Roger Franklin couldn’t help but think back to his freshman year early this week as the Mean Green prepared for its game tonight against Arkansas State.
Franklin was on the bench at Oklahoma State back in 2010, when Obi Muonelo was honored as the Cowboys’ lone senior and James Anderson essentially said goodbye in the final game before declaring for the NBA draft — a 74-55 trouncing of Nebraska on Senior Night at Gallagher-Iba Arena.
Franklin’s career has taken a few twists and turns since that night. He transferred from OSU to UNT, settled in with a new team and a new school and developed into an emotional leader and key player for the Mean Green.
Now it’s his turn to say goodbye tonight when UNT takes on ASU for Senior Night at the Super Pit.
“I am not going to lie, there will be a lot of emotions that go into this game,” Franklin said. “It’s very emotional and hard to talk about. When you get to the end, you think about the beginning and all the great times.”
There have been plenty for Franklin, Niko Stojiljkovic, Jacob Holmen and Justin Patton, the four seniors on UNT’s roster. Holmen was a key player during the 2009-10 season, when UNT won the Sun Belt Conference tournament and played in the NCAA tournament.
Franklin, Holmen and Stojiljkovic each helped UNT advance to the Sun Belt tournament final a year ago, when the Mean Green let a second-half lead get away in a loss to Western Kentucky.
Nothing has been easy for UNT since.
Former UNT head coach Johnny Jones left for LSU, and Tony Benford took over what was expected to be the best team in program history, one that has struggled to live up to expectations for a number of reasons.
UNT has struggled to adapt to a new system and a series of injuries have left the roster in flux.
Brandan Walton, UNT’s best perimeter shooter, was lost for the season when he broke his foot in the Mean Green’s first game of the year, a loss to Creighton.
Since then, UNT has lost Holmen and Patton to career-ending injuries, leaving UNT (11-19, 6-13 SBC) with only nine healthy players for its game against the Red Wolves (18-9, 12-6).
Benford and sophomore guard Chris Jones both credited Franklin with helping the Mean Green stay together in the toughest of times this season.
“People say that the point guard is the motor of a team,” Jones said. “Roger is our motor. When Roger is going, everyone is going. He gets me going in some games. People think highlights and 3s are what make the game. It’s the little things — taking charges and blocking shots. Roger is 6-foot-2 and guards guys who are 6-9 and shuts them down or keeps them below their average. That is what counts and helps us win games.”
Franklin is averaging 11.6 points and 6.4 rebounds a game, figures that fail to adequately describe his overall impact.
Benford credited Franklin with helping convince his teammates to buy into what he wanted to do in terms of putting a larger emphasis on halfcourt defense and rebounding.
The process has not always been an easy one. UNT lost five straight beginning in late January and has fallen to 10th in the 11-team Sun Belt Conference in a year it was a unanimous pick in the preseason coaches’ poll to win the league’s West Division.
Helping UNT work through those tough times is something in which Franklin takes pride.
“It means a lot to hear that I am the emotional leader, especially coming from a guy like Chris Jones, the savvy point guard who everyone depends on to run the team,” Franklin said. “It feels good, but it hurts to know that I will have to leave these guys and someone else will have to take that role.”
Franklin didn’t know what his role would be when he left OSU to transfer to UNT, largely to be closer to his father, who is battling cancer.
Franklin received a waiver from the NCAA based on his father’s condition that made him eligible immediately at UNT last season. He helped lead the Mean Green to the Sun Belt tournament final in Jones’ final year as the Mean Green’s head coach.
UNT is hoping Franklin can lead the way to the finals again this year, when the Mean Green will be a huge underdog.
UNT will have to win four games in four days and get past teams that are having much better seasons to get to the NCAA tournament.
Once the tournament is over, Franklin will turn his attention to his next pursuit. He will graduate in August and then pursue a playing career. If that does not work out, he could end up becoming a pastor.
“The sky is the limit from here,” Franklin said. “I took care of business so that I can fall back on my education, go into my religious faith or go play. I have a lot of options.”
Benford is confident that no matter what path Franklin follows, he will be successful.
“Roger is a great ambassador for the university,” Benford said. “He’s a guy who will represent it well in any endeavor he chooses. He has a great effect in the metroplex on the kids in the community. He’s just a solid person.”
UNT will look back on Franklin’s contributions tonight when he will be back in a spot similar to where he was a few years ago as a freshman watching Muonelo and Anderson bid farewell to the fans at OSU.
UNT isn’t where Franklin expected to be, but he can’t imagine being anywhere else now.
“I believe that God has a plan for everything,” Franklin said. “I can say at the end of the day that I belong here. I didn’t go find North Texas. North Texas came and found me. When they embraced me as a family member, I embraced them because I know these people are always going to be here for me. This program is always going to be here for me. The student body and university will be here. This is home and a great fit for me.”
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org .