NORMAN, Okla. — If you watch Kansas freshman Conner Frankamp shoot enough jumpers, the mechanics can begin to resemble a smooth piece of machinery.
Like a perfectly struck pitching wedge, or a soundly calibrated catapult, there’s a fluidity among all the moving parts. Load. Release. Follow-through. The next shot the same as the last.
For years, as Frankamp was setting scoring records and carving out his status as a City League legend at North High, he could always count on the precision and consistency of his jumper.
Load. Release. Follow through. Swish.
So this partly explains why the first two months of Frankamp’s career at Kansas were particularly frustrating. It wasn’t that he was sitting on the bench; he always knew he’d face great competition for playing time during his freshman season.
It was just, well … his trusty jumper wasn’t falling. In limited minutes, Frankamp made 3 of 14 from three-point range during Kansas’ first 13 games — and he hadn’t made a three since the Jayhawks’ victory over Towson on Nov. 22. If a shooter can’t make shots, it can certainly mess with his sense of identity.
“It was a little frustrating at first,” Frankamp said. “I just kept working and knew it’d fall eventually.”
That opportunity finally came on Wednesday night at Oklahoma. Frankamp finished with five points in 13 minutes as KU opened Big 12 play with a 90-83 victory. And finally, a three-pointer finally swished, giving No. 18 Kansas a 46-44 lead it would never lose.
“It felt good after it left my hand,” said Frankamp, who added another long jumper right before halftime.
Before the game, Kansas coach Bill Self had found Frankamp and told him that this would be a night where he could contribute. He’d played six total minutes in the Jayhawks’ previous five games — and logged zero playing time in the last two. But Self saw the matchup as favorable for Frankamp. In Kansas’ previous game against San Diego State, the Jayhawks had faced a team that started one true guard and were long and athletic all over the court. From a defensive standpoint, Self said, it was a difficult matchup for the 6-foot Frankamp. But Oklahoma played a more traditional lineup, and the Sooners also entered averaging 87 points.
Kansas needed all the offense it could get.
“It got my mind right,” Frankamp said.
The need for Frankamp became even greater after starting point guard Naadir Tharpe picked up three fouls in the first half. So off the bench trotted Frankamp, running the point as KU finished off an 11-1 run before the half.
At halftime, Self had a decision. He wanted to protect Tharpe from picking up his fourth foul early in the second half. In most cases, he probably would have gone with backup point guard Frank Mason. But Tharpe suggested that Self stay with Frankamp, and Self agreed.
“He played so good to finish the half,” Self said. “And we were going to start Frank (Mason), and I said, ‘No, we’re going to play Frankamp because he played so good the first half.’ ”
In the short term, Frankamp still faces an uphill challenge to earn consistent minutes while the guard rotation shrinks during conference play. But his ability to provide steady minutes at point guard while providing a threat from three-point range could be an intriguing combination for Self. All year long, the Jayhawks have struggled to consistently make jumpers.
When Self recruited Frankamp, a top-40 recruit, he often referred to him as one of the best shooters he’d ever recruited. But while the lack of playing time has been an adjustment, Frankamp says he never felt like his freshmen classmates were passing him by.
“I’m at the best program in the country, I feel like,” Frankamp said, “so it’s an honor to be here. So my (confidence) is always high. I just got to be ready when my name is called.”