Varsity Basketball

Bob Lutz: A legend watches one in the making

For almost 34 years, I have told anybody who would listen that Ricky Ross is, without a doubt, the greatest City League basketball player.

Two state championships. McDonald’s All-American. Ross was such a great scorer, passer and rebounder.

But now there is doubt. Thanks to North senior guard Conner Frankamp, who blitzed East with a 48-point performance Tuesday night to add to his ever-growing legend, Ross as the greatest in City League history isn’t such a slam dunk.

What better way to help me sort out this debate than to sit with Ross as he watched Frankamp, which is what we did Tuesday.

Ross, who still looks to be in playing shape at 51 (Ricky Ross is 51???), had seen Frankamp once before, when Frankamp was a freshman. I invited Ross to Tuesday night’s game because I was curious what Ross thought about the kid that eclipsed his City League single-game scoring record two seasons ago and looks like a cinch to become the league’s career scoring leader.

Ross said he doesn’t pay as much attention to basketball as we might think. He does keep track of Wichita State, he said, and has some interest in the NBA.

But he’s not a hoops junkie, preferring to spend time with his many nephews and nieces.

“I have 14 or 15,’’ he said. “A couple of them could be athletes, but they’re still really young.’’

Frankamp is already an athlete, and he nailed the first three-pointer he took, which got Ross’ attention. He was impressed by how quickly Frankamp released the ball.

What brought Ross off his bleacher seat, though, was a pull-up three-pointer by Frankamp in the third quarter. Ross stood and clapped, for some time.

“He came up really hard in transition, stopped and took that three-point shot,’’ Ross said after North’s win. “That was really impressive.’’

Ross was into every move Frankamp made. He was also captivated by a tough game, which was tight and physical until North established a small cushion late.

Shortly after it ended, Ross and Frankamp met and shook hands, for the first time, on the floor of the North gym. Ross told Frankamp how much he enjoyed the game and Frankamp paid his respects to Ross.

“I know about him, that he was a City League great,’’ Frankamp said. “And one of the best players to ever come out of Kansas. I’ve heard about what a great shooter he was and the range he had.’’

A couple of times against East, Frankamp shot from outside of the range of a cruise missile. There was no three-point shot when Ross played at South, a fact he lamented more than once while watching Frankamp launch from long distance.

There were free throws, however, and as Frankamp drained one after another, 21 of 22 overall, Ross wondered about his percentage for the season. It’s over 90 percent, and Ross said one of the best aspects of Frankamp’s game is that he’s able to draw so many fouls as a player who spends much of his time on the perimeter.

“He exemplifies a lot of hard work,’’ Ross said of Frankamp. “It seems like he puts in – especially with today’s world with the computer technology and Facebook and those things – it seems like Conner has really shied away from all of that and put in a lot of hours of work.’’

As Ross can attest, you don’t become a shooter by making Facebook posts.

“I was very impressed with (Frankamp),’’ Ross said. “I just think that he really, really loves the game by looking at his body language. I mean really, really loves it.’’

Ross said he still gets approached often by people who remember him as a player at South, one who later went on to play one season at KU and finished his college career at Tulsa. If anyone can relate to the buzz Frankamp has created, it’s Ross. South’s games, especially those against Heights and Antoine Carr back in the day, were some of the most well-attended games in City League history.

“I really appreciate the people around this city who tell me they had a fantastic time watching me play,’’ Ross said. “I cherish those memories.’’

Tuesday night, Ross had a fantastic time watching Frankamp play. And Frankamp was genuinely excited that Ross had come to watch him perform. He was also happy that he had a good game in front of a guy who had a bunch of them.

“It’s pretty cool to be in a conversation that includes Ricky Ross,’’ Frankamp said. “I’ve just got to keep working hard.’’

So, now for the question that looms like an elephant in the room — the biggest, baddest elephant to ever roam Earth.

Who is the better? Ross or Frankamp?

Oh boy, this isn’t easy. My answer has been Ross for so long that it’s almost instinctive to answer the question with his name. He led teams to championships. He played alongside other outstanding players. He was the star of an unbeaten South team during his junior season and the Titans were 62-10 during his career.

Frankamp hasn’t been surrounded by the kind of teammates Ross had. North hasn’t won a league championship, let alone a state title, with him. That could change this season, of course.

They’re different players with different styles, too. Frankamp is a guard; the 6-foot-6 Ross played forward.

I will say that Frankamp is the finest City League basketball player since Ross, and leave it at that. Can there be a tie for first?