Bob Lutz

Bob Lutz: Frankamp has 10,000 friends hanging on his jump shot

Wichita State's Conner Frankamp grabs a rebound against New Mexico State on Monday night.
Wichita State's Conner Frankamp grabs a rebound against New Mexico State on Monday night. The Wichita Eagle

As the ball left his right hand with precise spin and elegant arch, Monday night’s sellout crowd at Koch Arena gasped slightly.

The way it does on every shot Conner Frankamp takes.

Such are the expectations for a kid who grew up here, became the City League’s career scoring leader, went to Kansas to live out his dream and discovered dreams aren’t always what they’re made out to be.

When Frankamp decided he was leaving KU and transferring to Wichita State after the first semester of his sophomore year, he knew it would be good to be home. He also knew there would be pressure.

Which might explain why, before Monday’s 71-41 win over New Mexico State, Frankamp was shooting just less than 29 percent overall and making 22 percent of his three-pointers. Juxtapose that to his 44.8 percent shooting on the road, including 43.2 percent from the three-point line.

Frankamp missed his first shot but made a runner along the baseline later in the first half. With just a couple of seconds left before halftime, he needed this shot from well beyond the three-point arc to be good.

It was like the thousands of shots he has taken in his basketball life. Except that it wasn’t.

Because of the gasp. Because of the expectation. Because of the mounting pressure to live up to his hype.

The Eagle and's Bob Lutz and Paul Suellentrop discuss Wichita State's 71-41 win over New Mexico State at Koch Arena. (John Albert/The Wichita Eagle)

Frankamp lives to shoot. He hones his craft with hours and hours of practice. When he missed a baseline three-pointer at the buzzer during Saturday’s 53-50 loss — a shot that would have sent that game into overtime — he was devastated.

“I should have hit that,” said Frankamp, who received a pass on an out-of-bounds play from underneath the Shockers’ basket and had an open shot. “No excuse for that.”

The quiet Frankamp said he was particularly pensive the rest of the weekend and eager for the New Mexico State game.

“A lot of this is more mental than physical,” Frankamp said. “I shoot a lot of shots and I’ve been trying to get into the flow of games and everything. But I’ve really been working on the mental side.”

That means trying to understand why he’s not making shots he’s been making for years. The bare answer is simple; it’s because Frankamp hasn’t yet adjusted to playing in front of people who know him, and expect so much from him, at Koch Arena.

Beyond the simple answer, though, are complexities. What is it about playing at home that turns such a sure-handed and confident shooter like Frankamp fragile?

He makes shots in rapid succession during pre-game warmups at Koch Arena. Sometimes 20 or more in a row. He’s a different player on the road, averaging 9.9 points compared to 3.7 at home.

Frankamp doesn’t blame anyone for his struggles and often tweets about how much he loves playing at Wichita State and cares about his teammates.

“I love it here, it’s been a great transition for me,” he said. “I love the coaches, love the team. They all root for me hard. It’s been an amazing experience.”

Except that Frankamp hadn’t been able to solve Koch, to show the hometown fans what they want to see.

Which is why the shot just before halftime was so important.

Frankamp took a crisp pass from Fred VanVleet, catching it in rhythm just to the right of the top of the key. He did not hesitate — there was no time to hesitate.

The basketball floated toward the rim with symmetry. And just as the horn sounded and the lights around the backboard went red, Frankamp’s shot swished.

“That,” he said, “felt really good.”

Frankamp hasn’t forgotten how to shoot. There’s proof of that from his numbers on the road. He just hasn’t mastered how to shoot in front of a home crowd that wants to embrace him but hasn’t quite been able to get a grasp.

Frankamp’s teammates have often talked about his practice exploits in disbelief. Gregg Marshall has called Frankamp the best shooter he’s ever coached.

After watching Frankamp miss so many shots at Koch Arena, we’ve probably all wondered if Marshall had Frankamp confused with someone else.

But it’s there. And against New Mexico State, Frankamp scored nine points on 3-of-5 shooting, tying his season high for points at home.

“Playing at home has been an adjustment, especially at the start,” Frankamp said. “I felt like there was a decent amount of pressure on me, but there’s great support, too. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else but home.”

After the Northern Iowa game, though, Frankamp wanted to hide under his covers. He makes that baseline three-pointer in his sleep, yet as it clanked off the front of the rim, the disappointment on his face and in his body language was palpable.

“I talked to a few people just about the mental side of the game,” he said. “I have family and friends who are close to me and who help pick me up.

“I don’t talk much anyway, but especially when I’m down on myself. I do try to look at the positive things in life, though. And tonight I feel like I bounced back pretty good.”

Shockers players Ron Baker, Anton Grady and Zach Brown talk about a redemptive victory over New Mexico State, winning 71-41. (John Albert/The Wichita Eagle)

"We needed to play, and it was a lot more fun than practicing today," said Shockers coach Gregg Marshall after his team's bounceback win over the Aggies. (John Albert/The Wichita Eagle)

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