Wildcats eager for big weekend

If you’re a Franklin High School boys basketball fan, yes, it’s definitely a wear-your-red-and-black weekend.

The Wildcats will be at home against Valley View tonight in Southwestern Buckeye League Southwestern Division play, then they’ll travel to Kettering on Saturday to face HCYA in the Flyin’ to the Hoop showcase at Fairmont’s Trent Arena.

“We’re really focusing on Valley View, but we’ve got HCYA in the back of our minds,” Franklin coach Brian Bales said. “Win the next one is the only thing we ever say.”

Adding to the weekend’s significance is junior guard Luke Kennard’s assault on the Wildcat record book. He has 1,427 career points and trails just one player — his uncle, Todd Kennard, who has 1,434.

The school’s career rebounding record is also in immediate jeopardy. No. 1 is Jacob Rossi with 544 boards — Luke Kennard has 520.

First things first, according to Bales. Franklin is 10-2 overall and 6-0 in the SWBL Southwestern Division heading into its 7:30 p.m. contest against Valley View (4-6, 1-4).

The Wildcats possess a 30-game winning streak in their division, a fact that Bales acknowledges quietly.

“I don’t like to say it,” he said. “We don’t ever talk about it.”

Junior forward Evan Crowe said the players are a bit more vocal in regard to the streak.

“It means a lot, really,” Crowe said. “Everybody wants to beat Franklin. We’re everybody’s Super Bowl.”

HCYA — that’s short for Homeschool Christian Youth Association — wouldn’t mind beating Franklin. Indeed, the Warriors couldn’t do it last year at the Flyin’ to the Hoop, dropping a 79-65 decision.

The Saturday rematch is set for 6:45 p.m.

“We played about as well as we could play in that game last year,” Bales said. “After the game, as a coach, you think, ‘Boy, am I glad I don’t ever have to see Justin Jackson again.’ And then (Flyin’ president) Eric Horstman calls me and says we’re playing HCYA again.”

Jackson, a 6-foot-8, 200-pound forward, is among the top players in the Class of 2014. He’s committed to the University of North Carolina.

“Justin is long and he’s got some height, plus he’s actually very smooth,” HCYA coach Mike Decker said. “He’s not that long, goofy, uncoordinated-looking kid that you sometimes see when you’ve got the body type that he does.”

In the Warriors’ latest statistics, Jackson is averaging 31.3 points, 9.8 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 1.9 blocks and 1.0 steals per game.

Kennard, a 6-5 guard and one of the most highly regarded juniors in the country, is averaging 39.7 points, 10.3 boards, 4.2 assists and 2.2 steals per contest.

In last season’s matchup, Jackson and Kennard both scored 32 points.

“I know everybody thinks it’s going to be Luke and Justin, but I really think it’s going to come down to the other guys,” Bales said. “We’ll see what other guys on their team and our team can step up and provide good numbers.”

Crowe would be a higher-profile player on most other teams. He’s averaging 16.3 points, 6.4 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game, but those numbers don’t draw much attention when your teammate is Luke Kennard.

“I’m OK with it,” Crowe said. “We’ve always been best friends growing up. We’ve always played together. I love playing with him.

“He’ll get it to me for the open one and I’ll get it to him. We just keep feeding each other. Well, I might feed him a little more or he gets it on his own. He has to get his shots. He produces for what he takes, and we realize that.”

Bales said the Wildcats’ less-experienced players are getting better and better. He pointed to guys like Alan Watkins, Tyler Ross, Matt Thompson and Austin Doliboa.

“Doliboa … he’s coming, man. I think he’s close to really exploding as a player,” Bales said. “You’ve got to remember, Luke and Evan were our only two returning players. I’m really proud of the pieces we’ve been able to put together to make the puzzle good.”

Franklin will no doubt be challenged by HCYA, which hails from Houston, Texas. The Warriors are 19-6 and play a difficult schedule with a national flavor.

“They’ve been around. This ain’t their first rodeo on the big stage,” Bales said. “It’s crazy to think that the tape I’m using to scout them is my DVR off ESPN. Who would have ever thought Franklin High School would be scouting somebody that plays on ESPN?”

Said Crowe, “I love Flyin’ to the Hoop. I just love the atmosphere. It’s always a big crowd, I like Trent Arena, and you play good teams. It’s just a lot of fun.”

HCYA is a unique situation, starting with the fact that its roster is all homeschoolers. That roster has eight players on it, and only six play a lot.

“In my 20 years, what I’ve noticed is when kids sit on the bench, nobody’s happy,” Decker said. “As a coach, I’m not happy because I look into their little eyes and think, ‘I’d really like to get you in the game.’ Eight is about the perfect number if nobody’s hurt.

“With homeschoolers, it’s a volunteer organization. We don’t recruit these people. They just sign up to play. To me, the ideal roster is anywhere from eight to 10. When you get past 10, that’s when we start getting ready to do a second team.”

Jackson is HCYA’s headliner, but this is not a one-man show.

Junior wing Joshua Decker, sophomore point guard Elijah “Boogie” Lee, 6-3 senior forward Joshua Hughes and 6-6 freshman wing Jacobi Gordon are all averaging between seven and 12 points per game.

“Nobody’s going to be intimidated by our size,” Mike Decker said. “I would call us more of a scrappy team. We do have some quickness.

“A lot of our offense obviously goes through Justin, but we’ve got kids that can shoot. We’ve got kids that can drive to the basket. We’ve got a short bench, but at the end of the game, our kids are usually in better condition.”

Decker knows homeschooling isn’t for everybody, but he sees it as a consistent positive.

“For us, it’s what God called us to do,” Decker said. “I’ve been doing this ministry for 20 years, and I believe in homeschooling and not really basketball, if that makes any sense.

“We just choose to raise our kids differently. Our kids can talk to all people, young or old. It’s just a different caliber of kids, which is one of the things that makes our team successful. I’ve got high-character kids.”

HCYA will play two games at Trent this weekend. The Warriors will also meet Wayne on Sunday at 10 a.m.

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