Sunday, February 25, 2007

Waiting for the start of today's Badger basketball game and remembering Joe Franklin, the Central alumnus who was a Badger star 40 years ago

There are two things on the minds of many Madison-area residents today: snow and basketball. About seven inches of snow fell Friday night. I'm still waiting to hear how much snow fell last night -- and whether or not there's any more on the way.

I spent a good part of the day ensconced at home, doing research on this weekend's other big story. But my attention wasn't on Alando Tucker and the Badger basketball team that will meet the Buckeyes this afternoon. I was pulling together information about a Central alumnus who was a UW basketball star more than 40 years ago, even though he was about 40 pounds lighter and four inches shorter than Tucker: Joe Franklin (CHS Class of 1964, shown here in a photo probably taken for the Tychoberahn in 1963).

Just how good was Joe when he played for Central? Here's what Madison East High School basketball coach Verlyn Belisle told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in 2005 when it compiled a list of the 150 best high school basketball players in Wisconsin: "Maybe the best player we played against... Man alive! There was nobody who could play with that guy. If he would have played in a system where he had more freedom, he would have been unstoppable. You put him on the court with anybody we’ve named, he’d take them. He’d be too quick. Oh, could he jump!"

After high school, Joe went on to play for the Badgers, where he earned team Most Valuable Player honors in 1967 and 1968, and was a unanimous first-team All-Big Ten selection in 1968, when he scored a school-record 544 points (22.7 average). You can read more about his remarkable basketball career at the UW-Madison on the official Badger Athletics web site.

Back in 1997, when the Badgers were about to abandon the UW Field House for the new Kohl Center, Wisconsin State Journal columnist George Hesselberg shared some of his memories of attending basketball games at the Field House, including this one from the very first game he attended there:

I think Rick Mount played for Purdue the first time I went to a basketball game at the Field House. I sat in a parachute seat with the rest of the juniors and seniors on our high school basketball team.

Mount was the star, but my eyes were on Joe Franklin, the best basketball player ever to play for Wisconsin. Franklin and a teammate named Jimmy Johnson jumped higher than I had ever seen a basketball player jump. On rebounds, I could almost look him eye to eye, and I was sitting in the second balcony.

Here's what the Wisconsin Alumnus magazine (Volume 69, Number 7) had to say about Joe in April 1968:

In 1988, Joe Franklin was inducted into the Madison Sports Hall of Fame.

What's this illustrious Madison Central High School and University of Wisconsin alumnus up to today? Intrepid researcher that I am, I think I know the answer to that question. But I want to be sure I'm correct before I bring you that update. So, like me, you'll have to wait until Joe replies to the e-mail I sent him this weekend.

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