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Long before teaming up to lead Duncanville (Texas) to a state title and emerging as the state's top hardwood duo, Roger Franklin and Shawn Williams couldn't stand each other.
|Shawn Williams has committed to Texas while Roger Franklin will play for Oklahoma State.|
Playing on rival teams back in fifth and sixth grade, Franklin and Williams were about as friendly as Pacman Jones and Roger Goodell.
"If you weren't with me, you were against me," Williams says. And since Franklin was most certainly against him? "I really hated him."
Don't worry, the feeling was mutual.
"I never liked Shawn before I knew him," Franklin says. "Every time I'd see Shawn in the gym, I'd be looking nasty at him, pointing at him. And then when the lights came on and the ball went in the air, we'd put on a show."
These days, they still put on a show. But they do it as teammates. Ever since joining forces at Byrd Middle School in the seventh grade, Franklin and Williams have been inseparable -- and nearly unstoppable.
As sophomores, the forwards helped lead Duncanville to a 39-0 season and a Class 5A state championship. Last year, they guided the team to a 35-2 mark. And the Panthers entered this season ranked the nation's No. 1 team in the ESPN RISE FAB 50. Williams, who is the No. 72 senior in the ESPNU 100, has committed to Texas, while Franklin, the No. 79 senior, has pledged to Oklahoma State.
Duncanville coach Phil McNeely first saw Franklin and Williams square off in the sixth grade. Even from the stands, he could tell they didn't like each other. But he knew it wasn't personal.
"It was just because they were such great competitors," says the 25th-year coach.
Their need to be the best extends well beyond the basketball court. Even though they're best friends today - check that, especially because they're best friends -- everything is a contest.
"Whether it's video games, who can get the cutest girl at school or who could hold their breath under water longer when we were younger, we've always had the competitive nature to beat each other," Franklin says.
Video game battles are particularly intense. On road trips, it's nearly impossible to tear them away from NBA Live, even if they have a real game coming up.
"We have to turn off the TV so they can't play anymore," McNeely says. "They won't stop until someone wins."
During preseason workouts, McNeely had to place the duo on the same team because too many five-on-five scrimmages were devolving into one-on-one battles between the two.
"They want to win so bad that it sometimes throws off what you're really trying to work on," McNeely says. "If you're trying to execute a play, I really don't care if we score. But they take everything as a competition."
That attitude is what makes each player great. And when they're on the same side, look out.
Franklin and Williams joined forces on varsity as freshmen. Going up against older, stronger players, they cemented a bond that would never be broken.
"It was, 'I got yours, you got mine, and let's do this together,'" Franklin says. Both played well that year, but Duncanville's season ended in painful fashion with a narrow loss in the Region I-5A quarterfinals to eventual state champion Plano.
Using that as motivation, the duo came out on fire the next year as sophomores, guiding the Panthers to a perfect season and the Class 5A title.
"That was like a dream year," Williams says. "The key to that team was everybody played well together. We really loved each other like family."
Franklin and Williams expected to cap their junior seasons in similar fashion as the Panthers entered the playoffs with only one defeat - a one-point overtime setback to national powerhouse Oak Hill Academy (Mouth of Wilson, Va.).
Duncanville met North Crowley in the Region I-5A semifinals in what amounted to the de facto state championship game. Led by McDonald's All-American Willie Warren, North Crowley prevailed, 61-57, and then cruised to three more victories and the state title.
Once again, Franklin and Williams are using a season-ending loss as fuel for their competitive fire.
"To this day, I go on YouTube and type in 'Willie Warren' and his highlights from the state title game come up," Franklin says. "I see how he took over the game and how his passion carried his team across the finish line."
Franklin wants to do the same for his squad this year. And expectations are higher than ever at Duncanville thanks to the No. 1 preseason ranking.
In addition to Franklin and Williams, the team boasts a pair of Baylor-bound juniors in Perry Jones and Jamison Sterns. Senior Reger Dowell runs the point and will join Franklin at Oklahoma State next year. Add in the sons of former NBA lottery pick Chris Washburn, 6-foot-8 junior Julian and 6-foot-7 freshman Chris Jr., and the Panthers have all the ingredients for a magical year.
As the only two holdovers from the 2007 championship team, it's up to Franklin and Williams to take the lead.
"We've got a lot of guys who haven't been here before," Williams says. "So we need to show them what it's going to take."
The team's vocal leader is clearly Franklin, who talks constantly during games to himself and his teammates. But he backs it up by playing as hard in exhibition games as he does in playoff tilts. Williams prefers to lead by example.
Their games are equally complementary. The 6-foot-7 Williams is a great outside shooter who has become a trusty ball-handler. The 6-foot-5 Franklin has developed a solid outside shot but still does his best work down low despite being undersized. And when they share the court as teammates, Williams and Franklin find a way to take their games to another level.
"They instinctively know where the other one is going to be," McNeely says. But that will all go out the window in the years to come when Franklin and Williams meet as Big 12 rivals.
For 40 minutes, best friends will become enemies once again.
Ryan Canner O'Mealy covers high school sports for ESPN RISE.