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ERIC SONDHEIMER

Surgeries can't stop Mater Dei guard

January 19, 2008|Eric Sondheimer

A scar runs down Gary Franklin Jr.'s left arm from his shoulder to the middle of his hand. It's a reminder of the worst day of his life. It also serves as inspiration for what his future may hold.

The scar is the aftermath of four surgeries the Santa Ana Mater Dei sophomore point guard has endured since breaking his humerus -- the bone in the upper arm -- playing football as a 13-year-old. A doctor initially inserted a plate and pins but in doing so severed a nerve, leaving Franklin's left hand limp and useless.

Another doctor told him his promising days as a basketball player were over. That was the day he'll never forget.

"I cried right in front of her and it was the first time I saw my dad cry," he said. "I went home and prayed with my dad."

A second doctor's opinion about a month later offered hope. Then came three more surgeries, the last of which occurred a year ago and restored complete motion to his left hand.

He went to a park last April to try out the hand to see if the surgery had worked.

He doesn't remember if he made his first shot, but he took lots of shots and concluded, "I was ready to play."

Last week, the 6-foot-3 Franklin showed how far he has come, making eight three-pointers against San Juan Capistrano Serra, one shy of the school record. In the next game, he scored 21 points in a 74-61 victory over sixth-ranked Santa Margarita.

Franklin's performances leave little doubt that he's one of the top young basketball players in the Southland.

"He's amazing," teammate David Wear said.

Incredibly, Franklin's injury might have helped him become a better player because for two years he played basketball with only one hand. It helped the natural right-hander to develop close-to-perfect shooting form.

"I'm 100% sure it made him a better shooter," said his father, Gary Sr. "During that time, even during therapy or when his arm was in a sling, he'd be in the gym shooting for hours with one hand."

And now he can start developing his left hand.

"At first, I had no confidence in my left hand," he said. "Being able to come back and play with both is kind of a mental thing."

Mater Dei (20-0), ranked No. 2 in the Southland by The Times, has had plenty of successful point guards through the years, including Coach Gary McKnight's son, Clay, but few have displayed the offensive potential of Franklin. He can drill a three-pointer with a hand in his face.

"Oh man, he's really put it together," Santa Margarita Coach Jerry DeBusk said. "He's really kind of blossomed."

Even more important for Franklin was the realization that if sports don't play a role in his future, he needed academics to survive. The injury forced him to take his studies more seriously. His grades improved, and he has a 3.0 grade-point average.

"It was a wake-up call," he said.

Franklin lives in Inglewood. His father played basketball and football at Los Angeles Dorsey. Franklin grew up in South Los Angeles playing at local parks, where the competition was intense and serious.

"I love basketball," he said. "I can't come to a gym without putting up a few shots."

He said Mater Dei offered the opportunity to improve his academics while challenging himself athletically.

Now, with his health issues hopefully in the past, his future is in his hands.

"It's really been a fight back," his father said. "A lot of times I cried, even more than he's seen. It turned out to be a blessing."

It's a big weekend for high school boys' basketball. Tonight at Pauley Pavilion, the three-game Pangos Dream Classic will take place, with No. 5 North Hollywood Campbell Hall and UCLA-bound Jrue Holiday taking on 6-9 junior Derrick Favors and South Atlanta in the 9 p.m. featured game.

At 7:30 p.m., No. 9 Riverside King, led by an improving junior, 6-6 Kawlil Leonard, takes on No. 4 Compton Dominguez. At 6 p.m., Los Angeles Windward plays Long Beach Cabrillo.

Tickets are $10 general admission and $15 for floor seats.

Simi Valley scheduled a halftime ceremony to honor its 1988 Southern Section championship team, led by Don MacLean, during its Marmonte League game against Calabasas on Friday night.

--

eric.sondheimer@latimes.com

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