2019 NCAA TOURNAMENT

Cedar Rapids' Dani Franklin comes back to Iowa for NCAA basketball tournament

Ogden column: But she's now Mercer Bear and ready to tackle Hawkeyes

Dani Franklin, a former al-stater at Cedar Rapids Washington and an all-Missouri Valley Conference player at Valparaiso, now is an graduate assistant at Mercer, which takes on Iowa Friday in the NCAA women’s basketball tournament. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
Dani Franklin, a former al-stater at Cedar Rapids Washington and an all-Missouri Valley Conference player at Valparaiso, now is an graduate assistant at Mercer, which takes on Iowa Friday in the NCAA women’s basketball tournament. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

Coming "home" has a different meaning for Cedar Rapids native Dani Franklin this weekend.

She is excited to be back in the area, close to where she grew up and became a high school all-stater at Cedar Rapids Washington.

But this trip isn’t a vacation, a chance to see her mother, other family members and friends.

This is a business trip.

The Mississippi Valley Conference player of the year in 2014, Franklin returns to the corridor as a graduate manager for Mercer, which takes on second-seeded Iowa on Friday in the NCAA women’s basketball tournament at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

“I’m excited to be home, but I’m more stoked that the Mercer Bears are in the NCAA Tournament,” Franklin said after arriving in Iowa City on Wednesday.

These homecomings are nothing new. After her outstanding high school career, she left Cedar Rapids to attend Valparaiso. She made an immediate impact on the basketball court at the Indiana college, averaging 13 points per game and earning Horizon League freshman of the year honors. By the time her senior season rolled around, Valpo had joined the Missouri Valley Conference and she got a chance to showcase her skills in Iowa once again, against Northern Iowa in the McLeod Center.

She ended up a first-team all-MVC player as a senior, averaging 15.6 points per game. She finished her career among the top 10 in 13 different categories at Valpo, including second in points (1,721) and fifth in rebounds (713).

If you haven’t figured it out yet, basketball runs deep in Franklin’s soul. Her mother, Deb, was a standout at Washington, too, and later led Mount Mercy to the national tournament.

“I love the game so much,” Dani said.

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While she admits to “missing certain aspects” of being a player, she decided her next step would be coaching. She attended the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association “Do you want to be a coach?” program last season and was hired by Mercer.

The “graduate manager” is like a graduate assistant. She can’t coach but does “a lot of behind the scenes stuff.

“I love it,” Franklin said. “I wanted to step outside my box and learn more about the game.

“Coach (Susie) Gardner is amazing ... I’ve learned a ton. I continue to learn something new every day.”

She’s not certain how long she’ll be at Mercer, located in Macon, Ga., and a program riding a 17-game winning streak that has won two straight Southern Conference tournament titles and four consecutive regular-season crowns.

She has options — she was a three-time Presidential Academic Honor Roll student at Valparaiso with a degree in education — but doesn’t know what her next step will be.

But ...

“I want to coach in some way, shape or form,” she said. “I’m just setting the foundation.”

There’s another twist to this “homecoming” tale, too. Franklin’s great grandfather, John Franklin of Belle Plaine, named Iowa’s mascot “Herky” in a statewide contest in 1948. She heard all the stories growing up, from her late grandfather, Bob, her uncles John, Dan and Scott, and her mother.

“Many times,” she said with a laugh.

But she’s Bear now and that Hawkeye lore will have to be put on hold.

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“My grandpa was super special to me,” she said of Bob. “He was a big Hawkeye fan, but he’s up there rooting for the Mercer Bears.”

l Comments: (319) 368-8696; jr.ogden@thegazette.com

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