Bob Lutz: Conner Frankamp overcomes shooting struggles in WSU win over UConn

Conner Frankamp moves past a defender during the College of Charleston game November 13 at Koch Arena. (Photo courtesy Jess Vermeulen/KSN News)

Every time Conner Frankamp takes a shot, I feel like taking a shot — only of a different kind.

That’s the kind of relationship we have. I want him to do well, he wants to do well. Alas, he doesn’t always do well.

Frankamp is, of course, a local. A Wichita kid who went to North, became the all-time leading scorer in City League history and was regarded, during those glory years, as one of the best high school guards in the country.

He led international teams in scoring. He decided early on to attend Kansas and play for Bill Self, never seeming to give the Shockers much of a look.

But when things didn’t work out in Lawrence – and Frankamp lasted only one season – he was pursued by Gregg Marshall and Wichita State. Frankamp ultimately decided to join the Shockers and, as an unabashed Frankamp fan, I was happy.

Bob Lutz (KSN Photo)

Better yet, my wife, Debbie, was happy.

We attended many of Frankamp’s North games, enamored by his ability as a shooter, ballhandler, passer and scorer. He was an incredible high school player, hacking his way through stifling defenses to, game after game, score 30, 40 and once or twice even 50 points.

Debbie, also a North grad, is a huge Frankamp fan. She, like so many others, was treated to his incredible talent when he played for the Redskins.

It hasn’t come as easily for Frankamp in college. He was stuck mostly on the bench at Kansas with few moments where his scoring spark sputtered toward igniting.

At Wichita State, it was more of the same early on. Frankamp looked to lack confidence, which never computed. How could the most confident high school player I’ve seen suddenly be swept over with doubt?

But there it was, on paper. Frankamp played in 28 games during his sophomore season at WSU, after sitting out the first semester, and shot less than 39 percent from the floor. He never quite found it, and with shooters “it” can be elusive.

As a junior, though, Frankamp was better. He made 44.6 percent of his shots and 44 percent of his three-pointers. He teamed with Landry Shamet to give the Shockers a dangerous backcourt tandem.

And though Frankamp has not been able to take his game to an even higher level during his senior season, he was steady.

Until . . .

During a five-game late-January, early-February stretch, Frankamp hit the skids, making only 6 of 28 shots and just two three-pointers in 16 tries.

This is a guy who teammates say never misses a shot in practice don’t think they’re exaggerating that much.

But shooters fall into funks. It happened to Shamet, too. It happens to everyone.

Frankamp finally broke out in an easy WSU win over UConn on Saturday at Koch Arena, making four of his five three-pointers and scoring 14 points.

I wasn’t the only one relieved to see his shots fall. There’s a noticeable hush inside Koch every time he takes a shot, and a resounding reaction when one of them goes through the hoop.

My theory: Wichitans have a special love for other Wichitans.

“I’ve been working out about an hour, two hours every single day, and I’ve been shooting better than I’ve ever shot in my workouts,” Frankamp told reporters after the UConn game. “So, it’s kind of weird not being able to not knock down shots during the game, but tonight I was able to get some open looks and put them in. I’ve shot millions of shots in my life. I knew eventually I would get out of this slump, so I just tried to stay positive even if I miss a few. I just try to get steals on defense or a couple rebounds to stay in the flow of the game.”

Frankamp’s college basketball career, presumably, hasn’t gone like he thought it would. He didn’t last at KU. He struggled to find his way at Wichita State. He’s had some outstanding moments with the Shockers, but recently lost his spot in the starting lineup to sophomore Austin Reaves.

He’s the most talked-about player on the Shockers, for all of the reasons listed above and many others. We’re fascinated by him, excited by him and exasperated by him.

He’s mostly abandoned his penetration game, which was such a part of his arsenal in high school. Frankamp rarely goes to the free-throw line, which seems a waste of his marksmanship there (22 for 22 this season).

Perhaps he would have been better off going somewhere far away to play college basketball, away from the spotlight. Perhaps he would have been better off playing in a system that highlighted scorers more than does Gregg Marshall’s system of offensive balance.

That’s all second-guessing, though, and there’s no time for that now. The Shockers have six games remaining in the regular season, followed by what they hope is three in the American Athletic Conference postseason tournament and six in the NCAA Tournament.

There’s still time for Frankamp to do what Frankamp is capable of doing. His hot shooting against UConn bodes well for the stretch run.

Here’s hoping he makes every shot. And that he keeps shooting. That’s what Frankamp is, a shooter. Keep it up, kid.