Keene State’s Jaylen Franklin and Ty Nichols were driving home from a workout when they came up with an idea out of the blue.
Both are standout basketball players from Springfield, Mass., and life-long friends. They wanted to find a way to use their talents on the court to give back to their community.
“I might’ve just blurted the idea out like, ‘Man, we should do a camp,’ ” said Franklin, a current senior guard on the Keene State men’s basketball team. “And the ball went rolling from there.”
And the ball didn’t stop rolling until they started a basketball camp in Springfield over the summer in 2019. They called it the Nichols and Franklin Basketball Academy.
“It was just something that we wanted to start for the kids — something that we didn’t have growing up for ourselves,” said Nichols, the Owls’ all-time leading scorer, who is currently playing professional basketball in Kosovo. “And there was no better place to start it than the birthplace of basketball and the city where we’re from.”
Yes, basketball was invented in Springfield way back in 1891.
But the city also has the highest per-capita violent crime rate in Massachusetts, according to a 2019 report by the FBI, which is part of the reason why Nichols and Franklin wanted to leave a positive mark.
“We want to build this thing to the point where people are seeking the city of Springfield out for basketball and it becomes what it should be, which is the birthplace of basketball,” Franklin said. “All we’re trying to do is raise the level of the game in Springfield and make it cool to play basketball again instead of resorting to violence or crime.”
In the camp’s debut over the summer of 2019, the clinic brought in about 20 kids, Franklin said, which was more than they expected. Nichols said they ordered T-shirts for everyone, and once the word got out about the academy through social media and word of mouth, they had to order even more.
But the COVID pandemic brought a lot of challenges for the new academy this past summer. They couldn’t find a gym that would allow them to run the clinic, so group instruction took a back seat in 2020. Franklin said they still maintained relationships with the individual kids and tried to train with them as much as possible, but for the most part everything was on pause.
The two are getting ready to hit play again, though, and hope to have the academy back up and running in the summer of 2021 — even bigger and better than before.
Just last month, the two started making plans for next summer, Nichols said.
“We chatted and we were like, ‘What’s our goal, what’s our blueprint going to be for the upcoming summer?’ ” Nichols said. “If we’re able to get the gym, then everything’s a go.”
Nichols said they hope to offer a three-day clinic next summer, expanded from the day camps offered in 2019, and eventually wants to make this a year-round, five-day-per-week program.
Could that become a career? Sure, why not?
“Any capacity that I can turn basketball into my job, then I feel like I won,” Franklin said, and that includes potentially making the academy a full-time gig.
Nichols and Franklin go way back, 6th grade to be exact. And they met through basketball, of course.
They played on the same team from 6th to 8th grade before going to different high schools, but they still kept in touch.
“Our relationship just kept getting better and better,” Nichols said. “It’s been up from middle school.”
They’d hang out off the court, too. Their families are close, and were back then, too, so Nichols and Franklin were always at each other’s houses hanging out, playing video games or hooping.
It created a tight bond between the two, which adds to the passion of running the academy together.
“It just makes it that much better,” Franklin said. “Ty’s my absolute best friend. The fact that I can do it alongside him and still do it playing the game we both love to play, you can’t beat it.
“The time almost passes too fast,” he added reminiscently.
Sure, they bump heads every once in a while, but it always works because they’re both committed to seeing each other succeed.
“Jaylen’s always known more about the game than I have just from a mental standpoint,” Nichols said. “So it’s kind of cool to see how two different basketball minds can come together and work on one common goal. I just kind of pick up on things he does and he does the same.”