FRISCO, Texas – Professional athletes characterize their college years in various ways, but Robert Franks describes his four seasons at Washington State in rather unique fashion.
“I look at it like a butterfly growing,” said Franks, 23, on a two-way contract with the NBA’s Charlotte Hornets. “My first two years were sluggish. I didn’t really play. I had to improve on a lot of things.
“My junior and senior year, I kind of blossomed into the player that I worked hard in the summer for. It was a great learning experience, knowing how to work, knowing how to compete and knowing what it takes day in and day out.”
The Seattle native was a Cougar from 2015-19 but didn’t hear his name called during the 2019 NBA draft last June. He landed with Charlotte, inking a two-way deal with the Hornets, an arrangement where he will spend the bulk of his rookie season with their NBA G League affiliate in Greensboro, North Carolina, and can log a maximum of 45 days in the NBA.
Just 92 miles separate the G League’s Swarm and the Hornets, which affords Franks ample opportunities to practice with the NBA team and to immerse himself in what life in the NBA is like.
“The time with the practices, the film sessions, it’s been great, because I’ve been all ears,” he said. “I’ve been ready to learn every time I’m up. You always want to be up, so when you get there, you’re all focus. You’re 100 percent locked in. You’re ready to go.”
Franks has appeared in 20 games for the Swarm, with 14 starts, and is averaging 19.4 points. 5.6 rebounds and 1.4 assists per game in just over 32 minutes per contest. He admits the level of competition in the G League has been quite impressive.
“It’s been great competition. You’re talking about guys trying to play in the NBA,” Franks said. “Every night is a battle. Every night feels like a playoff game. That’s something I love as a competitor, just to compete with guys who have that same ultimate goal as you, to be up in the NBA.”
One important aspect of a two-way contract is being ready at a moment’s notice to head to the Hornets. A prime example came on Jan. 7 when Franks, who was expecting to practice with the Swarm that day, was called to practice with Charlotte.
It’s all part of the deal for this ex-Cougar, who won’t complain.
“The experience has been tremendous. You can get called up at any time,” Franks said. “You’re down in the G League to develop, to compete every day. It’s been a journey so far, but a good one, testing my mental and physical focus every day. Just trying to learn and get better each and every day is something that I work for.”
Franks has done some good things in the G League, but one thing which has eluded him as a rookie is making his NBA debut. The WSU product hopes to experience that before the 82-game NBA regular season concludes in April.
“I don’t know what my NBA debut is going to be like. All I know is I’m going to be ready, and I’m going to be confident that I’m ready to go,” he said. “Whatever happens, happens, but I’m going to be a very confident man on that court.”
Franks is content to ply his basketball trade in the G League with the Swarm while practicing occasionally with the Hornets and doing all he can so that he will be ready once he does get that much-anticipated summons to Charlotte.
Such patience is a lesson he learned well during his four seasons in Pullman.
“My four years at WSU really helped me to be a pro. I thought that as a freshman I was going to play, I was going to do this and that,” Franks said. “But I had to be patient, and now I have that resiliency down to know to just be patient, keep working, the opportunity is going to unfold for you. You just got to wait. You always got to be working. You always got to be ready at any time.”
Reaching and sticking in the NBA remain the goal for this young forward, so Franks continues learning all he can about what it takes to not only excel in the G League, but also how to parlay that success into a shot at minutes in the NBA.
Once he reaches the NBA, he’ll take great pride in representing WSU with pride, as Warriors star Klay Thompson, recovering from a knee injury, has done so well with Golden State.
“He’s a big inspiration to me. To see what he did his three years at WSU was phenomenal, and where he’s taken his game at the next level has been incredible as well,” Franks said. “For me to just have that guy in my backyard, that we went to the same school and he came out on top, it just gives me so much more confidence to do the same.”
Stephen Hunt is a freelance writer based in Frisco, Texas.
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