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HOPES HIGH AS 7-FOOT FALLS CAGER JUMPS TO PREP SCHOOL SO HE CAN MAKE GRADE

You can't deny the fact Franklin Jones sacrificed a lot by choosing to enroll in a prep school in North Carolina instead of returning for his senior year at Niagara Falls High School.

Family.

Friends.

Familiar surroundings.

The chance to be a part of one of the greatest basketball teams in the history of Western New York scholastic sports.

But it's a sacrifice Jones had to make if he wants to advance to the college level. While Jones maintained his basketball eligibility at Niagara Falls by taking advantage of all the resources the school made available to its students, along with his own determined work ethic, his grades simply weren't high enough to meet NCAA Clearinghouse requirements for seniors hoping to graduate to the Division I level.

He needed some extra time to boost his grade-point average and better prepare for the SAT. He received that chance from Mount Zion Christian Academy in Durham, which offered the 7-foot, 285-pounder a two-year scholarship last summer when he was a wee lad of 6-11, 275 pounds.

"I think the extra year is going to benefit Frank," said Niagara Falls High School assistant and Niagara Police Athletic League head coach Sal Constantino.

Jones was allowed to show up late for practices during his time with the Wolverines on days he received extra tutorial assistance, Constantino said. "He's a very hard worker. All the teachers and faculty members really enjoyed Franklin being (at Niagara Falls), and they miss him. The extra year is going to give him the opportunity to strengthen the classes he was weak in."

While Jones, 19, gave himself an extra year to get his academics in order, he also gave himself a chance to improve his on-court skills by practicing and competing against players of comparable size, who also have quickness and coordination not often found in high school big men in Western New York.

Jones, an intimidating defender who also runs the floor well -- traits that make Division I college coaches drool -- needed to make the jump to prep school before the 2004-05 academic year because fifth-year seniors are less attractive recruits unless they are superstars in the making.

While Mount Zion provides Jones an overtime session to get his grades in order, it does have a higher minimal grade number for maintaining eligibility (75) than Niagara Falls (65). Jones has increased his grade-point average from a C to a C , according to his father, Clifford Jones. Franklin takes history, math, science, computer studies, Bible studies and a yearbook class, as well as SAT math and English courses. He will attend summer school in Durham to complete a core English course to inch closer to meeting NCAA standards.

"I'm happy where I'm at because they're opening more doors for me and helping raise my grades," said Jones, who will play AAU basketball in Atlanta during summer school. "If I was here, I'd still be in the same predicament with my grades. My game wouldn't be where it is at now. I was sloppy. I was missing a few skills I needed to be successful."

While Jones was a defensive force with Niagara Falls, averaging 10 rebounds and four blocked shots in about 15 minutes of work per game during his two varsity seasons, he wasn't much of a threat offensively -- averaging just eight points -- which enabled opponents to ignore him when he was open near the basket.

Jones' main problem was he had trouble planting his feet and catching the ball at the same time, which is something he addressed during a season of practicing against one of the best young big men in the country: Shawn Taggert, who will attend Iowa State next fall. Besides improving his coordination, Jones also worked to develop some low-post moves during practice and on his own time because he no longer wants to be unproductive on the offensive end.

Jones probably would have shared playing time at center and forward at Niagara Falls with Tyrell Lynch and Miguel Respress. Lynch and Respress each made their share of big plays during Niagara Falls' 28-1 campaign, which led to a state championship.

"We got a little bit quicker (offensively), but defensively we missed that stopper in the middle where if we gambled on the perimeter and that guy got by, they weren't getting an easy bucket with Franklin there," Constantino said.

"My game is a lot different because I was going against bigger people, quicker people," said Jones, who averaged about four points and five rebounds during Mount Zion's 29-4 campaign. "By playing against a little person, you cannot get better."

Mount Zion head coach Tony Fozard and assistant coach James Houston could not be reached to comment.

Jones got some minutes early in the season, helping the club win its season-opening tournament -- the Bull City Classic -- with a 10-rebound, eight-point performance in the championship game against New York City-area program Our Savior New American, but sat the bench and played the learning game during the latter half of the season as the three-year veteran Taggert's understudy.

Though Jones received limited playing time, he still is receiving letters of interest from some big-name schools. They include Georgia Tech and Miami of the Atlantic Coast Conference and St. John's of the Big East. University at Buffalo Mid-American Conference foe Kent State also has sent the lad some literature.

"He's still learning," Clifford Jones said. "This first year was more of a learning experience for him as far as his basketball and working on his moves. He's still raw. He still needs a lot of work just playing the center position, period."

While Jones may have been playing basketball 10 minutes away from Duke University, he still kept tabs on the Wolverines, who became the first Western New York school to win the state public schools and federation championships in Class AA -- a classification that features the largest schools in the state, including the top programs from the New York City area. Jones called former teammates Tyrell Douglas and Robert Garrison during the championship run, wishing them luck, getting the inside scoop on the team and maintaining a connection to the program he helped put on the map during his years as an intimidating presence in the lane.

"And the phone bill was a lot," Clifford Jones deadpanned.

"I think when they won the championship, it hit him the hardest, but we still told him to look at the big picture," the elder Jones continued. "Yes, you gave up an opportunity to be on state championship team, but he got an opportunity to further his career like some of the rest of the seniors on the team."

Said Constantino, "At the end when you stop and look at it, it's kind of like he has a piece of this. It would have been nice to have him there for a ride, but he helped us develop to where we are too."

Now, it's just a matter of Jones continuing to develop himself.