Robert Franks, the Pac-12's leading scorer, will likely play a major role when the Cougars (10-14, 3-8 Pac-12) host the Huskies (19-5, 10-1) 5 p.m. Saturday (ESPNU) at Beasley Coliseum.
Robert Franks, the Pac-12’s leading scorer, believes he’s playing the best basketball of his life, which is a wonderful revelation for Washington State and bad news for the rest of the conference.
Especially the Huskies.
Sidelined with a hip injury for WSU’s first four Pac-12 games, Franks didn’t play in the league opener Jan. 5 when Washington whipped its cross-state rival 85-67 at Alaska Airlines Arena.
But Franks will likely play a major role when the Cougars (10-14, 3-8 Pac-12) host the Huskies (19-5, 10-1) at 5 p.m. Saturday (ESPNU) at Beasley Coliseum.
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“They’ve lost some games because they haven’t had their full roster,” UW coach Mike Hopkins said. “You lose a player of that caliber, you aren’t going to play your best basketball.”
Conversely when Franks is on top of his game, the Cougars can beat anyone in the conference – including Arizona and Arizona State. In a rare desert road sweep, the Cougars clobbered the Sun Devils 91-70 before claiming a 69-55 victory at Arizona to snap a 14-game losing streak against the Wildcats.
“That’s how we’re supposed to play every time,” said Franks, who averaged 32.5 points, 10.5 rebounds, 2.5 blocks, 2.0 steals and 2.0 assists in both wins. “We’ve had spurts of playing that way this season. We haven’t played it for 40 minutes and Arizona State was a perfect example of how we have to play.”
Since coach Ernie Kent arrived in 2014, the Cougars had never been better.
And the same is true for Franks, who garnered regional and national attention while picking up the Pac-12 and Oscar Robertson national player of the week honors.
“It feels like I’m riding a high,” said the 6-foot-9, 225-pound forward. “When I go out there, my confidence is at an all-time high.
“I just feel like my teammates feed off that and it just makes us so much better as a team. I think the biggest thing is confidence. If I play with confidence and my team plays with confidence, everybody’s game just rises.”
Franks hasn’t always felt this way.
Admittedly the three-star prospect, who starred at Evergreen High in Vancouver, Wash., wasn’t physically or mentally ready for the rigors of Pac-12 basketball years ago.
“I was just immature coming in,” he said. “I didn’t develop my game to where it needs to be at this level. I was still stuck in high-school mode and that’s why those first two years were kind of hard and difficult for me.”
Franks averaged just 2.2 points and 8.3 minutes while shooting 28 percent from the field as a freshman in 2015-16. The next season, he averaged 6.3 points and 16.4 minutes as a backup.
Following his sophomore season, Franks returned home where his father Robert Franks Sr. put him on a strict diet of chicken, salmon and vegetables. The younger Franks also worked out three times a day with trainer Paul Cannon.
“Hats off to those two people,” said Franks, who said he lost 20 to 25 pounds that summer. “They were very hard on me for six weeks. They pushed me and it’s starting to pay off.”
Last season, Franks had a breakout year while averaging 17.4 points, 6.6 rebounds and shooting 40.5 percent on three-pointers. He was voted the Pac-12’s most improved player by Pac-12 coaches.
“From what I’ve seen, he’s just grown into a professional,” said UW guard Dominic Green, who played with Franks in AAU ball. “When I saw him his freshman year it didn’t seem like he was getting that much playing time. Now, it shows the work he’s put in.”
Last summer, Franks contemplated turning pro and participated in several NBA predraft workouts before returning to school.
“That process was a grind from start to finish and it was so much fun,” said the WSU star, who is projected to be a second-round pick in this summer’s NBA draft. “Being able to play basketball and work on your game and not worry about anything else was fantastic. I can’t wait for that experience again.
“The biggest thing for me was what the NBA teams were asking of me. … I wanted to come back and prove to them that I worked on those things.”
This season, Franks has increased his averages in scoring (22.6), rebounding (7.7) and assists (2.7) while shooting a career-high 52.7 percent from the floor.
“He’s a three-level scorer,” UW forward Noah Dickerson said. “We just have to make sure we know where he’s at on the floor at all times. … He’s a great shooter. He’s a really good high-post scorer, too.”
Franks would be a Pac-12 player of the year candidate if the Cougars were more competitive.
“Everybody knows what Robo is capable of doing and the consistency level that he has played at,” Kent said. “I think everybody understands what we’re trying to do, but it’s the ability to play at that level all the time, particularly on the defensive end of the floor.
“CJ (Elleby) has had an incredible freshman season. Viont’e Daniels and Carter Skaggs — when we’re all on our game and shooting the ball well, we’re a difficult team to handle.”
Just ask Arizona State and Arizona.
Still, the Cougars, who are 11th in the Pac-12 standings, will need many more big games from Franks to climb out of the conference’s cellar. WSU’s last winning season and postseason appearance was in 2012 when it finished 19-18 in the College Basketball Invitational.
“I want to take this team to the NCAA tournament or a postseason,” Franks said. “It’s my last go-around. I feel like we’re hitting at the right time.
“This conference is a roller coaster right now so anything can happen. I don’t want my last game to be in Las Vegas in the Pac-12 tournament. That’s my biggest goal.”