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The Aztecs are deeper and better, if not bigger. And their star is aiming higher

Jamaal Franklin's primary goal this season isn't what you might expect from a reigning Mountain West player of the year. The 6'5" junior guard is not bent on boosting his 17.4 points per game (first in the MWC), his 7.9 rebounds (fourth) or his 80.0% free throw shooting (fourth). Instead, after committing a team-high 95 turnovers last year (and handing out only 47 assists), Franklin is determined to lead the team in assist-to-turnover ratio.

When Franklin arrived on Montezuma Mesa two years ago, he had speed and hops—at Serrano High in Phelan, Calif., he had been a 7-foot high jumper—but he needed to improve his basketball fundamentals. After declining coach Steve Fisher's offer to redshirt, Franklin began emulating the work habits of then sophomore Kawhi Leonard, the biggest gym rat on the team. By the end of his freshman year Franklin was in the rotation. "He watches more film than anyone else on the team, and sometimes he's in the gym too much," says Fisher. "He is relentless, and he is so competitive, it rubs off on his teammates."

A secondary goal for Franklin: to force fewer shots. "I made a lot of tough ones last year, but I also missed a lot," says Franklin, who along with returning guards Chase Tapley and Xavier Thames scored 58.2% of San Diego State's 71.1 points per game in '11--12. Fisher will deploy Franklin all over the court. "We look for mismatches," he says. "Last year Jamaal benefited from the fact that we were small; he was guarded by a lot of fours he could outrun."

This year's Aztecs aren't much bigger—their tallest starter, senior DeShawn Stephens, is only 6'8"—but with three D-I transfers and three promising freshmen, they are deep, especially on the perimeter. "You can just swing the ball and wait for your time to come," Franklin says.

Which leads to Franklin's third goal: "Keep winning," he says. "If we win, everybody looks good, and it doesn't really matter who is scoring."

Tournament Tracker












Projected Starting Five

COACH Steve Fisher (14th season)

2011--12 RECORD 26--8

MOUNTAIN WEST 10--4 (T-1st)

WHAT'S BACK Minutes: 76.6% Points: 81.6% Rebounds: 70.3%


Returning starter

*2010--11 Utah stats

†High school stats

Telling Number

10 WINS in 13 games decided by six points or fewer last season, including four overtime games. The Aztecs have won 14 of their last 15 OT games, dating to Jan. 28, 2006.



JAMAAL FRANKLIN Once a raw recruit, he quickly refined his game, becoming a full-court performer and Mountain West player of the year.