Long after Dani Franklin has made her last basket or grabbed her last rebound for the Valparaiso women’s basketball team the impact of what she has meant to the program won’t soon be forgotten.
Franklin’s name will be scattered all over the record books where she currently ranks in the top 10 in program history in 11 statistical categories while ranking second in scoring (1,689 points) and fifth in rebounding (705).
Franklin began her career being named the Horizon League Freshman of the Year and she capped off her final regular season by being named to the Missouri Valley Conference First Team, becoming the first Valparaiso player to earn all-league recognition in eight years.
“Statistically it’s immeasurable, but they’ll find a way with the numbers,” Valparaiso assistant coach Justin Rees said. “We’ll put some plaques up for her; her number should be retired. She’s been a building block for us the last four years”
The numbers aren’t the only thing that will stand out after Franklin plays her final career game, which could come on Thursday afternoon when Valparaiso opens up its first year in Hoops in the Heartland, the annual Missouri Valley Conference tournament in Moline, Illinois. The Crusaders (12-17) will take on Loyola (7-22) at the TaxSlayer Center. Franklin will play in her 120th game on Thursday, tying Hebron product Lauren Bechtold and two others for fifth in program history.
Rees will coach the Crusaders on Thursday after it was announced that Valparaiso head coach Tracey Dorow was taking a medical leave of absence and would not be available for the conference tournament. Rees has been Franklin’s primary position coach and has seen firsthand how much the Iowa native has meant to the program.
“I’m not even sure (her impact) can even be put into words,” Valparaiso assistant coach Justin Rees said. “The best way I can put it is she is the example of what Valparaiso wants to put out there as a student-athlete. She’s a champion in the classroom, champion on the floor and a champion in her character.”
Despite the fact that her career could end at any moment over the next several days, Franklin is keeping a clear head. She, along with fellow senior Georgi Donchetz, have kept a loose attitude in the practices leading up to departing for Moline while trying to continue to teach their younger teammates.
“It hasn’t really hit me that this could be our last game,” Franklin said. “I’m just focused on not letting that happen and we’re pumped up to go win as many games as we can and keep this going. Georgi and I have been the building blocks and we’ve just tried to grow each year.”
Franklin’s growth has developed off the court this year just as it has on the court. The senior has been splitting her time between playing basketball and teaching second-grade students at Heavilin Elementary School in Valparaiso. The hours have been long and the days have been grueling, but Franklin is pushed by the smiles or her students or the laughs of her teammates.
“It hasn’t been easy, but I’ve loved every moment of teaching,” Franklin said. “It’s a different aspect of my life. I don’t know if I’ll go into coaching or if I’ll play professional basketball after college, but I know that I’ll be a teacher eventually.”
While the wins haven’t always been there for the Crusaders during the last four years, the team has gotten better each season while following Franklin’s lead. Whether it’s the Valparaiso coaching staff, her teammates or her second-grade students, Franklin has left a strong impact on anyone near her during her Valparaiso career.
“She does the right thing and makes good choices,” Dorow said in a statement last week. “Nobody expects perfection, but they don’t come any better than Dani Franklin.”