Before he grew to the size of a tree, before he was a Division I college basketball player, the Wisconsin Badgers’ Frank Kaminsky dreamed of playing one day at the United Center.
Growing up as a fan of the Chicago Bulls in Lisle, Ill. — he even has an aunt who works for the team — Kaminsky spent time in the building, but never got his chance as a player to touch the floor. Not in high school, not in AAU, never.
So, when he finally got his chance to live that dream, he made sure it counted.
In the team’s biggest game of the season, in a moment of need, it was Kaminsky who took over. After a 9-0 Michigan run had whittled an 11-point Wisconsin second-half lead down to just two with more than two minutes remaining, the sophomore center made his mark.
With point guard Traevon Jackson blanketed by the Wolverines’ star guard Trey Burke, Jackson threw a bounce pass to Kaminsky with just four seconds left on the shot clock. Catching the ball almost three feet above the top of the arc, the center caught his defender, Mitch McGary, flatfooted.
Driving to the lane, Kaminsky pulled up on the left elbow with two seconds left on the shot clock and watched. The ball initially hit front iron, hit the backboard above the square, hit the inside of the front of the rim and fell in.
“There were some really big moments in that game, and that was one of them,” Michigan head coach John Beilein said regarding Kaminsky’s jumper. “They were out of luck … there were many moments, but that one’s going to be striking for a little bit.”
The shot put the Badgers up four and brought the team’s bench to their feet, but Kaminsky wasn’t done showing off his talents at the United Center just yet. With the team up five with a minute left, Jackson penetrated the lane and dished to Kaminsky, who squared up to the hoop and finished the layup in traffic.
Those two moments were just four points of eight on the night for Kaminsky, who helped Wisconsin weather the Michigan run with starting senior center Jared Berggren on the bench with four fouls.
“It was nice, they were both shot clock plays,” Kaminsky said of his two big buckets. “We ran good offense and found a couple weak spots in their defense and took advantage of it.”
So, what were the Chicago-area native’s first impressions of playing on the floor of his dreams?
“It’s a little weird, it’s way bigger than anything I’ve ever played in before,” Kaminsky said. “We didn’t get a shoot around or practice before, just a warm-up, so we had to get a feel for it first.”
It was a big game for another Illinois native as well. Ben Brust scored 14 points and brought down eight rebounds in the game and was impressed by his teammate as well.
“Frank’s always ready,” Brust said. “He just wants to help this team and contribute.”
Maybe that’s the reason why the Badgers didn’t show up offensively in the first half. The Badgers scored just 17 points in the first half — a number that would have been lower if not for a Jackson three in the waning seconds. Shooting an abysmal 17.2 percent in the game’s first 20 minutes, head coach Bo Ryan’s team looked lost in the headlights of the big stage.
Michigan didn’t play much better, but it still clung to the lead. Kaminsky didn’t have a single point in the first half, but hit a big three in the second half to put the team ahead 29-24 with at the 14:40 mark in the second half.
The basket was part of a 10-0 run that pushed the Badgers to their first lead since 2-0 in the opening minutes of the first half.
“I don’t know, man, he showed up. He’s done that at times this year,” senior forward Mike Bruesewitz said. “He picked a good time to do it. Keep doing your thing, Frank, because we need more of that. I said in the pregame speech we need one guy, it’s usually during tournament games, there’s always that one guy who comes to play that you don’t expect.
“It’s kind of that unsung hero you always need in a game like this, you always need in tournament time.”
He has a point. Last year it was Rob Wilson’s 30 points against Indiana that propelled the team to a victory in the quarterfinal and now, Kaminsky had the timely points to seal the deal this year. So with the Badgers locked up for a showdown with the No. 1-seeded Hoosiers, who knows who will step up next.
But, one thing is for sure, Frank Kaminsky is comfortable playing hero at the United Center.
“Chicago’s the best city in the world,” Kaminsky said with a smile on his face.
Nick is the Sports Editor of the Badger Herald and a fifth-year senior fearing graduation. Besides covering football/men’s basketball/softball for the paper, Nick enjoys beer, cheese and all things college athletics. Have a thought on the column? Email him at email@example.com