Ja’von Franklin proving he’s not ‘just an underdog’

Georgia Tech forward Ja'von Franklin puts down a dunk in the Yellow Jackets' win over Virginia Tech at McCamish Pavilion Feb. 15, 2023. (Eldon Lindsay/Georgia Tech Athletics)

Credit: Eldon Lindsay/Georgia Tech Athle

Credit: Eldon Lindsay/Georgia Tech Athle

Georgia Tech forward Ja'von Franklin puts down a dunk in the Yellow Jackets' win over Virginia Tech at McCamish Pavilion Feb. 15, 2023. (Eldon Lindsay/Georgia Tech Athletics)

As he has traded fist bumps with opposing coaches and players in the post-game handshake line in recent weeks, Georgia Tech forward Ja’von Franklin has received something a little more substantial than that. Coaches such as Kevin Keatts at N.C. State and Steve Forbes at Wake Forest have stopped to commend him on his game.

“The Wake Forest game, the coach, he was kind of bragging on me, saying I’m going to be a great player at the next level,” Franklin said in an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

For Franklin, in his final year of college play after a journey of four schools and six seasons, the praise is validation.

“It makes me feel like I’m just as good as everybody in the ACC,” he said. “Just knowing that I’m not just a mid-major player, just an underdog. It makes me feel like I’m just one of those players that can come out and help a team.”

Franklin has believed he could be such a player in a league like the ACC, even after leaving Auburn after two seasons as a little-used backup. That led to one year at South Alabama, where he earned third-team All-Sun Belt Conference honors and returned to the transfer portal last offseason and ultimately landed at Tech. (Auburn followed two years at junior college, his initial stop out of high school in Little Rock, Ark.)

His play on the court in the last month has eliminated any doubts. Over the past eight games, Franklin is averaging 11.9 points and 9.4 rebounds while shooting 58.3% from the field with 2.4 assists, 2.0 blocks and 2.0 steals. He goes into Tuesday night’s game at Pittsburgh on a three-game double-double streak.

“He’s been outstanding in this last month,” coach Josh Pastner said.

Franklin has produced despite giving up height and/or weight to perhaps every post player that he has faced in the ACC. Franklin is listed at 6-foot-7 and 214 pounds, but without shoes, he measures closer to 6-5.

“I’ll take the 6-7,” he said. “If that’s what they want to give me, I’ll take it.”

He has skirmished with the likes of North Carolina’s Armando Bacot (6-11, 235), N.C. State’s D.J. Burns (6-9, 275) and Syracuse’s Jesse Edwards (6-11, 230), relying on uncommon bounce and an edge honed at the junior-college level.

“Sheer athleticism,” said Tech assistant coach Brian Eskildsen. “He’s really quick off the floor. He’s got a great second jump, so where other guys are still on the floor, he’s already back up in the air.”

Franklin’s collection of soaring dunks and blocks has been highlight worthy.

“Just such a live body,” said Virginia Tech coach Mike Young, whose team was treated to two dunks and five blocks by Franklin in the Jackets’ 77-70 win over the Hokies last week. “Active hands.”

Franklin is proud of what he calls his “want-to.” Pastner often attributes offensive rebounding to effort, and Franklin was fourth in the ACC in league play in that category after the weekend’s games.

Beginning his college career at Holmes Community College in Mississippi, “I think I just had a chip on my shoulder from being there, just an underdog,” Franklin said.

Franklin played two seasons at Holmes, signing with Auburn despite breaking his leg early in his second season. (Franklin redshirted that season, which has enabled him to play this season at Tech.) At Auburn, he played five games in his first season (2019-20) and then averaged 5.3 minutes in 23 games the next year.

“It was a fun experience,” Franklin said. “I just feel like I got better. But there were guys that were in front of me that were already there that had (coach Bruce Pearl’s) trust, so I just felt like it was just one of those situations where it’s not meant to be.”

Franklin dropped down to South Alabama, where his eight double-doubles were third most in the Sun Belt. Franklin said his coaches naturally wanted him to stay for his final year, “but I was kind of like, I feel like I can just be better if I go back to the power five and prove myself.”

Pastner and Tech won out.

“It was just his consistency,” Franklin said. “Out of all the coaches, he kind of kept in touch with me the most. He called my parents, my grandmother, checking on them. He was in touch with my whole family.”

His play has improved as he has gotten adjusted to Tech’s offensive and defensive schemes and learned his teammates. It is not a coincidence that his improvement has mirrored his team, which has won two of its past three ACC games after losing nine in a row. At N.C. State, Franklin was a force, scoring 16 points with eight rebounds, five blocks and five assists. No ACC player has put up those numbers in a league game – 16/8/5/5 – since at least the 2010-11 season.

“Just knowing nobody else in the ACC did that, that’s special, I feel like,” he said.

His play alone would endear him to his teammates, but his personality has done the rest.

“He’s a really sweet kid,” Eskildsen said. “He’s quiet, he’s not the loudest, but I think everyone on the team really likes him and enjoys him.”

As of Monday, there was one player in the ACC who was in the league’s top 15 in rebounds, blocks and steals. It was the young man from Little Rock who likes to go hunting and fishing with his grandfather and uncle and, in a trying season for the Jackets, has been a bright spot.

“I don’t want to close this chapter yet,” Franklin said. “We’ve got another tournament and a couple games coming up. But overall, I just feel good that I chose Georgia Tech. We’ve had a rough year, but we’re just getting better and better as the season goes along. I feel like I’ve proved myself that I can play at this level and I’m just trying to keep doing it again every time.”