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New WGH coach Franklin finds style

WARREN — When Keelyn Franklin took over the Warren G. Harding basketball program in May, he had to devise a philosophy that would re-energize a team coming off a tough season.

The former Raider didn’t have to look far to find his style.

Franklin is creating his own system by blending the principles he learned from former Harding coaches — and mentors — Steve Arnold and Andy Vlajkovich.

“It’s kind of a mix between how it was when I played under coach Arnold and how coach V (Vlajkovich) coached,” said Franklin, who replaced Gabe Bubon after he coached one season. “We try to mix in a lot of toughness type things. We demand a lot out of our kids as far as conditioning and putting them in a lot of defensive drills, which is what we did with coach Arnold. To add in how we were with coach V, he was one of the better offensive minds that I’ve ever been around.

“So, I try to add in that toughness aspect, and then on the offensive end running some really good stuff to put our kids in position to be successful. … It’s kind of a weird dynamic from what I played in and also what I know as a coach. I try to mesh those two together.”

Franklin likes the results thus far.

The 2007 Harding graduate said the Raiders are showing the commitment needed to bounce back from a strange 12-11 season. Harding beat talent-rich Garfield Heights and played toe-to-toe with other impressive Division I teams. It also lost to Howland for the first time in years and then dropped a first-round tournament game to a Cleveland John Adams team that had six total players.

Franklin believes the leadership and overall talent of players like D’Muntize Owens, the leading returner scorer, and Aston Bates, among others, will help them be more consistent.

Owens agrees.

“The past is the past, you can’t get it back,” said Owens, a 5-foot-11 senior guard who averaged 16 points per game last year. “This season is going to be this season and whatever we put into it.”

Owens has put a lot into it already.

He spent the offseason in the weight room, bulking up what was a smaller frame that often got redirected in the paint. After losing leading scorer Dom McGhee, more of an onus will be on Owens to score and lead an inexperienced team. He does have some help.

Bates, a 6-4 forward, was a key player last year, and Franklin said he, too, has made huge strides in the weight room. Senior Chris Williams, a 6-1 guard, transferred back to Harding from John F. Kennedy, and junior point guard DeAveion Burgess adds more experience as he started several games last year for the Raiders.

Senior Tye Pennington and sophomore Johnny Graham are sharp-shooting guards, and Ty Artis (5-10 senior guard), Kamare Evans (6-0 senior guard) and Emari Burgess (5-10 junior guard) will play significant minutes as well. Big man Marqualyn Spencer, a junior center, is the Raiders’ tallest player at 6-7 and will be relied on heavily inside.

“We’re pretty deep,” Franklin said. “We’re going to be a more guard-oriented team, but the good thing is that a lot of our guards like to get in the paint. It’s not like we have a ton of guards that just want to sit on the perimeter. They’re aggressive, and we do have a good mix. Aston has really developed his body. He’s going to be our best finisher, and with Marqualyn down there in the paint, we’ll be OK. We’re deep, but we’re definitely guard heavy.”

Talent isn’t the concern for Franklin.

His focus is more centered on work ethic and leadership. Those are the other traits he picked up from his former mentors, and they’re as important as any drills or in-game strategies, he said. A strict approach at practice and a continued emphasis on bringing energy on a daily basis may be the winning formula for the Raiders.

“The challenge I give them is to come in with energy and effort and compete every day in practice,” Franklin said. “We have the pieces to do something special this year. We have the pieces to make a run, but (they) have to understand what it takes day-in and day-out in practice. The days when no one is in the stands and the days when you want to be lax, they need to understand that every day we have to get better. If we continue to do that, we can really surprise some people this year.”

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