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Staying true to herself key for ‘KB’

5th-year guard Zakiyah Franklin gets buckets while assisting with staying the course & trusting the process

5 min read
Kansas senior Zakiyah Franklin drives hard to the rim during the Jayhawks' home win over Baylor earlier this season. [Chance Parker photos]

Her coach gave her the nickname “KB” — for Kiyah Buckets — when, headed into ninth grade, she scored at ease against high school players at a teen camp.

“And ever since then it kind of stuck,” said Zakiyah Franklin, the starting Kansas guard who grew up in Lakeland, Florida and played basketball at Winter Haven High School.

Throughout her Kansas career, Franklin has been “a bucket,” as hoopers are now wont to say, and most everyone calls her KB at KU.

She’s been a constant presence in the backcourt since her freshman season in 2019-2020 and on Saturday night, in a key road win at BYU, she eclipsed 1,800 points for her college career, making her just the seventh Jayhawk in program history to reach that mark.

Long before she ever scored her first bucket at Kansas, Franklin decided to grace Lawrence with her reserved nature and offensive prowess right after an official visit during her junior year of high school. She liked that head coach Brandon Schneider was upfront, honest and always himself.

“Whenever he was talking to me, it wasn't him promising me anything,” Franklin said. She appreciated that. She also wanted to be a part of the effort Schneider and staff were making to transform the program for the better.

“I wanted to be a part of something like that and just be able to play immediately and just be an immediate impact,” she said.

By most any measure, KB has been impactful throughout her career as a Jayhawk.

“I'm able to see the floor — very easy,” Franklin said. “I think I've been able to be a playmaker as well, being that I'm able to score.”

She prides herself on being able to both create her shot and create for others. The record books are a testament to her ability to do both. The 5-foot-8 Franklin is in the KU program’s Top 10 in scoring, 3-pointers made, and free throws made, but she’s also fourth all-time in the dime-dropping category.

Franklin describes herself as a “smooth, steady, combo guard” who aims to be aggressive and get downhill to use her handle to break down the defense. Yet, she also tries to read what opponents throw at her and take what the opposing team gives her.

Lately, she’s been concentrating on getting into the lane, getting to the line and taking the shots she’s given and, as box scores attest, accustomed to making.

But while accomplishing the above, Franklin also makes plays and finds her fellow Jayhawks for quality shots, like she did in the KU win against TCU on February 3.

A few days after the game, she said she was able to get into the paint without too much difficulty for a while, and then the Horned Frogs made some adjustments to prevent her from pouring in the points. Franklin, who shot 2-of-3 from beyond the 3-point arc and finished with 10 points and six assists, also adjusted.

“I was able to drop a couple passes off to Taiyanna Jackson, who’s around the rim a lot,” Franklin said. “Whether it was to her or playing to Holly Kersgieter out on the 3-point line, a couple of (my teammates) were recipients of the assists I was able to give out.”

Franklin, who averaged 15.7 points per game last season when she also shot just under 50 percent from distance, is averaging 12.5 points per game for her college career. She’s never finished a season with a scoring average below 9.9 per game, and she’s yet to end a year with fewer than 3 assists per game either.

She’s also no slouch on the defensive end. Franklin sees herself as a solid off-ball defender. She’s averaged a steal per game twice and is on pace to do so again this year. She finds herself in position to help out teammates by taking charges and getting in the gap to affect ball handlers trying to get by others on her squad, she said.

While KB has a reputation for being somewhat reserved, she’s come to embrace her role as a veteran leader on this year's team.

She used to try to lead by example and didn’t say a lot. But the fifth-year Jayhawk has become more vocal of late. Franklin said she will now let newcomers know where they need to be on the floor or tell them what a given set on the court will look like.

With a freshman mindset, players can panic and overthink the game, Franklin explained, adding that they will get better, provided they trust what they’re doing and the people around them.

Over the years, she’s come to grasp the importance of staying the course even when you’re inclined to get discouraged. She’s learned how critical it is to exhibit the same trait she’s long admired in her coach: Staying true to yourself. Well, that and doing the work.

“When you put the work in, it’ll always find a way to show, and it'll show at the right times,” Franklin said.

Never was that more clear than on Saturday in Provo, Utah, when Franklin led Kansas to its fifth straight win by dropping a season-high 24 points in a 70-62 victory. Her career-high total of 31 points came in a win over Iowa State late last season. And she now has reached 24 or more points in game nine times in her career.

On a night her team needed her to score, Franklin made 9 of 11 shots overall, both of her 3-point attempts and 4 of 6 shots at the free throw line.

Franklin and the Jayhawks (15-10 overall, 8-6 Big 12) will head out on the road again on Wednesday night to take on No. 21 Baylor in Waco, Texas. KU defeated the mighty Bears — for the first time in Franklin's career earlier this season. And the two teams will enter Wednesday in a three-way tie for 5th place in the Big 12 Conference standings.

Tipoff is slated for 7 p.m. on ESPN+.

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