It was one of the greatest moment's of Frank Kaminsky's life, but he can barely remember it. Last March 29 he was running around the Honda Center in Anaheim, California, screaming and jumping. It seemed like the only appropriate behavior — after all, Wisconsin had knocked off top-seed Arizona 64-63 in the Elite Eight, and Kaminsky had won the award for West Regional Most Outstanding Player. The victory touched off pandemonium among Badgers fans.
This season, Kaminsky will likely have more reasons to celebrate. The 7-foot forward passed up a chance at being a first-round NBA pick to return for his senior year, along with three other Wisconsin starters. He is an early favorite to win the Naismith Award (given to the national player of the year), and the Badgers are expected to make another deep tournament run. "I have so much fun hanging out with the people we have, I'm excited to spend another season with them," Kaminsky says. "That's what it's all about, right?
Kaminsky's breakout game against Arizona (he had 28 points and 11 rebounds) is something his father, who goes by Frank Jr., always expected. He just wasn't sure how long it would take. "Sports are all we've ever known," says Frank Jr. "It's all Frankie's ever done." There's a reason for that: Frank Jr. scored 1,521 points for the Division II Lewis University basketball team and is a member of the Flyers' Hall of Fame. Frank's mother, Mary, played volleyball at Northwestern. His uncle, Jim Stack, is the fifth-leading scorer in Northwestern basketball history (1,583 points), and his aunt Karen played for the Wildcats as well. Both of his sisters play volleyball: Kaylee graduated in 2013 from Indiana Tech, and Hannah was named the Missouri Valley Conference's top freshman last year at Southern Illinois. "I knew it was just a matter of time before he caught up," Frank Jr. says.
Kaminsky honed his fundamentals as a kid growing up in Lisle, Illinois, outside of Chicago. Frank Jr. was a basketball coach; he worked at several local high schools and also coached the women's team at the NAIA University of Saint Francis, in nearby Joliet.
Kaminsky used to scrimmage with his dad's team at Saint Francis, and he marvels at the fact that the ballhandling drills he did when he was young are just as important to his game now. "Learning fundamentals is one of the most important things," he says. "And it's something I've based my game on. I'm not the most athletic guy, and I can't really outjump people, so I've got to do what I can to score. That comes with pump fakes and pivots."
When Kaminsky arrived for his freshman year of high school at Benet Academy, he was 6'2" and played mostly facing the basket. This gave him a chance to see the floor and learn how an offense flows. He even handled point guard duties on occasion. By the time he sprouted to 6'9" as a senior, he had a better understanding of what many big men fail to grasp: When you catch the ball in the paint, you have more time than you think to make a move. "Now he's like a seven-foot guard who never gets rattled," says Wisconsin associate head coach Greg Gard.
"I used to throw the ball away a lot," Kaminsky says. "Through the years I've learned a lot more about basketball, composure, and timing, and it's really showed in my game."
Kaminsky's opportunities were limited when he came to Wisconsin. As a sophomore in 2012--13, he played just 10.3 minutes a game, averaged 4.2 points, and was stuck behind All-Big Ten performer Jared Berggren. But in the 2013 Big Ten tournament, something finally clicked. Kaminsky came off the bench in Wisconsin's victory over Michigan (the eventual national runner-up) to score eight points in 16 minutes. In a win over Indiana the next day, he went scoreless but had three rebounds, three assists, two steals, and two blocks. Wisconsin lost in the round of 64 of the NCAA tournament to Ole Miss; Kaminsky played 10 minutes, scoring two points, but he carried a new confidence.
He committed himself to refining his game and finding ways to succeed against more athletic players. "The season is such a grind, so when I'm in the off-season, I try to stay in the gym for only 60, 90 minutes," Kaminsky says. "I warm up, do a lot of stretching, and then I try to work on one thing: Maybe it's ballhandling or shooting or post moves. Whatever it is, when it becomes easy, you have to challenge yourself to do something new."
Last season, the hard work started to pay off. Kaminsky was the most improved player in the Big Ten. He led the Badgers in scoring, rebounds, blocks, and field goal percentage, and ranked fourth in three-point percentage, earning first-team All--Big Ten honors. Against North Dakota, Kaminsky set the Wisconsin single-game scoring record with 43 points, hitting 16 of 19 shots in just 28 minutes. That made him one of only two seven-foot Division I players to have more than 40 points in a game over the last 15 years.
"He's a difficult matchup," said Arizona coach Sean Miller after the loss in the Elite Eight last March. "He's got to be one of the best offensive players in college basketball, for sure."
Over the summer, Kaminsky, nicknamed Frank the Tank, added seven pounds of muscle to his wiry frame. (He says he's trying to cut back on junk food and cheat meals, his weakness being pepperoni pizza.) And he worked to refine his post skills. There is a new polish to Kaminsky, and his game is now more NBA draft prospect than awkward 20-year-old. "He's a goof who had to find his way," says his dad.
This season, that path could end at another Final Four. And you can bet Frank will remember this one.
Photo: Mark J. Terrill/AP