SAN DIEGO -- When the lights go down at San Diego State, Jamaal Franklin shines from above.
Before player introductions, an overhead video board displays some of the best of the Aztecs' season. Franklin's highlight reel of him throwing a pass off the backboard to himself for a rousing dunk in a Jan. 9 win at Fresno State always generates the loudest roar, with the fanatics occupying "The Show," San Diego State's vocal student section, leading the cheers.
Franklin's notoriety grew by leaps and bounds with the play. ESPN made it its top play that night. Comments about it on Twitter were all the rage. It provided another topic of conversation for the 6-foot-5, 205-pound junior.
Unlike many college basketball players who routinely fashion T-shirts under their jerseys that Georgetown made famous more than two decades ago, Franklin dons a long-sleeved one that Aztecs coach Steve Fisher says he had to be granted permission to wear.
Franklin is the reigning MVP of the Mountain West Conference and arguably its best player. As a sophomore, he beat out then-New Mexico center Drew Gordon as the conference's top player, averaging 17.9 points and 7.9 rebounds per game.
Franklin, who also is one of the conference's top defenders, is making another strong case for MVP. Through Saturday, Franklin was third in scoring (17.5 per game), second in rebounding (9.5), sixth in assists (3.4) and third in steals (1.5). He also was the conference leader in defensive rebounds (7.8), fifth in free throws (.777), eighth in field-goal percentage (.400) and sixth in blocked shots (0.9).
"We've got some wonderful basketball players in our conference," said Fisher, whose Aztecs, winners of the past two Mountain West regular-season titles, are 18-7 overall, 6-3 in conference play. "But Jamaal is spectacular."
Teammates frequently describe Franklin's passion and competitiveness for his success.
"I've never played with a more competitive player and one with more drive than Jamaal," said senior guard Chase Tapley, whose bucket with 2.8 seconds left lifted the Aztecs to a 63-62 win over Boise State on Wednesday night. "You know you're going to get 110 percent from Jamaal. He's just an unbelievable player. He's the most passionate and most emotional player I've played with."
"He's the one that brings up our passion and energy, offensively and defensively," guard James Rahon said. "He's usually the one that gets our team going."
Franklin said, "I feel like I'm the motor on this team. If I come out with a dead motor and it's not working, then the car is not going to work. If I come out firing on all cylinders, the car is going to go 100 miles per hour and we're going to get this win. My role is to bring energy to this team."
Franklin showed against then-15th-ranked New Mexico on Jan. 26 just how he can get the Aztecs revved. Though he scored just 10 points on 4-of-16 shooting and grabbed seven rebounds, his defense was pivotal in SDSU's 55-34 rout of the Lobos. Franklin was a major reason the Aztecs held New Mexico to 25 percent shooting, its worst rate in the shot-clock era.
"As good as we were as a team, I have to start with Jamaal," Fisher said following the blowout. "For those that only look at a stat line, you don't appreciate what he brings to this team. He's the soul of our program. He willed everybody to be ready. If you're not in that locker room, if you're not on that practice floor, if you're not on that bus, if you're not in the hotel, if you're not on that plane, you can't fully appreciate what he brings to this team. He played the best defense he's played since he's been at San Diego State."
Still, his three seasons on campus have had some rocky moments and landed Franklin in hot water.
In the NCAA Tournament two seasons ago, when he was a reserve on an Aztecs team that compiled a school-record 34-3 mark and advanced to the Sweet 16, Franklin helped alter the outcome of San Diego State's bid to upset Connecticut in the regional semifinals at Anaheim.
Franklin bumped Kemba Walker as the two crossed paths during a timeout midway through the second half, with Walker flopping to the court and forcing the officials to whistle Franklin for a technical. The incident fueled Walker and the Huskies, as the UConn star responded by scoring 14 consecutive points, turning a four-point deficit into a 74-67 win. The Huskies went on to win the national championship.
In 2011, Franklin was suspended for the start of the season after being arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence.
At last season's Mountain West tournament in Las Vegas, Franklin flipped off a New Mexico fan during the first half of the Aztecs' loss to the Lobos in the championship game, an incident that was captured on video.
Franklin, who said he reacted after the fan had called him the "N" word, apologized a day later, when the Aztecs gathered on campus to watch the NCAA Tournament selection show.
"He's getting better," Fisher said about Franklin's maturity issues. "The double-edged sword with Jamaal is he has such a passion for the game. But he has to learn how control his emotions. He knows it. Sometimes he gets out of control. We talk about it all the time. He's had too many technicals. He had like four in the first six games this season, and I told him we couldn't have that. But he's getting better."
"I know I have to continue to work on things," said Franklin, a native of Hawthorne, Calif., who starred in high school at Westwind Prep International in Phoenix. "I'm not a bad guy, but I've made some mistakes."
Tapley said, "He's the nicest guy you'll ever know, but sometimes his passion takes over. It's not in a good way, either. I just come up to him and say, 'Jamaal, just calm down. Chill.' But I've seen tremendous changes since last year. He just wants to do what's right for the team. He's really become a leader, on and off the court. He sets the tone."
Franklin's ability to set the tone on the court has NBA scouts beating a path to Viejas Arena at San Diego State. One NBA scout said Franklin possesses the tools to succeed at the next level, his ability to score, rebound and defend being foremost.
Fisher cites Franklin's work ethic, too.
"The number one thing is his burning desire to succeed," Fisher said. "No one works harder to get better than Jamaal. He watched (San Antonio Spurs forward and former Aztec) Kawhi (Leonard) when he was here. Kawhi worked as hard as any player I've coached. So does Jamaal."
Franklin believes improving his shooting would enhance his chances of playing at a high level in the NBA.
"I need to work on shooting the ball more consistent," he said. "The NBA probably already knows I can score and rebound the ball and defend anywhere from one through the three (positions). But I need to work on shooting the ball consistently."
Consistently controlling his emotions wouldn't hurt either.