Frank Kaminsky relishes role as big man on campus
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
ARLINGTON, Texas--The most pertinent question asked in October about Frank Kaminsky was whether the junior would provide Wisconsin with a consistent inside presence to fill the void created by the departure of three seniors.
Today the most intriguing question some panicky UW fans are asking is whether Kaminsky, emboldened by a breakout junior season, will leave school a year early to enter the NBA draft.
“I don’t pay attention to any of that,” Kaminsky said Friday as UW continued preparing for its national semifinal game against surging Kentucky at 7:49 p.m. Saturday at AT&T Stadium.
Although the allure of jumping to the NBA can be attractive, all signs point to Kaminsky returning to UW for his senior season.
“Not until a week ago had I even heard a single word about it,” UW assistant Lamont Paris, who acknowledged he was stunned by the question, said before practice Friday. “And now it all of a sudden I do. And it is perpetuated because of where we are.
“He had a 43-point game early in the year against North Dakota and nobody was saying anything the n… Now people have seen him play four games and this guy is a candidate to be a pro.”
The premature speculation notwithstanding, has any player left in the NCAA tournament burgeoned more dramatically in the last year than the 7-foot, 234-pound Kaminsky?
“He’s got confidence through the roof,” UW associate head coach Greg Gard said.
Kaminsky played in 32 games as a sophomore. He averaged 3.2 points and 1.8 rebounds per game and shot 31.1 percent from three-point range and 41.9 percent overall. He closed his sophomore season with two points in 10 minutes in a 57-46 loss to Ole Miss in the NCAA tournament.
He enters the Final Four as a junior leading UW in scoring (14.1 ppg) and rebounds (6.1 per game) and is shooting 37.8 percent from 3-point range and 52.7 percent overall.
“I knew that this year there would be an opportunity for me to go out there and play a lot of minutes,” he said, “and I just wanted to be a big factor on this team. … I really can’t explain it. It’s just something more of an opportunity this year than in the past.”
Kaminsky, prone to criticizing himself aloud during practices and games, is being humble.
His 3-point shooting, array of post moves and surprising ball-handling skills have made him one of the more difficult matchups in the nation.
“To me he is the most difficult matchup,” said Turner Sports analyst Greg Anthony, who is set to work the Final Four. “Kaminsky can score with his back to the basket, which you would prefer because it is easier to set your defense to go help on a post player
“But when you’re a 7-footer in a motion offense and you can catch it at 20 feet and you can put the ball on the floor, you don’t want to over-help because they have spacing with the 3-point shooters. It puts teams in a really difficult matchup
“And then he is also a really good passer. I think that is something that is underrated about his game. He can pass it off the dribble.”
Ask Gard about Kaminsky’s development and one word is used over and over: maturity.
“He is stronger. He is more confident,” Gard said. “But the No. 1 thing he is more mature. He understands patience in there. He understands he can get hit and things are going to be OK. It’s not going to hurt that bad.
“And now he likes to be physical on both ends of the floor. … He likes contact. He likes dishing out contact. He is better defensively because he plays more physically.”
Kaminsky’s development at Benet Academy in Lisle, Ill., followed a similar arc.
He entered high school a 6-2 guard and had grown to 6-10 by his junior season. That was his first season on the varsity, and Kaminsky was just getting comfortable in his skin.
“Frank has had to go through adjustment periods with his growth spurts,” Mike Mullins, Kaminsky’s AAU coach with the Illinois Wolves, said. “He did it in high school and when he moved on to a higher level of competition, he had to go through it again.
“He picked Wisconsin because of what they do at his position and how they develop those guys. I think they are good at identifying kids who have considerable upside or haven’t peaked at age 17 or 18.”
UW was the first high-major school to offer a scholarship—then-assistant Howard Moore was the lead recruiter—and Kaminsky committed in June 2010 after his junior season.
“Frank was a skinny, pretty well-skilled big guy that we thought was going to take time to develop,” Gard said. “A guy that could shoot from the outside a little bit and a guy that had some point-guard skills in terms of his vision and feel for the game.”
Kaminsky has displayed his skills and diverse game throughout the tournament and the nation will get another chance to see his wonderful game Saturday, even as his teammates chuckle at how quick he is to criticize his performances.
“He criticizes himself over some of the just most nonsense things,” guard Traevon Jackson said. “We try to tell him, like, bro, just relax, like it’s OK.
“But since the beginning of the year … he’s grown so much. He’s matured mentally so much. I’ve always told him: ‘Man, you’re great. Just believe it.’
“I’m just so happy that he is really embracing it. He’s always been there. It just didn’t come out of nowhere. It’s not a fluke or anything.
“The guy can play. Nowadays, he’s just doing it on a bigger stage, and it’s just great to see.”