Basketball begins with emerging stars in City League
As the basketball season starts Friday night across Kansas, there’s the usual excitement about the unknown.Who will be the stars, who will dominate, who will surprise?
There’s no doubt that North senior Conner Frankamp is one of those stars. The high-scoring guard, who has signed with Kansas, has been one to watch since his freshman season when he scored 25 points in the season opener at Heights.
Beyond Frankamp, though, the City League has a lot of unknown boys players. Yet that should not equate to a down season for the league long considered the state’s best.
“We just finished an era where we had a lot of kids that had three- and four-year careers in the City League,” said Heights coach Joe Auer, who returns one starter from the Falcons’ team that finished 23-2 and won their fourth straight Class 6A title. “Kids who were leaders of teams, starters and contributors for long periods of time.
“What’s different this year is we’ll have a lot of new faces…. I think everyone is excited to see what this new group can accomplish. One thing you can be sure of is our league will have a tremendous amount of success this year and continue to be the best league in the state.”
There’s no doubt that City League fans have been spoiled with the depth of experienced talent. But a huge number of those longtime starters graduated in May.
At Northwest, Craig Nicholson and Spenser Gales were four-year varsity players. At East, so was Jalen Love. At Heights, high school All-American Perry Ellis and Gavin Thurman were four-year players and Terrence Moore played three years.
City League state title teams of the past were filled with players who began varsity careers as juniors and seniors.
“This year, across the board, there are very few experienced winners,” said Auer, whose team plays host to Bishop Carroll on Friday in its new gym. “Even our best players don’t have a lot of experience winning. And none of them have any experience winning championships.
“It’s a brand-new era, a brand-new age.”
The City League was also fortunate to have two national-level players at the same time.
Ellis garnered national attention and was a McDonald’s All-American, the first for a City League player in more than 30 years. Frankamp has also grabbed his share of national attention, leading USA Basketball’s under-17 team to a world championship in the summer. He’s a likely candidate to be a McDonald’s All-American selection, too.
So comparing this crop of players to the graduated players — and Frankamp — is unfair because in reality, the City League has returned to a more traditional time.
“There’s a whole bunch of kids out there who have been working hard,” Kapaun Mount Carmel coach John Cherne said. “We don’t know their names yet. Come Friday, there will be new stars in the league. The league doesn’t just drop off. There’s still going to be a lot of kids who are really athletic.”
Cherne is touting Toby Baxter and Braden Hullings as top players to watch. Both are returners from Kapaun’s Class 5A title team.
At Heights there’s Ealy Bell, who started 23 games for the 6A title team.
At Carroll, Christian Smith was the starting point guard on the third-place team in 5A.
“It’s going to be an exciting time this year with all these new kids stepping up,” said North coach Gary Squires, whose team has four returning starters. “It’s where I think we have an advantage because our kids are used to playing under the lights.”