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Conner Frankamp an unassuming City League star KU signee Conner Frankamp on pace to become City League’s all-time leading scorer.

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Saturday, Nov. 17, 2012, at 7:32 p.m.
  • Updated Saturday, Nov. 17, 2012, at 10 p.m.

As his popularity and incredible talents push Conner Frankamp toward the basketball stratosphere, his parents and coaches pull to keep him on the ground.

Every amazing, I-wish-I-could-do-that feat he accomplishes on a basketball floor feeds the notion that a player with as much ability as Frankamp must be so full of himself that he’s about to burst.

But Frankamp remains humble, thankful, insightful.

A kid who averages 32.4 points per game, who is primed to become the City League’s all-time leading scorer this season, who holds the single-game scoring record with a 52-point performance against Northwest as a sophomore — that kid’s gotta be a prima donna, right?

Sorry to disappoint.

Frankamp barely stands out from the crowd inside his diverse high school, North, where kids from many different backgrounds and cultures know him simply as “Conner.”

He relishes their adulation, but he doesn’t flaunt it. He works hard in school, likes to please his parents and takes out the trash because it’s on his list of chores.

Frankamp is signed, sealed and delivered to play basketball at Kansas, but he reminds himself constantly that those days are in the future. What’s at hand now is his senior year at North, where he will help bring down the oldest gymnasium in the City League while raising, he hopes, a City League championship banner to put in the new gym that opens next year.

“If you didn’t know who Conner was here, you’d never be able to pick him out of a crowd at North,” athletic director Brian Becker said. “He just wants to be a kid, to be a high school student.”

• • • 

Frankamp is a 6-foot guard who looks like a lot of other 6-foot guards until he gets that basketball in his hands. That’s when the magic show starts.

He shoots, he dribbles, he passes. He gets his shot before a defender can raise his arms and it really doesn’t matter whether he’s shooting a lay-up or a three-pointer, it’s probably going in.

“At North, Conner has had to do so much,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “He’s scoring, handling the ball. But the great thing about him from his time playing in the summer campus and Junior Olympics is that he’s shown he can really play with other good players. I think a lot of those guys look at him and say, ‘Who is this guy?’ ”

Even with the gaudy scoring numbers, though, North is only 35-31 in Frankamp’s three seasons. He’s been filling it up, all right, but too many times has gone home disappointed from losses.

So he’s not thinking about 35 points a game or breaking records this season. He’s thinking about winning.

“I feel like we have a good team with more experience,” Frankamp said. “Everybody is stronger. Everybody got a lot of game experience last year.”

Then he dropped the bombshell, saying that for North to reach its team goals he has to score less.

Less.

“I think this year if I score 25 points per game, we’ll be good to go,” Frankamp said. “That’s going to be our best chance to be successful.”

• • 

Anybody who hangs out in a YMCA gym in Wichita has seen Frankamp’s devotion and work ethic up close.

His regimen is to make somewhere from 300 to 500 shots a day, and to work on his ballhandling until his hands are sore. He doesn’t cut corners. He never wakes up and convinces himself he’s too tired.

“Conner was obsessed with basketball from a very early age,” said his mother, Karen, a kindergarten teacher at Bostic Elementary in Wichita. “Even when he was a toddler, he would make anybody he could become a basketball goal so he could shoot baskets into their arms. We spent a lot of hours at his grandparents’ house, watching him and pretending to be the announcer as he pretended to be Michael Jordan. Hours and hours.”

Frankamp never played football and shunned baseball — which he says is boring — after only a couple of practices as a kid. He does enjoy playing golf and relishes the knock-down, drag-out games of ping-pong he plays with his brother, Kevin, who is 24. They play nearly every night in the big garage behind their house near Andover, where Frankamp could have gone to high school.

But Frankamp’s father, Marty, is a physical education teacher at Pleasant Valley Middle School, near 29th and Amidon. His brother and sister were North graduates and Marty would have gone to North had his family not moved to Goddard. Marty is also Gary Squires’ top assistant at North, so an investment in the Redskins is mutual in the Frankamp family.

Kevin finished high school at North after starting at Trinity Academy and North is where Conner feels comfortable, even though his older teammates at times tried to freeze him out during his freshman season, when Frankamp broke onto the big stage.

“I got used to being pushed around by those guys and it made me tougher,” Frankamp said.

He appreciates North’s history and knows Lynette Woodard and Barry Sanders were Redskins and that’s meaningful to him.

“There are so many different types of people at North, which is a good thing,” Frankamp said. “I feel like I’ve connected with a lot of them. I try to be friendly to everyone and I try not to have any enemies.”

• • 

First and foremost, Frankamp is a shooter. There isn’t a shot he can’t make, nor one he isn’t willing to take. He’ll often pull up 10 feet or so above the top of the key and launch a shot that makes you think he’s not thinking straight only to watch it ripple the net.

Frankamp never gets tired of shooting. He doesn’t take his ability to make shots for granted, which is why he pushes himself every day.

He is a lot like former Claflin High and Missouri State standout Jackie Stiles in that way. So imagine the energy created a few years back when Frankamp worked with Stiles regularly in Wichita to improve his skills.

“Do I remember Conner?” Stiles asked incredulously when asked if she remembers Conner. “Oh my goodness, yes. I remember after my first sessions with him that I called my dad and said, ‘Remember this name, he’ll play anywhere he wants to as long as he keeps working hard and stays healthy.’ ”

Stiles, in her first season as an assistant coach at Loyola Marymount in Los Angeles, saw her career end because of injuries she suspects occurred because of all the hours she devoted to basketball when she was growing up. You couldn’t lock her out of the gym.

It’s the same way with Frankamp, who is aware of potential wear and tear.

“We try to keep a handle on it,” he said. “I try to take a couple of days off here and there, just to let my body recover. But working with Jackie was a great experience. I learned from her work ethic.”

Stiles saw a part of herself in Frankamp, which is partly why their sessions together were so enjoyable.

“You just don’t see that kind of passion in kids,” she said. “He was just the whole package — very, very special. I feel honored that I had a chance to work with. I grew up as a huge KU fan and I remember watching Danny and the Miracles with my dad. Now I absolutely cannot wait until Conner gets there so that I’ll have that KU connection again.”

It had to be asked. How would a game of H-O-R-S-E between Stiles and Frankamp end?

Stiles, no doubt Frankamp’s equal as a competitor, needed a moment to answer.

“Well, we never played before,” she said. “I really wish I had been working with him in my prime, before all the injuries. OK, so even though I hate to lose more than anything — I absolutely hate to lose — I’d have to say a game of H-O-R-S-E would go to Conner.”

• • • 

Frankamp can’t wait to get to KU. He signed his letter of intent Wednesday and says playing for the Jayhawks will be a dream come true. He committed to Kansas a year and a half ago without much fanfare.

His star has risen since, thanks to an incredible junior season for North and a summer during which he helped the U.S. win the FIBA U17 world championship in Kaunas, Lithuania.

Frankamp moved from a three-star to a four-star recruit. The buzz that once accompanied Frankamp has become a buzzer. He’s hot but he doesn’t know it. Or at least doesn’t acknowledge it.

“He doesn’t bring any individual attention to him at all,” Squires said. “He’s a very confident young man and he knows what it takes to get the job done. But he doesn’t make waves about it.”

Frankamp is quiet, but not shy. He’s sure of himself, but not boastful. Things come easy for him, it appears. Yet he has worked for years to refine his skills.

His father makes sure Frankamp gets the most out of his athletic abilities. His mother has other responsibilities.

“My job is to make sure he stays grounded in reality,” Karen Frankamp said. “I want him to realize he has a gift, but that he also has other duties.”

Like taking out the trash, unloading the dishwasher, folding his clothes, cleaning his room.

Cleaning his room? A teenage boy?

“OK, he’s not that good,” Karen said.

Frankamp admits to having flights of fancy about KU, where he’ll play in another historic barn. How could he not?

“I try to stay in the moment,” he said. “But there are times that I’ll get carried away by thinking about what is ahead. It’s so crazy up there in Lawrence; the atmosphere in so crazy.’’

But Frankamp is adamant that he’s out to help North do something special first, and that his KU experience will be dulled some if the Redskins don’t have a special season.

His senior season begins soon. The most dynamic player the City League has seen in years will have come and gone in the blink of an eye. Then Frankamp will be on to bigger and better things, ready to take flight but never losing sight of the ground.

Reach Bob Lutz at blutz@wichitaeagle.com or 316-268-6597.

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