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A love affair with NMMI that never ends

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Growing up in the projects of Houston, Texas, Reggie Franklin was taught to dream big and to love God by his mother, Olevia. She instilled in him a work ethic and a belief that education would be the key to turning his life around.

Franklin didn’t bloom into a superstar overnight; he was a substitute off the bench his senior year. His coach had a rule that if you missed practice you didn’t start.

As a senior at Yates High School, he was the sixth man for most of the year. The guy starting in front of him missed practice and Franklin got the start, scoring 19 points and 10 rebounds and never sat on the bench again.

Franklin played well enough to receive his only scholarship offer to college: New Mexico Military Institute in 1975. His mother asked him, “Do you know what you’re getting yourself into?” Franklin told her he did.

NMMI as a student

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The military wasn’t a strange thing to him, his family had worn the uniform. He thought about going into the military and joining ROTC.

Franklin wanted to see how good he could be in basketball. He improved so much after his first semester that he knew he could get a scholarship and play at the next level.

When Franklin walked into his room the very first day on campus, his roommate was on his knees polishing the doorknob with Brasso and a cotton ball. Franklin knew he would have to get used to a different lifestyle. He would end up waxing floors with a buffer.

Franklin played for coach Gary Cardinal his freshman year. Cardinal pushed outside conditioning on the track as they ran miles for time. Their style of play was to push the ball if they had the break, if not they were a disciplined team that set it up for the best shot possible.

During his freshman year at NMMI, they played Western Texas, a team that won the national championship the year before. NMMI played them for the Wool Bowl championship.

The day before the game, Franklin and his teammates walked into McDonald’s with their uniforms on, and the Western players started laughing at them.

Franklin said that incident made him and his teammates so mad that NMMI won the game by 17 points. Franklin was named the Most Valuable Player of the tournament.

Franklin played at 6-foot-5 and was considered a Charles Barkley type player. His game was from the free-throw line in. He played with his back to the basket and was a quick, fast forward who could jump.

NMMI would beat Western Texas three times his freshman year and end up finishing in second place. NMMI lost in the regional finals by one point to McLennan Community College, a team that had Vinnie “Microwave” Johnson on it.

“I got in great condition for coach Cardinal,” Franklin said. “He taught us about team concepts. We had five guys in double figures. That made me see, that was the way it should be.”

Second year at NMMI

In his second year, his coach was Dave “Soupy” Campbell did everything in the gym. He wanted to push the ball up and down the court. They did a lot of scrimmaging — the team ran a lot and Campbell would give them a one-minute break to simulate game situations.

Franklin said one of his favorite memories in his sophomore year was against Western Texas. Campbell came up with an offense called “Oklahoma,” in which they held the ball running the four corners offense. At the end of the game, Franklin was fouled and hit two free throws to win the game.

Franklin says that both Cardinal and Campbell were good coaches, but both did things completely different. Franklin played well enough to earn first-team All-Conference and All-Region as a sophomore.

Franklin said that taught him there is more than one way to do something and be successful. “I took that opportunity NMMI gave me and made the best of it. I put all of my heart and soul into it as a cadet. I was a model cadet, a decent student and I had a great time being there.”

Globetrotters

Reggie Franklin played for the Harlem Globetrotters from 1979 to 1981. (Submitted Photo)

Heavily recruited, his decision would come down to Baylor and Southern Methodist University. Having grown up watching the Southwestern Athletic Conference, as soon as he visited SMU, Franklin felt at home and committed there. Franklin was named captain as a senior and garnered second-team All Southwest Conference as a senior.

At SMU, Franklin played center at 6-foot-5. He faced great competition against players such as: Sidney Moncrief at Arkansas, Rolando Blackman at Kansas State, Duke’s Gene Banks, and Jim Spanarkel. He played against Darnell Valentine from Kansas, Magic Johnson, Greg Kelser from Michigan State, and Rick Robey from Kentucky.

“I never cared about how good someone else was,” Franklin said. “I wanted to show people how good I was. I loved competition.”

The Harlem Globetrotters had watched Franklin play in college. Former Globetrotter Marques Haynes, who lived in Dallas would speak to Franklin after the games. After SMU’s season-ending loss in his senior year, Franklin sat on the bench crying. His coach asked him why he was crying. Franklin told him that might have been his last game. The coach told him the Globetrotters were there to see him play six-time.

The Globetrotters’ tryout was two-a-days for five days, and it was tough. There were five spots available to make the team with 40 guys invited to tryout for the team.

“The Globetrotters’ tryout,” Franklin said, “was worse than any college practice I had been in.”

Franklin played with Curly Neal and Hubert “Geese” Ausbie. There were two ‘Trotter teams, one in the states and the other played International games.

Franklin made the team and would play 300 games a year. The schedule was strenuous, and at times he would play back-to-back games and sometimes doubleheaders in major cities. Traveling to 49 out of the 50 states and over 20 countries were some of the most exciting times for Franklin.

After two years (1979-1981) with the team, Franklin was asked to take a pay cut. He told them, no thank you, knowing he had a college degree to fall back on. Franklin started his coaching career.

What Franklin learned from his time with the Globetrotters was professionalism. How to take care of his body, how to eat right, and get his rest. He learned how to dress, but most importantly, how to treat people. The one thing he remembers his contract saying was, do not do anything to embarrass the name of the Harlem Globetrotters.

Coaching

Franklin said he first knew when he’d be a coach in second grade. When he was 8 years old, he was involved in Big Brothers-Little Brothers. His big brother was a football coach at Texas Southern University.

The coach picked him up one day and took him to his house. Franklin said it was the nicest home he had ever seen an African American own.

He said the coach took him to practice, and Franklin saw how the coaches talked to the players and it changed his life. He began to think he could make a living as a coach.

During his sophomore year at NMMI, coach Campbell used to sit on the bus and talk to him after the game. Campbell would ask him about strategy, and what he thought turned the game around.

After leaving the Globetrotters, Franklin ended up coaching at Midland Junior College. While buying a car in Dallas, he met Dallas Mavericks’ general manager, Rick Sund.

Sund offered him a contract to tryout, but Franklin had just signed a contract to coach at Midland in 1981. Franklin decided to honor his word. In his four years as an assistant coach, he would recruit such talent such as Mookie Blaylock and Spud Webb, while helping Midland coach Jerry Stone win a national championship in 1981-82. 

Franklin moved to Lafayette, Louisiana to become the assistant coach at the University of Southwestern Louisiana, now known as the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. He also learned a lot under head coach Marty Fletcher. After one season, Midland asked him to return where he was head coach.

Finally his own man, Franklin said he took the reins at Midland from 1987-91, where he was successful. He said he had a down year in ‘91 going 18-12, it was the year his father died. After the season, Midland did not renew his contract.

24 years at NMMI

Franklin was deciding on becoming an assistant coach at Missouri or joining the FBI. Out of the blue, he received a call from NMMI athletic director Col. Richard “Lefty” Stecklein and asked if he was interested in being the head coach at NMMI.

Stecklein told Franklin, “We are family here, and we take care of family. I think you ought to come over here.”

Franklin said when he came here, Stecklein told him that he was looking for someone to build the program up and not stay a long time. Franklin stayed 16 years as a head coach, two years as an alumni director and four years as the athletic director.

He said one of his toughest losses as a coach at NMMI was in the last game of the year at home against Howard College. NMMI was up by one point. The only thing they had to do was block out and grab the rebound.

The shooter missed the free throw, and Howard rebounded the ball and put it back in to score and win the game. That loss cost NMMI the playoffs.

Franklin said his overall contribution to his players and for NMMI is much more than his win-loss record. He said he cares more about his players than winning a game.

“When I die, I don’t want nobody crying,” Franklin said. “I want my best friends to talk about how much fun we had. I want my players to be able to tell the stories they want to tell. I want the world to know I had fun. I tried to love everyone and treat everyone with respect.”

For Franklin, he said the journey has been worth it. He said he would sum up his life and career as the best decision he ever made, coming to NMMI as a student, and becoming a coach, administrator and athletic director.

As a coach for NMMI, Franklin was named Western Junior College Athletic Conference Coach of the Year in 1997-98 and in 2001-02.

“All I wanted my players to understand is that I cared about them,” Franklin said. “No matter how strict and mean they thought I was, I cared about them and wanted them to grow up to be men.”

Sports editor J.T. Keith can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 304, or sports@rdrnews.com.

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