Robby General // Story Breanna Daugherty // Photography Ryan Shank // Videography
Robby General // Story
Breanna Daugherty // Photography
Ryan Shank // Videography
After practice on Thanksgiving Day last year, Ball State men’s basketball head coach James Whitford pulled each player and coach into a huddle.
He instructed each one of them to go around and share what they were thankful for. Many of the responses were team-related, as the Cardinals were off to one of their hottest starts in recent memory.
But then-junior forward Franko House had something else on his mind. He was thinking about his long-time girlfriend Morgan Jantzi, and the news he learned a few weeks before.
She was pregnant.
As each man on the court spoke, it was soon associate head coach Jason Grunkemeyer’s turn to address the team. He had recently discovered that his wife was pregnant with their third child.
“At that point, obviously I knew my wife was pregnant, but we hadn’t said anything to anybody yet and we were at the point where we were going to start telling people,” Grunkemeyer said. “I said, ‘I’m thankful for my family, and we’re getting to ready to have another baby.’”
Assistant coach Brian Thornton was in a similar position and chimed in with news of his own wife’s pregnancy.
While everyone on the floor cheered, House could only think about his future. No one knew just how much the two-year starter’s life was going to change.
“I was too nervous, I wasn’t going to come out and say it there,” House said. “In the back of my head I’m thinking, ‘Man, I’m about to have a baby too and they don’t know.’”
Get an inside look into 'Franko's House'
The initial shock
The only person who knew of Morgan Jantzi’s pregnancy during the first 10 weeks was her mother, Michelle Jantzi.
Around Halloween in 2015, Morgan Jantzi began to feel sick in the mornings and eventually decided to go with House to buy a pregnancy test.
The test confirmed the couple’s feeling — they were going to have a baby.
“We were just so scared and nervous, and I didn’t even know what to do,” Morgan Jantzi said. “I didn’t know what doctor’s office to contact. I didn’t know anything about it.”
It was mid-November when the couple decided they needed to let somebody know. So they set up a dinner with Michelle Jantzi.
As they sat down, they were choking on their words, not knowing exactly what to say or how to say it.
Eventually the words came out and there were endless questions running through Michelle Jantzi’s mind. She knew all too well how hard the future was going to be for the couple.
“When they first told me, I was scared for them,” Michelle Jantzi said. “I kept thinking, ‘How is this going to work? How are they going to be able to finish college? How will Franko’s coaches take it? How will his teammates take it?’ That lasted for just a little bit, maybe a day or two, and then I saw how excited they were, and after that it was really exciting.”
For the next couple of weeks, everything remained the same. House continued his season and the couple began planning the next steps with Michelle Jantzi alongside for guidance.
At the 10-week mark, both House and Morgan Jantzi went to IU Health Ball Memorial Hospital for their first doctor’s appointment.
“That’s when we went in and heard the heartbeat for the first time,” Morgan Jantzi said. “Then we were really excited. So we were like, ‘OK, let’s go tell the rest of our family.’”
Being a few hours away from their hometown of Elkhart, the couple informed the rest of their families over the phone.
The screams and sheer excitement helped ease some of the early tension, turning the nerves into enthusiasm.
Franko tells his teammatesRyan Shank // DN
But even with support from both sides of the family, House knew there was still one more family to tell — the Ball State men’s basketball team.
He first approached Thornton, his position coach, and a man he considers a big brother. After practice one day, House pulled him aside and said, “Hey, we need to talk.”
“I’ll never forget it. We sat in the end zone of the gym and he told me that Morgan was pregnant,” Thornton said. “I hugged him and said, ‘Hey man, it’s going to change your life.’”
Franko tells his teammatesRyan Shank // DN
After he broke the news to Thornton, House went to Grunkemeyer’s office, knowing that each of the three men were going through the same thing at the same time.
“I think it adds a real extra layer to what a typical coach-player relationship is,” Grunkemeyer said. “His son was born about a month after [Thornton’s and my] kids were born, and so we’re all kind of in the same phase of life. Any time you’re ready to become a father it’s a big deal, and it made us all kind of bond at that time.”
Normally, coaches would worry about how a Division-l athlete and full-time student would handle becoming a father, but none of that seemed to be of too much concern for anyone on the coaching staff.
“I think a lot of times when you have somebody who’s young like Franko, have a child certainly earlier than planned, you can be overcome with worry as an adult,” head coach James Whitford said. “In Franko’s case, I didn’t really have that because he’s in a relationship with somebody he deeply, deeply cares about. He’s incredibly responsible as a person, mature well beyond his years.
“There wasn’t any part of me that felt like Franko wasn’t ready for it and couldn’t handle both elements of preparing for his career and be a father. I knew he could.”
And Whitford was right.
House’s coaches described him as someone who is focused, and having a child didn’t inhibit that mindset — it enhanced it.
“Honestly, I think it helped me,” House said. “It gave me the best chance to have my best season last year. I feel like I was more focused than I ever have been; I was determined. … I had to figure out what I’m going to do after college, whether it’s play basketball and even after that.”
The first step in House’s newfound focus was cutting off social media, a strategy he took from Jimmy Butler of the Chicago Bulls, who went without cable or internet for an entire summer. Instead of checking his phone for 30 minutes at a time, House would go to the gym and work on his game.
It paid off — during the Cardinals’ first 20-win season since 2002, House led the charge with 12.2 points, 5.8 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game. He finished the season first or second on the team in four different statistical categories: points (427), rebounds (202), assists (75) and blocked shots (19).
He finished his junior season as an All-Mid-American Conference Second Team selection as well as a MAC All-Defensive Team choice, the only player in the conference last season to receive both accolades.
Even with all of that going on, House still made it a point to attend every doctor’s appointment and was there for his fiancee and son.
“I had a good support cast because they wanted me to be involved with the ultrasounds, the first heartbeat and all of the little stuff that lot of people who are too busy aren’t able to see,” House said.
At 3:40 p.m. on June 20, 2016, Carter was born.
The moment is forever embedded on his parents’ left forearms; both House and Morgan Jantzi got a tattoo following Carter’s birth.
An ink clock on House’s arm shows the time his son was born. It’s surrounded by roses —the birth flower for June — a “C” for Carter and a dove signifying endless love. On Morgan Jantzi’s arm, a rose is covered with two ribbons; the top one bears their son’s name and the bottom one reads “VI-XX-XVI” — Carter’s birth date in Roman numerals.
Since Carter’s birth, most days are the same for House. He wakes up every morning before classes and helps out in any way he can. That usually includes cleaning bottles, feeding or changing a diaper.
After class, he returns to the apartment he and Morgan Jantzi share to see Carter before heading off to practice and workouts, which last until the evening.
“There’s no down time for him, and I think he’s had to prioritize his days to make sure that he’s able to check all of the boxes that he needs to,” Grunkemeyer said. “You know, most college kids, even basketball players, have some free time. His free time is now occupied by his responsibilities as a father.”
When House gets back home, he helps feed and bathe Carter, continuing his day as a father.
“It’s kind of just like a routine,” Morgan Jantzi said. “As soon as he walks through the door, he picks him up and he’s ready to go and he starts doing everything. … I get Carter all day to myself and once Franko gets back I’m like, ‘Your turn,’ and Franko’s ready to have him again.”
After putting Carter to bed, the couple uses what little time they have left to do their schoolwork. Morgan Jantzi, who’s a student at Ivy Tech, sits alongside House each night as they finish their homework together before they go to bed and do it all over again.
On game days, the routine is a little different. Ever since House’s high school games at Concord, Morgan Jantzi and her mom have always been in the stands. And at Ball State, the two attend all of the games — even on the road — missing just three in the past two seasons. Now, Carter’s there with them.
This season is a little different with Carter traveling with the pair during visits to Worthen, or in the car during road trips.
“I enjoy going to the games, but I also enjoy spending times with Morgan and Carter,” Michelle Jantzi said. “So it’s just some mom-and-daughter time and now a grandson too.”
It’s an added bonus for House to look into the stands and see his family each game.
“I love it,” he said. “I’m glad my son can come and watch me play. … [Morgan] is a great fiancee, and my son obviously goes to every game with her. He’ll be there, cheering me on or sleeping, I don’t really know.”
After every game, the mother-daughter combo stands on the floor, waiting for House to come out of the locker room. Just like when he comes home from practice, he immediately picks up Carter and begins taking care of him.
It’s a routine, and Michelle Jantzi is there to watch every moment of it.
“The one thing I’m really glad about is to know Franko in two ways: as a basketball player on the court, and when he’s the dad and fiance,” Michelle Jantzi said. “He’s an incredible person, and he’s just taking really good care of his family and it’s very impressive.”
Franko's future plansRyan Shank // DN
Carter has certainly added an extra dimension to House’s life, but as he finishes his last season at Ball State, the goal remains the same — to play professional basketball.
“Hopefully I can play overseas, that would be my first goal, just to get a chance to continue playing basketball and doing something that I love,” House said.
With the way he’s played up to this point in his career, his coaches said he’s put himself in the right position to continue playing.
“I think he’s going to have a chance to play basketball after college, I certainly do,” Whitford said. “He’s doing everything he can to give him the best chance possible, but he’s not one-dimensional in the sense that if that didn’t happen.”
This season, House became the 29th player in Ball State’s history to reach 1,000 career points. In the first seven games of his senior season, he played some of his best collegiate basketball, averaging more points and more rebounds than any other year.
Still, professional basketball is one of the hardest industries to get into, which is why House has put his academics and family life first. If playing basketball doesn’t work out, though, coaching is another avenue that interests him.
For now, he remains focused on this season. No matter what happens, it’s going to be hard for Ball State to replace someone like House.
“I love him. He’s a little brother to me,” Thornton said. “I’m just really proud at how far he’s come and how he’s embraced this responsibility that he has.”
While much of House’s future remains uncertain, one thing remains for sure: wherever he goes, Morgan Jantzi and Carter will be there.
House and Morgan Jantzi will be married on June 10, 2017, nearly one year after the birth of their first son.
This Thanksgiving, House wasn’t with the team — he was with Morgan Jantzi and Carter at home, celebrating the holiday for the first time together as a family in Muncie.
Away from the gym, House took time to text Thornton and Grunkemeyer, sharing with them what he was thankful for — to have coaches there for him through it all.
Story by Robby General
Photography by Breanna Daugherty
Videography by Ryan Shank
Design by Tyson Bird