Before Frank Kaminsky helped lead Wisconsin to a Final Four, was named the most outstanding player of the West Regional, was a first-team All-Big Ten selection or broke a 48-year old scoring record, he rode the bench.
Much like many Wisconsin players before him, Kaminsky had to bide his time behind upperclassmen while developing in Wisconsin head coach Bo Ryan’s system.
“You scold to mold. You praise to raise,” Ryan said in a press conference in Anaheim, Calif. during the Sweet 16. “You have to be honest with them. You can’t tell that kid sitting with the remote on the couch eating potato chips bag by bag and telling him he’s the greatest thing that ever lived without kind of mentioning that maybe you ought to get off the couch.”
Coming to Wisconsin from Benten Academy in Lisle, Ill. Kaminsky stood at 6-foot-10, still growing into a frame that would eventually top out at 7-feet. A late growth spurt allowed him to play the guard positions in high school where he was able to develop ball-handling skills and a soft touch.
Picking up these skills would prove to be key traits in his success later on.
“He had passing skills, pretty good foot work, things like that,” Ryan said of what he saw in Kaminsky in high school. “So to get to be 7-feet tall and then still have those skills, that’s helped us.”
During his freshman and sophomore seasons, Kaminsky averaged just nine minutes per game while sitting behind forwards like Jon Leuer and Jared Berggren.
Learning behind players at his position that received All-Big Ten team selections during their careers at Wisconsin gave Kaminsky a strong foundation to his development as a player.
“He had a chance to play behind some other guys that he learned from in Jared Berggren and in a lot of practices with guys like Keaton Nankivil, Jon Leuer who is with Memphis now,” Ryan said. “So he’s had a chance to be around some guys that could help him. He listens.”
Heading into the 2013-2014 season, the junior forward looked to be next in line to take over the Wisconsin front court with both Berggren and Ryan Evans leaving vacancies down low for the Badgers.
Although he was primed to become the starter and would soon embark on a season that would make a mark on the Wisconsin history books, Kaminsky was still a relative unknown.
“I had no idea who Frank was coming in because he was playing behind [Berggren] who was a great player for them,” freshman forward Nigel Hayes said. “But, I knew Frank could shoot the ball and I knew that he was skilled. But Frank is actually a lot better than I was told.”
With an opportunity finally presenting itself for Kaminsky to make contributions to the team, he was determined to make the most of it.
“I knew that this year there would be an opportunity for me to go out there and play a lot of minutes, and I just wanted to do anything I could to be a big factor on this team,” Kaminsky said.
It wouldn’t take long for him to become a “big factor” as he would lead Wisconsin in scoring in a three-point win over UW-Green Bay in the third game of the season, which he followed up with a 43-point performance against North Dakota to put himself in the program’s record book and on the national map.
In the 33 games after his record setting performance, Kaminsky has failed to reach double digit scoring or rebounding just seven times.
In Wisconsin’s last 13 games, Kaminsky has averaged 17.9 points and 6.9 rebounds per game.
Ryan attributes his 7-footer’s success to his growth both as a player and a person.
“He’s growing into his body, mentally, physically, socially,” Ryan said. “They tell me he’s funnier than he used to be, and his eyes are more wide open now. Last year I thought at times his eyes were closed, then I realized that’s just his eyes. If you see him sitting sometimes you think, oh, look, Frank’s asleep. He’s not asleep. But he’s got that sleepy look. But he’s matured in every aspect because he’s worked hard.”
With a top-10 standing in rebounding, blocks and field goal percentage in the Big Ten this season, Kaminsky became a first-team All-Big Ten honoree. He was the only Badger to earn a first-team selection this season.
Kaminksy’s versatility has been a big part of why he has been successful this season. With the ability to stretch defenses out to the perimeter and a quick first step to the rim, he presents a mismatch for most opposing teams.
“Frank’s the man. I know that some of the guys say that I’m a mismatch nightmare, but Frank is really even a better one in the fact that when he’s guarded by a true seven-footer it’s almost illegal for him to play against them,” Hayes said. “The fact that usually their feet are no where near as good as Frank’s, so when he’s out on the perimeter, if he just puts the ball on the ground it’s always a foul because they can’t slide with him. Inside, with his great footwork, he can get you up off of the ground and score anyway he wants. That’s just Frank being Frank.”
But it has been his emergence in the NCAA Tournament that has caught the attention of the country and has even put him in the conversation as a possible NBA prospect.
In Wisconsin’s four wins in the tournament, the junior is averaging 18.5 points per game and six rebounds per game while shooting 54 percent from the floor.
That pales in comparison to his performance in the West Regional final against No.1 seed Arizona, where he scored a game-high 28 points to go with 11 rebounds to send Wisconsin to its first Final Four since 2000.
Kaminsky’s 28 points was the second-highest scoring total by a Badger in the NCAA Tournament, behind only Michael Finley who scored 36 points in 1994, earning him the Most Outstanding Player award in the West regional.
“We always knew Frank had it in him, we just had to get it out of him,” sophomore forward Sam Dekker said. “He’s been carrying us this whole season.”