Brewer State’s New Basketball Recruit: 6-8 and 37 Years Old
Gary Franks is 37 years old. He has two grown children and he works part time as a mobile home salesman.
And he’s about to become a college basketball player--again.
Eighteen years after he was a high school All-American at Fayette (Ala.) who went on to lead Auburn’s freshman team in scoring and rebounding, and 10 years since he last played organized ball, the 6-8 Franks has signed a scholarship to play at Brewer State Junior College in Fayette.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Franks said in a telephone interview. “It was just like dream I had wished would come true so many times in the past. I’d wake up out of the dreams and say, ‘aw, you’re just dreaming. There’s no way.’
“But then I found out I could and that set me on fire.”
Franks learned recently that he still was eligible to play NCAA Division II and NAIA basketball. Brewer State’s former head coach approached him about a scholarship, and with the encouragement of his close friend, Auburn University Coach Sonny Smith, Franks signed.
“I wanted to play for Sonny Smith at Auburn,” Franks said. “I love him . . . He motivated me to play.”
Smith said Franks wasn’t eligible for Division I because the NCAA’s five-year rule says a player’s eligibility ends five years after it starts.
“I told him if he felt like he could still play, he should go on and do it,” Smith said. “When he got off the phone he was fired up. I really hope everything works out for him.
“I think a man ought to do what he feels he can. Age is not a factor as long as he doesn’t let it be.”
Things were much easier for Franks in 1967, when he attracted more than 100 scholarship offers after leading his high school team to the state tournament for the second straight year.
In his senior year, he averaged 28.7 points and 14 rebounds a game. He was the most valuable player in the state tournament and was picked by the Birmingham Post-Herald as the state’s best player.
After getting scholarship offers from every Southeastern Conference school except Kentucky, Franks chose Auburn.
“I’ve always been an Auburn fan, ever since I was a little boy,” he said. “I used to listen to them on the radio.”
When he signed with Auburn, NCAA rules didn’t allow freshmen to play on the varsity squad. So Franks led the freshman team in scoring and rebounding, averaging 16.7 points and 12 rebounds per game.
The problem was, he didn’t care about school. He dropped out in 1968.
“Maybe I wasn’t mature enough to go to school,” he admits now. “I was great in athletics. I started every game. I really enjoyed that part of it.
“I just did not want to go to school and discipline myself enough to study. I wanted to go out on the town and party. I didn’t see where I needed the education.”
Franks drifted through several jobs before latching on with a mobile home company. Last year, he worked as a volunteer assistant basketball coach at his old high school. That job that led to his rebirth as a player.
“I volunteered because I wanted to help out the program,” he said. “I practiced with them every day.
“My wife had been on me about going back to school, so I enrolled in night classes at Brewer. When I enrolled, they inquired about my eligibility to play, and I told them I didn’t think I had any left.”
Dick Anderson, former Brewer head coach Dick Anderson and a longtime friend, checked and found Franks was still eligible. Anderson talked coach Bobby Hathcock into giving the “old man” a scholarship.
Franks admits his biggest obstacle now is physical conditioning.
“On a (conditioning) scale of one to 10, I’d say I’m a four,” he said.
But he works out at local gyms daily, many times alone. And after 20 years, his heart still burns with the desire to play.
“It’s tough to compete at any level at 37, but I still think I can do it,” he said. “If I get in shape, I think I can play. I have to play. Nobody’s ever attempted it. They say I can’t do it. I think I can.”
Franks hopes to use his year at Brewer as a springboard to a bigger school. He also looks on it as an opportunity to complete his education and improve his chances of fulfilling his other dream, to coach in college.
“I figure all the knowledge I can accrue, playing, coaching, teaching, will give me that many more credentials to offer,” he said.
Formal practice starts in October. Franks will be the tallest player on the team--and in some ways, the new kid on the block with something to prove.