By Jeff White (email@example.com)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — Ataira Franklin feared the worst, until she learned that the knee injury she’d suffered during a fall practice was minor and would require only arthoscopic surgery. Then there was no happier or more relieved person on Grounds.
“I can’t even describe it,” Franklin said during the UVa women’s basketball team’s media day Oct. 17.
“Honestly, the first person I went to and told was China, as soon as I got back from the doctor. And she was just like, ‘Whew.’ ”
Virginia point guard China Crosby knows more about knees than she would care to. In early January 2010, Crosby tore her left ACL, an injury that ended her freshman season prematurely. Then, about 10 months later, she hurt her left knee again. This time Crosby suffered a sprain and a severe bone bruise that sidelined her for nine games.
“Knee injuries are the worst,” Crosby said during media day at John Paul Jones Arena. “Everybody knows that. We were just praying and hoping that it was nothing serious with Ataira, and our prayers were answered.”
Franklin, a sophomore from Bowie, Md., recently returned to practice after having meniscus in her right knee repaired, and she may well be first-year coach Joanne Boyle’s top player in 2011-12. In ACC games last season, the 5-11 guard led the Wahoos in scoring (12.6 ppg) and rebounding (4.6). For the season, she averaged 9.4 points and 4.3 rebounds.
Franklin, whom the new coaching staff calls “Frankie,” shot a blistering 47.8 percent from 3-point range, made a team-high 43 treys, hit 82.8 percent of her free throws and was named to the ACC’s all-freshman team.
“She can be one of the best in this league,” Crosby said. “She proved herself last year as a freshman. She was one of the consistent players that we always had, and she brought it every day. She always gave us the defense, 3-pointers, and I’m excited to watch her this year.”
Boyle, who also has been head coach at Richmond and, most recently, California, said she’s found that players are “always at a different level when they come back their sophomore year. And then they’re at a different level when they come back their junior year.”
Franklin played 912 minutes last season, the most of any Cavalier, so she’s not a typical second-year player. There’s nothing average about her talent level, either. She’s athletic enough to guard three positions: point guard, shooting guard and small forward.
That Franklin, a graduate of Riverdale Baptist School in Upper Marlboro, Md., can be an elite shooter has been established. “The thing we’ve been working on the most with her is her footwork,” Boyle said. “Just trying to get her more efficient with her shot selection and getting to the rim. A lot of that is just her footwork.”
Franklin can also improve her ball-handling, Boyle said, and “I want her to be a great rebounding guard for us. With her versatility, I hope she can do a little bit more than just shoot the 3.”
From its 2010-11 team, UVa lost four players: Paulisha Kellum, Jayna Hartig and twins Whitny and Britny Edwards. With a college season on her résumé, Franklin said, her mentality has changed.
“I think more than anything, it’s just going into the games and realizing that my role on the team has grown since last year,” Franklin said. “I feel like throughout last year it was growing, and it was building up. I just feel like this year I’ll be more vocal and have to step up as a leader, and I feel like more than anything I can do on the court — scoring, defending, anything like that — that that will be a major thing.”
She’s outgoing by nature, Franklin said, and she wasn’t always sure in 2010-11 when to speak up and when to defer to her older teammates, “especially towards the end of the year, when my role had developed. A lot of the time the coaches would tell me, ‘I know you see this, just say it.’ Now I do feel more comfortable, just having that year under my belt.”
In its final season under Debbie Ryan, UVa finished 19-16 after losing in the WNIT quarterfinals. Boyle’s first team at Virginia has no freshmen and is projected to finish eighth in the ACC. The ‘Hoos aren’t particularly deep and they lack size in the frontcourt, but the players have embraced Boyle and her assistants, Cory McNeill, Kim McNeill and Katie O’Connor.
What stands out to her about the new coaches, Franklin said, is “their intensity, their passion. Everything is clear. What they expect from us. What they want from us. For the ACC, we’re a small team, but there’s no ‘You guys are small, so you can’t do this.’ It’s ‘This is how we’re going to play, this is how we’re going to run, this is how we’re going to defend and get it done.’ It’s just the fact that they feel confident in us, and they’re not relaxing our standards because of any other reasons. It builds confidence for us.”
UVa will play an exhibition game Saturday, Nov. 5, against Alaska Anchorage at JPJ. The season-opener is Friday, Nov. 11, when Appalachian State visits JPJ for a 7 p.m. game.