In a family of athletes, Frank Kaminsky Jr. finally finds his moment
ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Frank Kaminsky III has a habit of stuffing a towel in his mouth and muttering expletives under his breath during timeouts. He claims it helps him focus, even if coaches and players sometimes wonder if he's a) crazy or b) talking to them. Not much of what he says is printable. After Wisconsin's 64-63 overtime defeat of top-seeded Arizona in the West Regional final in Anaheim last Saturday, the 7-foot junior couldn't remember anything he had said because, in a joyous postgame celebration, he was too busy running around screaming.
With a 28-point, 11-rebound performance, Kaminsky was named Most Outstanding Player in the West Regional. That sort of stardom is something his father always expected -- Frank Jr. (his father is the first Frank Kaminsky in the family) just wasn't sure how long it would take.
"Sports are all we've ever known," says Kaminsky Jr., "It's all Frankie's ever done." Dad is right: He played at Lewis University, Frankie's mom played volleyball at Northwestern, his aunt and uncle played basketball at Northwestern and both his sisters play volleyball. Athletic accomplishments run in the family, too: Before Kaminsky Jr. was named first team All-Big Ten this season, younger sister Hannah was named the Missouri Valley Freshman of the Year in late November.
"I knew it was just a matter of time before he caught up," Kaminsky Jr. says.
Kaminsky Jr. honed his fundamentals while scrimmaging with the women's team his father coached at NAIA Saint Francis in Joliet, Ill. He arrived his freshman year at Benet Academy in Lisle, Ill., just 6-2 and played mostly facing the basket, which gave him a chance to see the floor and learn how an offense flows. 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 7-foot guard who never gets rattled," says Wisconsin associate head coach Greg Gard.
"I used to throw the ball away a lot because I was a spaz," Frankie says. "Through the years I've learned a lot more about basketball, composure and timing and it's really showed in my game."
As a sophomore last season, Kaminsky played just 10 minutes a game and averaged 4.2 points. Stuck behind All-Big Ten performer Jared Berggren, Kaminsky's opportunities were limited -- and when he screwed up, Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan was in his ear.
"Playing for Bo is tough," his father says, "But all the sudden, about halfway through last season, we started to see glimpses of what he was capable of."
In the 2013 Big Ten tournament, something finally clicked. Kaminsky came off the bench in Wisconsin's win over Michigan (the eventual national runner-up) to score eight points and grab two rebounds in 15 minutes. In a victory over Indiana the next day, he went scoreless, but had three rebounds, three assists, two steals and two blocks. Wisconsin lost in the first round of the NCAA tournament last year to Ole Miss -- Kaminsky played 10 minutes and scored two points -- but Kaminsky carried new confidence into the offseason.
For years, Kaminsky Jr. harped on his son that he needed to be multi-dimensional. (Frankie claims this is because his father was a "soft" player, and father wanted more for son. Kaminsky Jr. prefers his game be described as "finesse.") In the summer, Kaminsky got committed to refining all parts of his game. Now, he speaks frankly about often being outmatched athletically, and how he counters that.
"I'm not the most athletic guy, and I can't really out-jump people, so I've got to do what I can to score," Kaminsky III explained before the Arizona game. "That comes with pump fakes and pivots. In high school, I was just taller than people; I can't do that here."
Against Arizona, those skills were on full display. The Wildcats ranked second in the nation in defensive efficiency, but Kaminsky buried 3-of-5 from three-point range against 7-footer Kaleb Tarczewski to stretch the D, then used his length and craftiness in the post to drop in layups over 6-9 Aaron Gordon. Arizona coach Sean Miller said afterward that he would have game-planned for the Badgers the same way -- right after acknowledging that they're heading to the Final Four because Kaminsky.
"He's a difficult matchup," Miller said of Kaminsky. "He's got to be one of the best offensive players in college basketball, for sure."
Along with growing into his body, Kaminsky has become more comfortable in the spotlight. When asked how Arizona's players would describe Wisconsin's, his teammates gave answers like "tough" and "resilient." Kaminsky deadpanned, "White guys." Yes, Kaminsky looks like the stereotypical Badger. But his game is now more NBA draft prospect than awkward 20-year-old.
"He's a goof," says Kaminsky Jr., "who had to find his way."
That path now includes a stop in North Texas.