatt Aguirre, jr., La Center

Jay Becker, sr., King’s Way Christian

Kyle Hendrix, sr., Woodland

Tanner Huddleston, sr., Woodland

Jared Shagool, sr., Kalama

LEAGUE OUTLOOK

League coaches look for La Center and Woodland to be leading contenders for league title. Each team returns three all-league players from last year. With former Washington State standout Daven Harmeling coach, King’s Way Christian could surprise. The Knights have a 6-7 sophomore in Kienan Walter. Kalama and Toledo also are playoff contenders.

For more information and team schedules, click here.

"I'm just really worrying about how far Evergreen gets," he said. "I'm hoping we get to the (Tacoma) Dome and do good things there."

A first-team All-Greater St. Helens League player, Franks helped Evergreen to a district championship last season. The Plainsmen lost twice in the bi-district tournament and missed state.

At the season's end, Franks started playing for the Northwest Panthers, an AAU team based in Tacoma that enters regional and elite national tournaments.

One of the younger Panthers, surrounded by players shooting for Division I college scholarships, Franks said it took some time for him to settle in with the AAU team. But playing with the Panthers helped his skill, confidence and commitment.

Among the high points was a 25-point game at a showcase tournament in Las Vegas.

"I was a younger guy on the team. At first, I didn't know how to be aggressive," Franks said. By the end of summer, after playing against top college prospects around the country, that had changed.

"Now I know what it takes," Franks said. "You can't just want to do something. You have to have the will and determination to say 'This is what I am going to do' and to do it."

Evergreen coach Brian Witherspoon said Franks is a more assertive player than he was as a sophomore, The Plainsmen coach wants to see Franks be more consistently aggressive this season -- especially taking his game inside.

Witherspoon said Franks can play any position on the court, and that his 7-foot wingspan means he can affect a game in a variety of ways. Also, Franks has the understanding and passing ability to make opponents pay when they double-team him.

Franks is a Kobe Bryant fan.

"I always admired his passion for the game, his work ethic and his determination to win," Franks said.

Each of Franks' coaches -- Witherspoon, AAU coach Garry Ward and youth coach Greg West, who introduced Franks to team basketball seven years ago -- describe him as a passionate player with plenty of potential.

Franks loves to drain 3-point jump shots, but said he's learned there is so much more to becoming a consistent force on the floor. One example is the importance of strength and fitness -- that the ability to run the floor and to jump explosively do not come without sacrifice.

"His game has improved because he's conditioned his body," said Ward, his AAU coach. "It is just a matter of (Franks) understanding if you're going to play basketball at a high level you're going to have to strengthen your core."

Franks first played organized basketball in the fourth grade. West, who runs West Basketball, saw Franks dribbling a basketball in his neighborhood and invited him to play for one of his teams. West said Franks was in the sixth grade when he started to show signs of becoming a special player.

It was at that point that West began letting Franks play on teams a year or two older. That experience helped mold Franks' ball-handling and shooting skills.

Franks credits West for focusing his passion for basketball. West, who still does some individual coaching with Franks, envisions a bright future.

"He's on a mission," West said, predicting that Franks will play as a wing for a Division I team, and will become someone who gives back to his community by helping other kids. "I think he's going to accomplish great things."

photoEvergreen High School junior Robert Franks goes to the basket during a game last week against Hudson's Bay.

(/The Columbian)

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