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Special Bond of Player, Coach Cements Title

March 24, 1994|DANA HADDAD

Kevin Franklin's college basketball career had been marked by tragedy and turmoil, but it ended gloriously Monday.

In fact, the final 20 seconds of the NAIA Division I championship game, won by Franklin's Oklahoma City University over Life College, were among the sweetest imaginable.

The former Taft High standout scored a game-high 30 points in 37 minutes to lead Oklahoma City to a 99-81 victory over Life, a school in Marietta, Ga. Franklin, 25, sat on the bench next to Coach Win Case, 30, and gave Case an affectionate punch on the arm. Case wrapped his arm around Franklin and kissed him on the cheek.

Moments later, during a timeout, Case covered his face with his hands and started to weep. Franklin embraced Case and kissed him on the head.

The exchange was interrupted only when guard Elijah Maxey emptied a container of water on Case.

"It was a great feeling," Franklin said. "It was one of those situations that worked out for me. I was happy for myself, the team and Coach Case."

Case had given Franklin a second chance two years ago after Franklin had left Nevada and taken a two-year hiatus from college.

Franklin had become disillusioned after the death of his mother, Grady Franklin, in January, 1990. But 18 months later, Franklin was introduced to Case by relatives who live in Oklahoma City and the two hit it off.

Franklin rewarded Case's confidence in him by helping the young coach win a national championship.

Franklin made the winning shot in an 86-85 victory over rival Oklahoma Baptist in the semifinals, finishing with 20 points.

In the final, Franklin made 14 of 22 shots from the field and had six rebounds and eight assists. He was named the tournament's most valuable player, and for the second consecutive season he was accorded first-team, NAIA All-American status.

Of course, big things had been expected of Franklin since he led the state in scoring his senior season at Taft, averaging 38 points.

"Kevin is without question the best player I ever coached or saw," Taft Coach Jim Woodard said. "Dedan Thomas (of Nevada Las Vegas) was tougher, but Kevin was the most talented."

It would have been difficult to argue after Franklin scored 40 points, 37 in the second half, and hit the winning shot for Nevada in a 102-100 victory at Eastern Washington on Jan. 20, 1990.

But the occasion was bittersweet. That was the night Franklin's mother died, and he never played another game for the Wolf Pack.

Woodard had trouble keeping track of Franklin from that point until Saturday, when he watched on television as the 6-foot-5 guard swished a twisting, off-balance jump shot with 13 seconds left to lift the Chiefs into the title game.

Said Franklin of the winning shot: "It was a designed play for me, and I figured that was the best look I was going to get."

Franklin's heroics and his final moments with Case were shown on a national cable telecast while millions of viewers were tuned to another network for the Academy Awards show.

"This is the highlight right now," Franklin said. "This beats the Eastern Washington game."


Checking the fax: Former Hueneme High player Mike Spears helped surging Westmont reach the second round of the NAIA championships. The Warriors lost to eventual finalist Life College. The 6-6 senior, who was selected to the All-Golden State Athletic Conference team, had a game-high 18 points in a 75-71 victory over Salem-Teikyo of West Virginia. He had 12 points and nine rebounds in an 85-65 loss to Life. Westmont finished 19-13.

In baseball, freshman Stacy Kleiner (Taft) has made a sudden impact with Nevada Las Vegas. His .341 batting average is second highest on the team. His seven doubles, 25 runs and 14 walks are team highs. He has 10 multiple-hit games.

At Long Beach State, freshman first baseman Jeff Tagliaferri (Kennedy) is batting .385 with 15 runs batted in after 57 at-bats. Teammate Tim Falsken (Westlake) has struggled. The third baseman is batting .214 but his home run in the top of the ninth inning Monday tied the score in an eventual 5-4 victory over Cal State Northridge.

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