Wisconsin forward Frank Kaminsky has his own version of a single-season wonder, and it has nothing to do with a one-and-done career.
From unheralded role player to the Badgers’ most important player in one season, Kaminsky is a late bloomer by college hoops standards. He’s a junior and the biggest defensive challenge for Kentucky in Saturday’s national semifinal.
“He’s playing with swagger right now,” Wildcats coach John Calipari said. “He’s saying, ‘none of you can guard me.’ ”
Lately, nobody has, at least effectively.
Kaminsky was named the most outstanding player of the West Region, leading the Badgers to victories over Baylor and Arizona and flashing different abilities in those games.
His 19 points against the Bears included zero three-point attempts, but Kaminsky banged in three from beyond the arc in scoring 28 in the regional final against Arizona.
A 7-footer who is the son of a college basketball-playing father and volleyball-playing mother, Kaminsky can take other big men outside and has been a major asset for the Badgers, who are facing the nation’s top rebounding team in Kentucky.
Kaminsky arrived at this skill naturally. He grew late, standing about 6-3 when he entered Benet Academy in Lisle, Ill., as a freshman, and stretching to 6-10 by his junior year. But he never forgot how to play in the backcourt and even saw minutes at the point as a high school senior when the starter was injured.
“It was difficult growing so much so fast,” Kaminsky said. “My biggest battle was with doorways. Learning to duck was my first big battle, but once I conquered that I would be good going forward.”
Upon arriving at Wisconsin, Kaminsky would have to wait his turn to play. The Badgers were set up front, and he didn’t bring the skill-set to push out starters.
“The idea was to make myself effective at this level, but I came in as an immature, skinny, weak kid,” Kaminsky said. “I’ve taken steps mentally and physically to make myself effective at this level.”
Kaminsky averaged 4.2 points and 1.8 rebounds as a sophomore. He’s up to 14.1 points and 6.4 rebounds in his All-Big Ten season.
His junior season started slowly with a couple of single digit games. He then went for 18 against Green Bay and the breakthrough game came next: 43 points against North Dakota, including six-for-six shooting on threes. The 43 points set a Wisconsin record.
After the game, Kaminsky drew a “43” on a sheet of paper and displayed if for a camera, his Wilt Chamberlain “100” moment. He’s never had trouble poking fun of himself.
“Awkward is a pretty good way to describe me,” Kaminsky said. “I’m OK with people describing it like that because I don’t think I see too many people who play like I do.”
Much to Wisconsin’s advantage.