QUICKSBURG – Kylene Franklin had a stellar varsity basketball career, but it all started when she was a fifth-grader hanging out at varsity basketball practices.
Franklin, whose father Jerry was the longtime wrestling coach, started practicing with the girls varsity basketball team, along with her younger sister Bre, while they waited for their dad's practices to end.
Kylene Franklin, The Northern Virginia Daily's 2021 Girls Basketball Player of the Year, said she was intimidated practicing with girls who were as much as seven years older than she was.
"With me being such a short girl, especially me at that age, I was so small compared to these big girls who were all big and strong," Kylene Franklin said. "But with how open I am I was able to kind of put myself out there. I do feel like those older girls were getting annoyed with me here and there having this little kid. But I also feel like they saw me as just another athlete and was able to put me underneath their wings, like 'hey, we can help you out here.' But it was definitely terrifying knowing that I had girls seven years older than me that were over here playing basketball and I'm this little fifth-grader who's half their size."
That year was also the first year Kylene Franklin had ever played organized basketball as she chose to wrestle up until her fifth-grade year.
The 5-foot-3 senior point guard said that having that basketball experience at such a young age helped make her the player she is now.
"Getting that varsity experience it helped me in different ways," Kylene Franklin said. "It either helped me with my ball handling, knowing that I had to be quick. And I feel like that's where I got my quickness from. Knowing that at a young age that these girls are so much faster even though they were older than me. It made me work harder knowing that 'hey, I've got to be faster. I've got to be stronger.' And I feel like at that young age it just started me knowing that I needed to develop more on my physical athletic ability."
Stonewall Jackson coach Jeff Burner said that even in fifth grade he could tell she was going to be special.
"We just knew that she was really athletic," Burner said. "She was always in the gym and you'd catch her over there. You know this kid comes in, 'do you mind if I shoot on the side baskets?' And then before you know it she's practicing with you and doing all these things with you. Sometimes when I think back about things – like what we do. I made her run sprints with the team and do all those pushups, do all those things."
Throughout her career Kylene Franklin has had many accomplishments. As a freshman, she helped lead the Generals to the Class 1 state semifinals. Three of her four seasons she made the All-State team and has been chosen to the first team All-Region team all four seasons.
This season, Kylene Franklin reached another special accomplishment as she scored her 1,000th point.
"I'm so blessed to be able to do that," she said. "It's not just the girls that I'm playing with now, it's the girls that I played with as a freshman that helped me get there to where I was. And I also am thankful for the girls that I've been playing with for the past few years. They've helped me and got me better at my shot, knowing when I needed to take those shots. And these girls that I've been playing with since I've started every single one of them, I'm thankful for them and what they've done for me. They've helped make me who I am along with Burner. He helps with my shot every day."
Kylene Franklin finished her career with 1,114 points. She finished 16th all-time in Shenandoah County history and eighth all-time in Stonewall Jackson history despite a shortened season this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"That obviously means a lot to me," Kylene Franklin said. "And that makes me have faith in myself and know that I've put all my effort in. And honestly, it's kind of like a relief because I know that all that hard work that I put in every summer and every day during open gyms and every day during practices that it paid off. And honestly, I feel like if these younger girls would hear how an outcome could come from working so hard, then I feel like these younger girls can feel motivated just the way that I did just from looking up to those older girls."
While the last three years have been solid for Kylene Franklin, she said she felt like this was her best year.
"I personally feel like this year was my best year with my assists," she said. "I feel like my court vision was there, like it was connected more with the other girls. I feel like I was able to see more than I have in the past. In the past, I feel like I wouldn't see things in the eyes of how I do now. And I feel like my shooting definitely got better and that's all thanks to Burner and the girls."
Franklin averaged 11.1 points, 5.3 rebounds, 3 assist and an area-best 2.7 steals per game for the Generals this season.
Burner said one of her best games was against Clarke County on Feb. 5. Kylene Franklin came close to a triple-double and wasn't far from a quadruple-double. She finished with 13 points, eight assists, eight rebounds and six steals.
"She played an incredible all-around game," Burner said. "She just did a lot of things really well in that game. Now, she turned the ball over some in that game too, but she just did a lot of really good things. It felt like she was always in control of the game."
The Generals finished the season 7-5, with three of their losses coming to eventual Class 2 state champion Luray.
Kylene Franklin said that she feels like the team had a successful season.
"I honestly was very impressed with the outcome of how our season ended," she said. "Obviously, I wanted more and we all wanted more but I think with how we played, I think we got the outcome that we deserved. We worked hard from the beginning, before the season even started. Girls were coming to open gyms, and we were hustling our butts off. Even though we couldn't do certain things we worked with what we had."
Burner, The Northern Virginia Daily's 2021 Coach of the Year, said one of the things that Kylene Franklin has improved on from her freshman year has been her leadership. He said her work ethic also sets the tone for the rest of the team.
"Probably the biggest thing she's done is just the example she sets by how hard she plays all the time and how hard she practices," Burner said. "If our kids picked up anything else I hope that's the biggest thing. She just plays hard all the time and that's the way she is in practice too. If we're doing a drill that's the way she goes. And I think that's sort of just the expectation when your best player does that."
Kylene Franklin will be attending Concord University in the fall and playing for the women's soccer team. She said that even though her basketball career has come to an end she is pleased with how she and her teammates did.
"Honestly, there's different ways that I wish certain things would have turned out," she said. "Like my freshman year I wish that we could have gone all the way to the state championship. But like I said, you got to be happy with what you get and I am. I am so happy with everyone that I got to experience it with. Every single girl that I've ever played with. Knowing that it's over it's sad, but at the same time looking back on it I know that I had the best four years of my life."