Backcourt in business

Shocker coach Gregg Marshall and staff unleash the next wave of WSU guards

Written by Joe Stumpe

The list of traits Wichita State basketball coach Gregg Marshall demands from his guards would fit on an index card, with plenty of room to spare:
1.) Play great defense.
2.) Be an extension of the coaching staff on the floor.
3.) Don't beat the Shockers themselves with turnovers.
4.) Score when the opportunity is there.

Sounds simple, right? But if every coach could get them, they'd be a long way toward the success Marshall has enjoyed at the guard position and with his program in general.

After all, the Shockers' high level of backcourt play didn't start with Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker, both now in the NBA after finishing their careers at WSU last season. Before them, there was Toure Murry, Clevin Hannah, Joe Ragland and Malcom Armstead, all among top Shockers in one statistical category or another. Murry has also logged time in the NBA.

As impressive as that list is, Marshall's current round of guards might be his deepest yet. "We've got some depth at that position," Marshall said in mid November, after those guards helped his team to blowout wins in their first two games.

Leading the pack, at least at that date, was Conner Frankamp, no stranger to Wichita basketball fans as the city's all-time leading high school scorer. Frankamp played at the University of Kansas one year before transferring to WSU and sitting out the required period. That allowed him to back up VanVleet and Baker during the second half of last season.

"It was great being able to come in behind them, I learned a lot," Frankamp said. "They did a great job of taking care of the ball and working coach's system to a T."

Frankamp said Marshall "just harps on the little things a lot" when coaching guards, then quickly mentions the role that assistant coach Greg Heiar plays in leading ball handling drills. "They're good at putting us in game situations getting trapped, that kind of thing."

A prolific scorer in the past, Frankamp knows his role now is to be a more all-around player. When asked for his perfect stat line, he described it as "maybe 10 points, five rebounds, five assists, a steal and deflection or two." Nevertheless, he led the team in scoring for the first time in the Nov. 13 rout of Long Beach State, which has been picked to win the Big West Conference.

Logging almost as many early minutes at guard was Landry Shamet, who's still a freshman despite playing in three games for the team last season (and impressing Marshall from the start). Shamet was given another year of eligibility by the NCAA after injuring his left foot last season. This year, Shamet was tied for leading scoring average on the team through two games but it was his ability to shut down high-flying Long Beach guard Evan Payne that led Marshall to call him an "ace defender."

Shamet echoed Frankamp's comments about Heiar's work with WSU's guards, and the benefit of watching VanVleet and Baker (now with the Toronto Raptors and New York Knicks, respectively) at work last year.

"Just how to keep an even keel, regardless of what's going on," he said. "If it's good or bad, you can't get too high or too low." And last but not least, "Being an everyday guy" Marshall's phrase for players who practice as hard as they perform in games.

Marshall seems just as enthusiastic about two other guards, Daishon Smith, a lightning-quick junior addition from Tallahassee Community College, and Austin Reaves, a lanky freshman from Newark, Ark.

Smith was "fantastic" defensively and Reaves is developing into a crowd favorite thanks to his all-around skills, the coach said. Marshall is also comfortable with the ball handling skills of his fifth guard, senior John Robert Simon. Earlier this year, he awarded the team's final scholarship to the former walk-on in recognition of his leadership.

"I wouldn't hesitate to put any of them in the game," Marshall said. The Shockers' winning margin in their first two games came as a pleasant surprise to Marshall, letting him give the entire roster minutes before he settles on a smaller rotation for the bulk of the season.

Nevertheless, Marshall expects future opponents the Shockers play both the University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State in non-conference battles this month to throw plenty of challenges his team's way. At that point, he said, it will be his guard's job to "recognize, organize and attack."

Conner Frankamp

Age: 21
Hometown: Wichita
Major: Sports management
Worst subject: Math
Favorite workout song: "Jumpman" by Drake and Future
Toughest Missouri Valley Conference crowd: Illinois State. "They got ahead of us last year and got pretty rowdy."
Funniest Shocker: "We have a lot. Probably J.R. (Simon)"

Landry Shamet

Age: 19
Hometown: Kansas City
Major: Business management
Worst subject: Math
Favorite workout song: "Anything by Future."
Toughest Missouri Valley Conference crowd: University of Northern Iowa
Funniest Shocker: "We've got few of them. Marcus McDuffie, Zach Bush is funny, Shaq (Morris) is funny."

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