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O’Brien: Sophomore Damaria Franklin shows massive potential as Niles North beats Libertyville

Niles North's Damaria Franklin.

Niles North sophomore Damaria Franklin couldn’t quite get his dunk to rattle home early in the Vikings’ 70-56 win over Libertyville on Wednesday in the Class 4A Warren regional semifinal in Gurnee.

Franklin was up high enough and grabbed the rim, but the ball rattled up and out and then fell back in. It wasn’t exactly the authoritative slam he was hoping for.

“He needed a little help with that,” Niles North coach Glenn Olson said.

Franklin didn’t need help with anything else. The strong, 6-1 guard displayed a tantalizing skill set. He scored 14 in the first quarter and finished with 20 points.

“He’s had some big games for us but to come out of the gates with 14 in the first quarter of your first regional appearance, that’s making it look kind of easy,” Olson said. “He’s going to keep getting bigger. He’s got a real high ceiling.”

Franklin was ultra-aggressive from the tip. He scored a pair of traditional three-point plays on drives to the basket and drained two three-pointers in the first quarter. He looked more like a senior polishing his Player of the Year resume than a sophomore.

“That was definitely my best game of the season so far,” Franklin said.

Franklin’s scoring wasn’t the only problem for Libertyville (16-11). Niles North senior Crishawn Cook, who will play at SIU next season, was a defensive terror. He had four steals in the game and his relentless pressure helped force the Wildcats into 21 turnovers.

“When he’s on and when he wants to be he’s the best on-ball defender in the state or as good as anybody,” Olson said. “He took that challenge tonight and really grinded it out.”

Cook got it down on the offensive end as well with 20 points. The Vikings are young team, with a sophomore and freshman in the starting lineup. They seemed to all follow Cook’s defensive intensity.

“I think we all did our job today,” Cook said. “We’re all some great defenders. It really takes effort. It’s playoff time. Anything can happen, you just have to leave it all out there. I’m a senior so this could have been my last game.”

Senior Saveion Shadd added 11 points. Junior Montay Williams scored four points and grabbed four rebounds off the bench. His dive to the floor to secure a loose ball with Niles North leading by 21points and 4:09 to play definitely left an impression. The Vikings are playing with serious passion.

“We said at the beginning of the year that we’d be a team that would get better,” Olson said. “We like to play a fast-paced game and let the players win it or lose it. These guys are skilled, aggressive kids and that’s how they like to play.”

Ben Kimpler led Libertyville with 18 points and eight rebounds. Sophomore Drew Peterson added 13 points and 12 boards.

Niles North (21-9) will face Evanston in the regional title game on Friday.