Bob Lutz

This is the Conner Frankamp everyone has been waiting to see

Wichita State guard Conner Frankamp shoots against Illinois State forward Deontae Hawkins during the second half Saturday at Koch Arena.
Wichita State guard Conner Frankamp shoots against Illinois State forward Deontae Hawkins during the second half Saturday at Koch Arena. The Wichita Eagle

Over the past couple of years, I’ve said to anyone who would listen that Conner Frankamp would find his way as a college basketball player.

It’s time to admit that I wasn’t completely sure. But Frankamp, Wichita State’s redshirt junior guard, is finally doing his best to vindicate me.

The Shockers beat league-leader Illinois State by 41 and Bob Lutz got his blood pressure up talking about the NCAA Tournament.

He scored a season-high 18 points Saturday night as the Shockers ran away from Illinois State 86-45 at Koch Arena. That’s three nights after he scored his previous career high of 16 at Drake, which was three days after he tied his career high with 15 at Bradley.

Frankamp’s confidence is soaring now, coincidentally or not at the same time the confidence of his coach grows in his use of Frankamp.

“That was as aggressive as I’ve seen him,” Marshall said of Frankamp, who made 6 of 10 shots for the third game in a row and hit four of his six three-point attempts. “It’s good to see that, good to see him hunting shots.”

When you have the capability of shooting like Frankamp, the City League’s all-time leading scorer, hunting is good.

But for so long, Frankamp looked apprehensive, unsure, doubtful. He spent most of his first three semesters sitting and watching at Kansas, then mostly deferred to WSU veterans and current NBA players Ron Baker and Fred VanVleet after becoming eligible at the semester break last season.

Wichita State beat Illinois State by 41 to move into a first place tie in the MVC with the Redbirds.

It was as if Frankamp got to the front door but could only tap on it gently for fear of waking someone up. It’s taken this long for him to finally kick the door without concern for what’s behind it.

Frankamp doesn’t have a magical answer as to why he’s worked his way beyond the confidence issues. He does his best not to think about those things. He does admit, though, that he’s feeling good on the court and with the ball in his hands.

“I just feel like I’m playing like I know how to play,” Frankamp said. “It’s quite a bit of relief, honestly. And it’s not just on the offensive end but the defensive end, too.”

Frankamp doesn’t have to carry the Shockers. This team’s depth is its greatest attribute and guys like Shaq Morris, Markis McDuffie and Zach Brown were really good Saturday night.

Frankamp, though, is the worst nightmare for the rest of the coaches in the Missouri Valley Conference. His ability to make shots, quelled for so long, is out of the bag.

“We all know he’s a great shooter, but the way he can shoot off the dribble is unique,” Illinois State coach Dan Muller said. “They’re so physical inside and have so many good players so when they have a guy like Frankamp who can hurt you every time he catches the ball, it makes a big difference.”

It’s telling, too, that Frankamp’s best college game came in Wichita State’s biggest game of the season. The Shockers were intent on avenging a 76-62 loss at Illinois State on Jan. 14, a game in which they were manhandled.

There was a different atmosphere inside Koch Arena on Saturday night. The place was buzzing an hour before the tip, a fan base that has seen one blowout after another this season eager for a good game.

This was a one-sided game, though, that kept everyone’s interest because of the opponent. And because of the bad blood between these two programs, which got another infusion Saturday when Marshall called a timeout with less than a minute remaining.

He said it was because Muller called a timeout at about the same time in the game at Illinois State.

The handshake between the two coaches was brief both before and after the game.

“If you want to be mad, don’t be down by 40,” Muller said of the late Shockers’ time out.

This is good stuff during a season in which the Valley hasn’t produced much drama. If WSU and ISU meet for a third time in the championship game of the Valley tournament in St. Louis next month, it’ll be the Redbirds seeking revenge and the Shockers trying to make sure Illinois State is rebuffed.

For now, both teams are 11-1 in the conference, head and shoulders above the rest of the pack. But a 41-point drubbing does send a message and how Illinois State interprets it will go a long way in determining how the rest of the regular season unfolds.

Don’t bank on the Shockers losing any more games, even though road trips to Loyola, Southern Illinois and Missouri State loom. WSU is a near lock to take care of Missouri State, Northern Iowa and Evansville at home, where the Shockers have won 13 games by an average margin of 28.4 points.

Now that Frankamp is firing without hesitation, the Shockers’ arsenal has an even great stockpile.

“He’s being aggressive,” McDuffie said of Frankamp. “He can really shoot the ball and he’s got it going now and being what we wanted him to be. We’ve been waiting for it and now he’s there and hopefully he’ll continue.”

Wichita State University's men's basketball team member Conner Frankamp answers questions about basketball and life away from the court. (video by Jaime Green) October 14, 2016

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