Seniors are the backbone to most good basketball teams.
They are the class that learned from the classes and teams that came before them. They are the class seasoned with time. They are the class that has been prepared for the last three years to lead.
But what if these rights were not given to you?
What if for the last three years you stood on the court and watched as a City League legend carved up defenses? You heard that you did not play for a team, rather you were the “four others” that played with Conner Frankamp.
Zach Beard, Sean Bernard, Tristyn Villa and Tarius Williams, wanted was their chance. One season, their senior year, to prove they were capable, they did have talent, and, most importantly, they could win without Frankamp.
Last year all they heard was a bunch of noise. And as the Redskins prepare to make their third consecutive appearance at the Class 6A tournament on Thursday — yes, without Frankamp this time — they are taking the time to appreciate the silence.
“It feels good to hear no one talk about how we’re just a one-man team anymore,” Williams said. “It just feels good hearing people be quiet now.”
Life without Conner
Replacing Frankamp, the City League’s all-time leading scorer who accounted for nearly three-fourths of the Redskins’ offense the last two seasons, was never possible.
Their job last season essentially was to space the floor for Frankamp, so when the returning players were asked to be the primary scorers this season they weren’t ready to handle such a load.
“The very first game at home, I told them at halftime that Superman isn’t coming back,” North coach Gary Squires said. “He ain’t coming out of that locker room again.”
North knew it had talented individual pieces, but those individuals were trying too hard to do it all on their own. After three games, the Redskins were 0-3.
“It was soul searching there for awhile,” Squires said. “They were really upset we weren’t winning. Adversity hit us and we were pointing fingers and the kids weren’t stepping up and playing their roles on the team.”
Consistency has escaped North this season — it has had winning streaks of five and three games and lost three and four straight — but once it won its first game, the anxiety was lifted and the Redskins started playing together as a unit.
“Then we could tell it wasn’t going to be a struggle,” Williams said. “We weren’t going to be the worst team in the city.”
North finished the season 12-10, a far cry from last season’s 20-2 mark, but still included victories over state-bound teams Southeast, Andover, and McPherson.
Proving to themselves
Some of the players admit that they were told they weren’t good so often last season that doubt began to surface in their own heads.
But Beard and Williams are accomplished players on the summer circuit, and Villa (cross country) and Bernard (football) are Division-I athletes in other sports. Throw in 6-foot-9 transfer Gage Loy, and North has talented pieces.
Before they could prove it to outsiders, they first had to prove to themselves they could succeed on their own.
“This year it’s a lot more spread out,” Bernard said. “It’s not just one guy anymore. We came together more as a family and as a team. Every day when we break down we say ‘family’ and we mean it.”
Frankamp’s 32.1 scoring average has been split apart and doled out to Beard, Williams, Loy, and Bernard, who all average between 10 and 16 points.
But in the end, all that mattered was where they finished in their new identity.
Nothing satisfies the four seniors more than being able to say they made it to state on their own this season.
“No one believed in us,” Villa said. “Everyone thought it was all Conner. He was taking all the shots and scoring all the points. Everybody said we needed him. Well, now we’re here without him.”
More doubt, no problem
North’s reward for its third straight trip to state is a date with the defending champion, Blue Valley Northwest, at 3 p.m. Thursday at Koch Arena.
The Redskins aren’t surprised to hear no one is picking them. They’ve heard that one before.
“It’s just another challenge we’re going to have to overcome,” Williams said. “We haven’t backed down from anyone this year, and we’re not planning on backing down from them either.”
Regardless of the outcome, their legacy will not be sealed with a win or a loss.
They waited three years for their chance and when it was finally given to them, this group left no doubt.
“We can actually play,” a grinning Beard said. “We can play.”