Determination, faith help CIA senior on the court and in life

Galcial gains

Posted: Tuesday, February 26, 2002

Glaciers may be big and slow, but one of the most impressive features of these wonders of nature is that once they get moving, they're impossible to stop.

It's that quality -- unstoppable determination -- that earned Cook Inlet Academy senior Justin Franchino the nickname Glacier from his teammates on the basketball court. And it's that same quality, tempered with faith, that has led Franchino to choose the direction in which his life will flow.

"He knows where he's going, and that's rare in a young man these days," said Cook Inlet Academy boys basketball coach Tim Keener.

Franchino provides the leadership on what Keener has called the "most spiritually fit team" he's had the opportunity to coach. More importantly, Franchino has taken his spiritual fitness and leadership abilities off the court, and he plans to enter the missionary field after he completes his education.

Franchino has his priorities in line -- God, then family, then basketball.

"I'll never forget, when he was in eighth grade, they lost their championship game by one point," said Franchino's mother, Carmen. "I was devastated, and he said, 'Mom, in the Light of Eternity, it's just one basketball game.'"

But it's that third priority, basketball, that's helped him develop the devotion and skills necessary to keep the first two in their proper place.

"It teaches discipline, self control," Franchino said. "When your back's against the wall, you persevere and keep pushing. I've learned through basketball to persevere and push through the bad times, just like on the court. When you lose, you push yourself harder and you'll get better.

"Teamwork is a huge thing. Unification is the key to success. You can't just be worried about yourself and your needs. It makes you very unselfish to think of the team first and not your own personal needs."

Franchino has other gifts that he said will be of benefit on his chosen path. He maintains a 4.0 grade point average -- he'd be the valedictorian in any graduating class, including his own three-member Class of 2002 -- and his favorite subjects are the ones dealing with language and communication.

"Communication skills are what I enjoy the most," Franchino said. "I like to interact with people. I hate solitude."

Franchino, who is an active member of Peninsula Grace Brethren Church in Soldotna, had a taste of missionary work last summer when he took a trip to Brazil with Operation Barnabus. Though he learned about 200 words in Portuguese by the end of the trip, he said miming was often the best way to bridge the language barrier.

Franchino's communication skills become even more evident on the basketball court, whether it's a practice or a game situation.

"The thing about Justin is he encourages all the time," Keener said. "With the younger guys, he talks about when he was a freshman, what he was going through. He's not afraid to talk to them about that. That's what makes him a great leader."

"He's one of our captains, and he's our student body president," said teammate Anthony Agosti. "He's always been able to take a leadership role. He's good at it. He has strong faith in God, and he doesn't let things get to him that easy."

The recent death of former teammate Bryan Staton, a senior on CIA's 1999 state championship team, also has had a profound effect on Franchino and the current crop of Eagles.

"That's really affected the team because we knew him really well," Franchino said. "Life's about friends and relationships. It taught us a lot about what really matters in life. Basketball comes second, people come first."

Franchino said he started playing basketball in third grade. His father Scott enjoys the sport, his sister Janel is on the CIA girls team and his younger brother Jeremy is an up-and-coming middle school cager.

Franchino began attending Cook Inlet Academy in fifth grade. Because of its small student body, the school doesn't field many high school teams.

"We don't focus on too many sports -- basketball is the main one, and that became my focus," Franchino said. "In a way, I was forced into it, but I've enjoyed it a lot."

At 5-foot-9, Franchino started his high school career as a guard, but players at CIA need to be versatile, and he's played in the post for the past two seasons.

"It's helped my game -- I actually prefer playing down low," Franchino said, adding that he's been able to beat bigger players by utilizing better technique.

"That doesn't make them very happy," Franchino said.

"He just keeps rolling," Keener said. "He's learned the game, so you see him in the right place at the right time."

Franchino said playing with this year's edition of the Eagles has been the most enjoyable for him.

"I've never been on a team that played this well together," Franchino said. "I've played on a state championship team. We've had better athletes, but we never jelled like this one."

Franchino said the key to success goes back to the team's spiritual fitness.

"When you have your life in line off the court, things will work out on the court," Franchino said.

The Eagles will host the District 3/2A tournament later this year, and while basketball is third on Franchino's list of priorities, winning that tournament is one of the goals the team sets for itself.

"Our goal is always to win regions," Franchino said. "We try not to focus on state. We'll let state take care of itself when it gets here."

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