LAWRENCE — The most important shot of Conner Frankamp’s life came 89 days ago, but he still hears about it almost daily.
Sometimes in code.
They don’t always mention the three-pointer that Frankamp missed in the final seconds against Stanford, an errant jumper that turned No. 2 seed Kansas’ season into a pile of mush. No, they mention the good times first: The three-pointer that Frankamp hit at the first-half buzzer. The desperation bombs that he buried in the final 25 seconds, keeping hope alive in the NCAA Tournament.
On most occasions, when a Kansas fan or stranger mentions Stanford, they just want to tell Frankamp how well he played. He was a little-used freshman guard, thrust into the spotlight of the NCAA Tournament, and he nearly saved the season.
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But three months later, the loss still stings the former North High guard.
“I say, ‘Thank you,’ ” Frankamp said. “But it would have been better if we would have won the game.”
Now back in Lawrence for this second summer as a Jayhawk, Frankamp is determined to make sure his second college season finishes better than his first. But before that, he’d also like to ensure that it starts better, too.
One year ago, Frankamp arrived at Kansas as a four-star recruit and the all-time leading scorer in City League history after a sterling career at North. Kansas coach Bill Self called Frankamp one of the best shooters he’d ever recruited; Frankamp had a pedigree that included a starring role for a USA basketball team during the summer before his senior year of high school.
But whatever talent Frankamp brought, he rarely had the chance to showcase it. For most of the season he was an afterthought, buried behind Naadir Tharpe, Wayne Selden Jr. and Frank Mason in the guard rotation.
Now Tharpe is gone, and Frankamp is hoping to earn more significant minutes after showing a glimmer of promise in the NCAA Tournament. Frankamp averaged 11 points in two tournament games, and he drained 4 of 7 from three-point range against Stanford.
“It gave me a lot of confidence,” Frankamp said, “just knowing I can play out there with these kind of guys. It showed me I have to continue to work and get better and be ready for next season.”
Frankamp estimates he’s added eight pounds to his 6-foot frame over the last year, putting in focused work with KU strength and conditioning coach Andrea Hudy.
The extra bulk is most evident in Frankamp’s thicker shoulders, which were sporting a rather palpable farmer’s tan during a public team scrimmage on Wednesday at Self’s basketball camp.
Frankamp drilled five three-pointers in the scrimmage, leading the red team alongside new roommate and freshman forward Cliff Alexander. Still, Frankamp’s blend of shooting ability and size inevitably lead to questions about his position. He is an expert marksman and prefers to think of himself as simply a guard. But his size can be a liability if he’s on the court with another smallish point guard.
Frankamp, of course, has heard the size and position questions since his days at North, where he ran the point but was also expected to make plays and score.
“I had the ball in my hands quite a bit at North, because I had to score quite a bit for our team to win,” Frankamp said. “But I feel like I can be (a true point guard) if I need to be. But I just want to be out there and help the team.”
For the most part, Self agrees with that sentiment. Frankamp will be in the mix at the point, Self says, but he envisions a backcourt with less definable roles. Self would like to play multiple guards with point guard skills, taking the pressure off the player cast as the primary point guard.
Mason profiles as a point guard as well, and so does incoming freshman Devonte’ Graham, who attended a prep school last season and is actually a few months older than Frankamp. So while Frankamp will be battling them for minutes, he could end up playing alongside them as well.
It is a setup and system that, in theory, could benefit a player such as Frankamp — a terrific shooter with solid ballhandling capabilities.
“It will be a good style for us,” Frankamp said. “We can get up and down the court a lot faster, and be able to use our athletic ability.”
But for now, Frankamp will wait. The summer is long. He has work to put in. And it’s only been three months since Stanford.
“The next time I get an opportunity like that,” Frankamp said. “I will be able to knock it down.”