ASHEVILLE, N.C. — On several occasions already this year, Indiana coach Archie Miller has talked about how much fun this Hoosiers team is to be around. They work hard, they like each other, and they care about winning, something we haven't been able to say very often the past several years.
He'll never go so far as to single out his favorite player because he truly likes this group from top to bottom. But he got caught calling sophomore guard Armaan Franklin "my man'' on Wednesday after Indiana's impressive 79-63 win over Stanford in the third-place game of the Maui Invitational.
Franklin is a worker, and he can "run all day.'' He's that third guard in the starting lineup for a reason, and on Wednesday he proved why. He literally did it all. He scored 13 points, his third career double-digit game, and grabbed eight rebounds and had five assists, both career highs.
He also shut down Stanford's best player, five-star freshman Ziaire Williams, who was 1-for-10 from the field and only scored four points. Franklin dogged him all day long, quite literally. Franklin never came off the floor, playing all 40 minutes, the first time any Hoosier has done that this year.
"I asked him about three or four times if he needed a blow and he's like, 'nope, I'm good, I don't need a blow.' " Miller said. "To me, he's growing up, getting bigger, older, stronger. He's a good player and when he plays like that today, we're good.
"He's becoming one of the best defenders we have. He's guarding bigger players, smaller players, all over the floor. He's accountable right now.''
Franklin is 6-foot-4, and has put on about 10-15 pounds of muscle this year. He's a workout fiend, and you can tell that on the court. He simply "looks'' different.
A year ago, Franklin averaged about 13 minutes a game, and scored 3.7 points per outing. The Indianapolis native had his best moments back at home, scoring 17 points and hitting the game-winner against Notre Dame in he Crossroads Classic and getting 13 in the Hoosiers' final game of the year, the win over Nebraska in the Big Ten Tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
When Indiana went to a three-guard set, rebounding was going to be a concern. Franklin is basically replacing Justin's Smith minutes at the 3-spot. Franklin had 20 rebounds during the three games in Asheville. (By the way, Smith, who transferred to Arkansas, averaged 5.2 rebounds a game.)
“One of the things I love about Armaan right now is a year ago at this time, I was begging him to rebound. I was begging him to mix it up and get dirty,” Miller said. “And my man has, I think, eight rebounds today, and in this tournament I’m almost positive he’s come up with 18 defensive rebounds at the guard spot for us. He’s averaging six defensive rebounds. That’s just a complete change in his makeup.
“He can run all day, He was our preseason strength-and-conditioning award winner as a true freshman. He’s in incredible shape and now, he’s 12, 13 pounds heavier, and he’s a year older. He’s the guy, every day, that I don’t worry about,” Miller said.
Franklin picked up the slack with Al Durham out, too. The senior guard injured an ankle during the loss to Texas on Tuesday, and did not play against Stanford. Playing 40 minutes was no issue for Franklin, and neither was drawing the tough defensive assignment of shutting down Williams, who's a potential lottery pick.
“They just gave me the assignment,” Franklin said. “I just locked in on him, didn’t give him easy looks. I told myself to get physical, and don't get blown by. He did have a pretty sizable size advantage, but at the end of the day, it’s just all heart.”
Franklin has plenty of that.
"That's a drastic, stark difference from a year ago at this time,'' Miller said. "He went through the battles. He's worked. Armaan is a physically-conditioned athlete. He can run all day. He was our preseason strength and conditioning award winner as true freshman. He's in incredible shape and now he's 12, 13 pounds heavier and he's a year older. He's a very important piece to what we're doing here.''
Franklin has such a calm demeanor, and he's the same, good days or bad. Miller sees it, but he also thinks he'll grow into that, too. After all, he just turned 20 years old two weeks ago.
'With Armaan, even in today's great game and after the game, he kind of stays the same,'' Miller said. "We would like to see a little more emotion out of him and we'll try very hard to keep pulling that out of him, but I think he showed today, and in this tournament in general, how important he is to our team.''
There's no doubt about that. Miller knows what he has inside in Trayce Jackson-Davis and Race Thompson, who've been spectacular at times already this season. Jackson-Davis had 31 points, a career high. it's on the perimeter where the great unknowns exist. Franklin, who's growing up quickly, is being asked to do a lot, and that's just fine with him.
Wednesday's performance should be a huge confidence booster for Franklin. That's why playing in a tournament like this is so important for the Hoosiers. They faced three quality foes in three days, beating Providence and Stanford and losing to Texas. He played great, and maybe that carries over to better perimeter shooting, too. Indiana needs that from Franklin as well.
They saw a lot, and they learned a lot. You can't replicate any of that in practice. Maybe Jackson-Davis' 31 made it easy to overlook what Franklin did, but Miller noticed, and I noticed in person and you noticed on TV, if you blocked out all that noise.
Indiana got better during these three days inside the bubble in Asheville. Armaan Franklin got better, too.
And that's a very good thing going forward.