Breakout talent

Words by Justin Walsh

Before July of this year, scouts had no idea who LaBradford Franklin was. The only way you could find his name was on the Vista Murrieta HS roster.

Then it happened.

It was Day 1 of the Pangos All West Camp at The Hangar in Hawthorne, Calif. The coaches filed in, the scouts had their pen and pad at the ready. Of all the games going on, the dynastic Belmont Shore was going up against one of the top AAU squads of Utah. A young guard checks in the game. He hits a three, and hustles back on defense. Two plays later, he gets the ball off a reversal—wet. The young guard hits shot after shot after shot. All in all, the guard hits nine 3s. Back at the coaches line, USC Coach Tim Floyd is staring intently, and many other D1 coaches are madly scribbling on their scouting reports. One court over, Renardo Sidney was playing against one of the most solid AAU team in the country, the Compton Magic. Nobody noticed, they were all too busy watching a 6-2 PG flood the gym with jumpers.

It’s a few months later, the guard transfers to powerhouse San Diego HS. USC is checking his progress, as are a few other Pac-10 schools. He’s joined a loaded roster that includes Top 10 ranked Jeremy Tyler for the class of 2010, as well as Terrence Boyd, a top 50 recruit in 2009. He’s vastly improved from that summer day when he went bananas on some unfortunate Utah squad (Utah Shooting Stars). His handles are on strings, he likes contact in the lane, and just as before, the jumper requires each patron in the stands to build their own makeshift ark.

SLAM: You’re fresh off a breakout season on the AAU circuit—How does it feel to have some notoriety?
LaBradford Franklin: It feels good, and it feels like all my hard work is starting to pay off. But it also comes with a small amount of pressure. Now that people know who I am, they’re going to be expecting more from me, and every game I have to come with my ‘A’ game because they’re coming to bust my ass with it. So it’s a compound thing—I feel good, but I also feel some of the pressure that comes with it, but I’m ready for it. I’ve been waiting for it.

SLAM: Now that you are more well-known, opposing guards are playing harder against you. What do you have to do to counteract that?
LB: Well to counteract all the other guards out there, I just need to come ready every game. And in the offseason, I put in the work, because with the high caliber team that I play on and because of the recent recognition I have, every game is a championship level game to our opponents. I don’t want anybody making a name off of my team or me, so I just stay focused, when game-time comes around, I give 100 percent to make sure that my game, as well as our offense looks sharp.

SLAM: How do you like your transfer from Vista Murrieta to San Diego HS?
LB: Well, right now I’m enjoying it a lot, drawing myself into the new program, with the new coaching staff, the new teammates…I do kind of miss my old school, but I understand that’s life, and I’m part of a better organization, a better situation for myself. So I’m just enjoying myself.

SLAM: What are your goals for this year’s SDHS Cavers, in your view?
LB: I think that in the beginning, we are going to start out a little slower than some of the other top teams in Cali, just because they’ve been together longer. We don’t have our team chemistry there all the way yet. But after we play more, practice more and grow as a team, we’re going to be in contention for the state title, no question. That’s how I feel.

SLAM: So you do think that you can win state this year?
LB: Yes. Absolutely.

SLAM: And what do you think about next year, when your team will be even more talented with upperclassmen and Jeremy Tyler and yourself a year older?
LB: I am going to feel a lot more confident, because next year, our team is going to have so much more chemistry. Plus, Jeremy, myself and the other players that will be on the roster next year are going to be that much more mature. We’re going to be bigger, stronger, faster—just like that Kanye song—so it’s going to be a plus. Next year is going to be a great year.

SLAM: Are you happy to be part of a big three that includes yourself, manbeast Jeremy Tyler and Terrence Boyd?
LB: I feel honored, because at my other school, I was a singular, good player. But now that I came here, with Fox Sports Net at our practice, we have colleges at our practice every day. They’ll ask “Who is that? And people will just be like ‘That’s LaBradford Franklin.’” I feel like my high school team operates just like a travel team, with all this recognition my team gets. It’s outstanding. I’m just grateful to be here, to be given this opportunity. I’m really just doing my best to make the most of it. Anything I have to do in practice, anything I need to do in the games for my team, I’m doing everything that I can.

SLAM: Are you satisfied with how your skills are progressing this year (scouts have noticed your handle has improved under pressure)?
LB: Yeah, my handles needed to improve, and they have. Because I am playing on this high profile team, we are going up against other highly regarded teams. These guards I am going up against were just as good as me or better, so I have to come with that ‘A’ game at all times. That’s also how I have to approach my practices. Every game, regardless of opponent, I treat it like it’s a playoff game. I have to give my all to improve. In practice, every shot is a game winner, every free throw is a clutch stroke from the line, and every pass is crucial. That’s how I’ve improved so much over the past few months, and I’ll continue to.

SLAM: What do you need to improve upon personally, for your team?
LB: I think I need to improve on my strength, and that will come with age, but I got to put the work in. And I hope to improve my defense—Always room for improvement. Also, I want to improve as a TEAM. I can’t win by my own; Jeremy can’t win by his own; neither can Terrence. We are going to need a collaborative effort of the players, the coaches, even the fans to do special things this year to win state.

SLAM: Do you have enough leadership to be the starting PG on a team of this caliber?
LB: I definitely think my team leadership is there. For instance, you know how Jeremy can get heated sometimes, and how many techs he’s gotten previously, but this year he’s not getting a large number of technicals. Part of that is his improved maturity, but part of that is me calming him down, telling him, “It’s alright. We have another play. We can get it back,” and he tones it down.

SLAM: With a high profile team such as yours, are there more colleges seeking your talent to run the point for their offense once you finish high school?
LB: Oh, there are a lot more colleges interested in me now that I’m here as opposed to my old school. At my old school I only had six, maybe seven colleges interested, but now it’s easily in double digits. I have a lot more options now as far as choosing a school that is interested in my services as a point guard once I complete HS. I need to keep getting better though, there are a lot of good guards to choose from in Cali’.

SLAM: Why do you think there is so much talent in California?
LB: Well, California just has that swagger. We also have a lot of basketball players trying to make a career out of it. The best guards used to be in New York, but now I think that’s shifted to California.

SLAM: Why do you think that is?
LB: I feel that the West Coast just has a different style than the rest of the country. It may have a bit more flash to it than some people may like, and some people, frankly, wont like that style, but to me, we just play better basketball, with all due respect. I think we have quicker, better shooters over here. Out on the east coast they have grimey, hardnosed guards. I think they generally play a little better defensively in HS, but, overall, the West Coast guards just have more to offer. I’ve always thought it was like that, but now I think we’re proving it to the nation with Jrue Holiday, Brandon Jennings, who went to Oak Hill near the end of HS, but he’s from Compton, Calif. Then you have Demar DeRozan, James Harden, Malcolm Lee, Justin Hawkins, Roberto Nelson, Larry Drew II, the list goes on.

SLAM: You’ve been compared by a few California-based scouts to having a skillset similar to Jamaal Tinsley, what are your thoughts on that comparison?
LB: You know, it’s a great honor. And I see it, because we both have that savvy mentality as a point guard, we’re both pass first PGs, but we can fill it up when needed. We both have that flashy dribble, cross a slower defender. We both can back down a smaller guard, I play very comfortable off the pick-and-roll. I think it’s a good comparison. And again, it’s an honor to be compared to Jamaal Tinsley, because he’s a NBA vet, so he’s obviously doing his thing. I want to one day be up in his place.

SLAM: Well, you definitely both have that patented spin move in traffic and a smooth crossover. What goes through your mind when you swerve somebody and leave them in the opposite direction?
LB: Haha, It’s kind of funny to tell you the truth, because I don’t consider myself lightning quick like Brandon Jennings, like Demar DeRozan, so to be able to bring my own swagger to the game gives me that much more confidence. It’s like, when I pull a nice move, in my mind I’m thinking, “What is this guy doing? Why is he guarding me?” That’s what goes through my head, so after I’ve crossed him and I’m on the way to the cup, I’m thinking, “I knew that was going to happen. Why did they put him on me in the first place?” Then I finish and get back on D.

SLAM: You must have thought that many times over the summer, dominating guards at the Pangos All-West Camp in front of Tim Floyd, Ben Howland, with coaches and scouts from Gonzaga, KU and Oregon State?
LB: I was so excited when I saw them there. I was just thinking that this was exactly what I came there to do, and I got so much exposure there, and the goals was to get more colleges looking at me. Playing in front of them, it was just like finally I could show what I had to offer. Weeks later, I started getting mail from a bunch of colleges—Gonzaga, Kentucky, USC, UCLA, UC-Riverside, Notre Dame and a few others I can’t remember. I’m just so thankful that I played well in front of them. It also gave me a lot of incentive to get back in the gym and work on my game, because it never stops.

SLAM: What keeps you motivated in basketball?
LB: Some people aren’t as fortunate as others and they grow up in the ghetto, and, thankfully, I never had to go through that, so it’s just me and my love for the game. I mean, yeah I would like to get my parents into a bigger house than we already have, but they are already doing pretty well right now, so basically my only motivation is my love for the game. I can’t go a day without playing basketball.

SLAM: Do you love to win or hate to lose?
LB: I’d say it’s a bit of both. Like one night, your shot might not be there for you, and you aren’t having an on game, but that’s when you dig deep and find a way to win as a team, and you just drive in to the lane where you know it’s good or you draw a foul and get to the line where you know you can hit it. And when you scrap to get that victory when things aren’t going well, it just feels so great to get the win. But on the other end of it, I hate to lose, so I will do anything I can as a basketball player to win.

SLAM: Before the game, what artists do you get hyped up to for pregame warmups?
LB: Lil Wayne, you already know Lil Wayne is holdin’ it down. Kanye West, Willie Northpole—that may be old, but it’s still a headbanger. Especially the new Kanye album, though. It’s so different, but it’s tight. He uses the voice synthesizer, and he uses these weird lyrics that make me think. He’s still one of the best rappers out there, even with this non-rap album.

SLAM: Are you excited to play Renardo Sidney and Fairfax HS on ESPN on Jan. 23?
LB: Yes, I’m extremely excited to play against Fairfax, especially Renardo, because I’ve only had the chance to play him once and that was with Belmont Shore and we came out on the short end of that game. But I’m just hyped about it because I’m on a great team, and on the biggest stage with ESPN? That’s going to be a hell of a game, because Fairfax has a good team, they’re currently ranked I think 9th in the whole nation, and I feel like we are one of the best teams in the land too, so I know it’s going to be a good game, with a lot of fans in the stands. And again, because of ESPN, you have the opportunity to see people around the world watch your team play basketball. Every other game on the schedule, it’s a take it one-game-at-a-time deal, but in my mind I’m really looking forward to that game, mentally preparing, working on my game constantly.

SLAM: Looking forward, do you think San Diego HS is going to come out on top against Fairfax HS?
LB: Yes, yes, we will beat Fairfax on ESPN.