Klem remains an anchor for Franklin girls basketball

She can hit 3-point shots — or, as we’ve found out this year, layups or floaters in the paint. She can find teammates for open shots. She can, at a generous 5-foot-4, snag offensive rebounds with inexplicable frequency.

Lauren Klem can pad a stat sheet in any number of ways on a given night; she leads Franklin with 4.9 assists and 3.0 steals per game, and she grabs 5.5 rebounds a night (more than half of those on the offensive glass). But individual figures have never defined the Grizzly Cubs’ junior point guard; the only numbers she’s ever really cared about are wins and losses, and she’s helped secure far more of the former than the latter.

Much like Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green or Boston Celtics point guard Marcus Smart, Klem rarely puts up the gaudiest stats on her team. Her contributions to winning basketball can’t always be quantified.

But that doesn’t mean they aren’t appreciated.

Despite the fact that her career scoring average is in single digits (and sits at 7.2 this season), Klem has been an indispensable piece of the puzzle for the Grizzly Cubs, who are 14-5 on the year heading into tonight’s Mid-State Conference battle against winless Martinsville and 64-10 so far over the course of her three seasons.

“When you evaluate players, you can’t just look at points per game,” Franklin coach Mike Armstrong said. “She’s got like a 4-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio. She’s maybe our best offensive rebounder, she rebounds defensively. But more than anything, if we’re getting pressed or we’re in a hard spot, she has a calming influence on the rest of the team and keeps herself from panicking, and that calms the rest of us.”

Klem’s quiet confidence has been honed over a lifetime of on-court success. Through elementary and middle school, her teams never lost a game in the state of Indiana against players her own age — and she played enough against older competition to know that her skills would hold up at the varsity level regardless of her lack of size.

Franklin reached the Class 4A semistate in 2021 and the state championship game last winter. She wasn’t the leading scorer on either of those teams, but Klem was an All-County pick in both seasons nonetheless — precisely because of the not-always-measurable ways that she contributes to winning basketball.

She’s doing the same this winter for a Grizzly Cubs team that has continued along a winning path despite some heavy graduation and injury losses.

“For me, it’s not really about how many shots I make or how many points I have at the end of the game,” Klem said. “It’s about how I can get my teammates to score and how I can get them to play good defense. Really just controlling the floor and helping out my teammates in any way I can.”

Sometimes, that means knocking down shots. Other times, it means dishing out assists, grabbing rebounds or coming up with steals at the head of the Franklin defense.

But just as often, it’s about the things that Klem isn’t doing.

“(Longtime Notre Dame coach) Mike Brey said, ‘If you go to class and don’t turn the ball over, you and I are going to be friends,’” Armstrong noted. “And that’s kind of the way it is.”

Indeed, Klem just doesn’t make that many mistakes. She committed just 30 turnovers in 55 games over her first two high school seasons, an obscenely low number for someone who handles the ball as much as she does.

“That’s a big factor in the way we play and that’s one of the things we focus on the most,” she said. “If you don’t turn over the ball, that’s just less opportunities for the other team to score. We’ve learned that for a long time, and I trust in my teammates that they won’t turn the ball over either.”

Not only does Klem not give the ball away, but she also never comes off the floor — at least during any meaningful minutes. A decorated cross country runner who’s attracting interest from major Division I schools such as Louisville and Purdue, she’s got a non-stop motor that has served her and the Grizzly Cubs extremely well on the hardwood.

Klem also has a competitive drive to match — and she’s not accustomed to losing. This has been a bit more of an up-and-down season than Franklin’s last two, but the team’s anchor is confident that another long postseason run is within reach.

“I think we kind of need to take a step back and reset, just get our heads straight and focus more on practice,” Klem said, “and focus on ourselves, really. Not the opponent as much as on our game, our shots, our defense.

“We just need to play more together. We’re definitely capable of it.”

Especially with Klem leading the way.

“It’s been paramount to have that calming influence there,” Armstrong said. “We have a lot of good players, but they’re looking for Lauren getting us organized on offense and sometimes on defense. She’s just kind of a quiet assassin — death by a thousand cuts or whatever. She just hurts the other team so many different ways.”