The Wisconsin Badgers are in the Final Four for the first time in fourteen years and for no bigger reason than junior Frank Kaminsky—the team’s heart and soul. The seven-foot forward has transformed himself from a minimal secondary player in his first two seasons at Wisconsin into a feature attraction and he is relishing the role.
“I came in as some awkward 7-foot freshman and I’ve really kind of grown,” Kaminsky said in an interview with the New York Daily News. “Coach Ryan helped me take the next step and develop my game and become the player I am today.”
This year’s Final Four is littered with superstars. Shabazz Napier of UCONN, Patric Young of Florida, Julius Randle of Kentucky. And then there is Kaminsky, who barely showed up on anyone’s radar until recently. At 14.1 ppg, it is easy to see why. Kaminsky went over 20 points just four times this regular season, but the post season has been an altogether different story. Beginning with the Big Ten tournament semifinal loss to Michigan State, in which he scored 28 points, his production has skyrocketed. Kaminsky is averaging 20.4 ppg in five NCAA Tournament games and his 28 points and 11 rebounds against Arizona in the Elite Eight put him on the map.
Kaminsky’s rare blend of ball-handling and low-post skills are the by-product of a kid from Chicago who grew some nine inches in high school, starting his career as a 6-1 guard and ending it as a 6-10 center.
“Once I started growing, those skills just kind of stayed with me,” he said. “it’s something my coaching staff in high school tried to keep part of my game.”
It is this combination that makes him virtually impossible to defend against; a seven-foot frame with the skill set to score at-will inside the arc, where he averaged 52.4 percent on the season, or beyond it, where he shot 38.8 percent. Thus far in the tournament, Kaminsky is connecting on 54.1 percent from the floor and although he has shot sparingly from downtown, the six three-pointers he has hit for the Badgers have usually come at the perfect time.
As far as the next level, Kaminsky is now part of the NBA draft conversation after being shut out of it for the majority of his . collegiate career. Pro scouts started taking notice after his 43-point performance against North Dakota Nov. 19, but the Badgers run to the Final Four has legitimized Kaminsky as a unique pro prospect, with a few caveats. Chief among them would have to be Kaminsky’s size, or lack of it. The NBA low post is a far more physical place and at a listed weight of 234 pounds, beefing up will not only be required, it will give his a career a fighting chance.
Kaminsky’s late bloom, however, lends itself to the junior staying in school and finishing out his senior year with the Badgers. He has even hinted at the notion, saying that coach Bo Ryan doesn’t get the top-ranked prospects that leave early for the NBA, he gets the ones that buy into his system. Whichever direction Kaminsky decides to go in next, he has at least one more game to play and it promises to be one for the ages.
Commentary by Rick Sarlat