Coming off his sophomore season playing basketball for Dalton High School, now-junior Franklin Almonte knew he could rebound — in more ways than one.

Despite a solid season averaging 14.1 points and pulling down 8.5 rebounds per game in his 2018-19 campaign, Almonte knew he could be better.

“Last year, I didn’t start and didn’t play as much,” Almonte said. “I would just sit on the bench. About halfway through the season, the coach made a change, and I made it into the starting five, and I just kept getting better and better.”

Almonte rebounded in a big way in 2019-20.

His team improved from a 9-17 mark to finish 15-11. He bumped his scoring up to 22.6 points per game.

The biggest rebound? Rebounds.

The 6-foot, 5-inch Almonte pulled down an average of 17.4 rebounds per game, good enough to crack the top-10 nationally in rebounding among players with statistics listed on popular high school athletics website

For his efforts, Almonte has been named the 2020 Daily Citizen-News Boys All Area Basketball Player of the Year.

A year of improvement

That sophomore to junior bump didn’t come out of nowhere. Almonte said it was the result of a lot of hard work — and a coaching change.

“I worked a lot on my rebounds,” Almonte said. “I worked on my scoring. I think I improved a lot since last year.”

Helping him to improve was new Dalton head coach Ryan Scoggins.

The longtime Northwest Whitfield High School soccer coach and basketball assistant took over the Dalton program prior to the 2019-20 season, after previous head coach David Brock left after one season to coach Harrison High School.

Almonte went from fighting for a starting role to being one of the team's focal points.

“He trusts me,” Almonte said of Scoggins. “He’s the best coach I ever had.”

Usually playing at the center position, Almonte uses his wiry frame and athleticism to score on offense and block shots on defense. Almonte also swatted an average of two shots per game. Almonte can also step out and knock down shots from long-range, shooting 36% from behind the 3-point line.

What sets Almonte apart is his nose for the ball when a shot goes up.

“Whenever I see the ball come off the rim, I just have the attitude to be super fast and jump up and get the ball,” Almonte said. “Sometimes, I just know what’s going to happen before it does.”

The journey to Dalton

Almonte, who prefers Franklin but is also often called Frank by friends, was born in the Dominican Republic and moved to the United States in seventh grade.

Almonte first lived in Ringgold and attended Heritage High School. Not knowing any English, Almonte learned his second language on the fly.

“At first, it was weird just sitting there and people would be talking English,” Almonte said. “It was hard at that point not knowing any English. I was just happy to be here having the opportunity I do have.”

Those opportunities, Almonte said, included a safer and more comfortable way to play the game he was starting to love.

“I came from the Dominican, playing on the streets without shoes and now to this level playing on nice courts with shoes. You don’t feel like you’re going to hurt your knees here,” Almonte laughed.

When Almonte prepared to move to Dalton prior to his sophomore year, he first considered attending Northwest, but some old opponents and future teammates talked him out of it.

“I knew people from Dalton that played against us when I was at Heritage,” Almonte said. “They kind of got me in the mindset to come here.”

Dealing with hardships

Once or twice per game, Almonte will visit the bench during a stoppage in play to use an inhaler.

Almonte deals with what is described as “severe” asthma, leaving him short of breath when action on the floor gets too fast-paced.

“When I run up and down, up and down, I’d have to use it every once in a while when they called timeout,” Almonte said.

Despite that reliance, Almonte said it doesn’t hinder his play nearly enough to warrant excuse-making.

“It’s not that bad,” Almonte said.

Almonte uses specialized medication during the season that limits his trips to the bench.

Looking forward

If Almonte gets his way, that personal and team-wide rebound will continue on the upward trend in his senior season.

After a hot start in 2019-20, the Catamounts stumbled down the stretch and bowed out of the postseason early. Despite earning a No.4 seed in the Region 6-6A tournament and hosting the first round, Dalton fell to ninth-seeded Sprayberry in the first game, ending their season.

“At the beginning of the season, we were doing great,” Almonte said. “As the season went by, about halfway through, we started backing up and not playing as well. The season ended kind of quickly for us, and we were disappointed.”

Almonte aims to change that result next season by stepping up as a senior.

Despite those eye-popping rebounding numbers, Almonte said he has yet to see much interest or any offers from coaches at the college level. The goal, Almonte said, is to continue to change that.

“My goal next year is to be the leader of the team,” Almonte said. “My goal this year is to play better and improve myself. I want to get better and better and hopefully get a scholarship.”

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