Kaminsky headlines Badgers, primed for another run
MADISON, Wis. (AP) The one-point loss to Kentucky in the Final Four still stings for Wisconsin's Frank Kaminsky.
But instead of stewing all offseason about his team being one possession short of playing for a national title, Kaminsky says it's all about motivation. The versatile Badgers are stocked for another deep run into March.
''It's a combination of both. I focus a lot more on negative things than positive things to motivate me,'' the 7-foot-center said.
Feeding off negativity is a mindset Kaminsky used last season, emerging from relative obscurity to become one of the best big men in the country. With team-high averages of 13.9 points and 6.3 rebounds, Kaminsky turned into a matchup nightmare with his ability to shoot 3s and score in the paint.
He and three other starters return from a squad that finished 30-8 and advanced to the school's third Final Four appearance. The Badgers lost only sharpshooting guard Ben Brust from last season's main rotation.
Replacing Brust's outside shooting and ability to rebound from the backcourt will be the two biggest question marks for Wisconsin. Either Big Ten Sixth Man of the Year Nigel Hayes or quick point guard Bronson Koenig will likely replace Brust in the starting five.
Unlike last year, expectations are sky-high after the remarkable 2013-14 run. The Badgers were picked to finish first in the league this preseason.
Kaminsky and 6-foot-9 forward Sam Dekker seem primed to again torture opposing frontcourts with their length and diverse games. And few teams can match the experience and savvy Wisconsin has in the backcourt with senior guards Traevon Jackson and Josh Gasser.
''If you're asking me for, `OK, how do you think they'll handle this?' - They know that there were eight, nine losses in there that we could have turned around by doing some things a little better,'' coach Bo Ryan said.
Some things to watch with Wisconsin this year, Ryan's 31st season as a head coach:
DEEP BENCH: The shot-blocking Kaminsky can stay relatively aggressive on defense without the Badgers having to worry about depth this season.
Besides Hayes, Wisconsin also has 6-foot-10 senior Duje Dukan to come off the bench in the frontcourt. Forward Vitto Brown, standing 6-foot-8, also appears poised to take on more minutes.
GETTING THE BOOT: There is perhaps no better sign of how high Wisconsin's basketball stock has risen nationally than the worry expressed on social media last week about Dekker's lower left-leg injury, which will sideline him for the rest of the preseason.
A team spokesman said Dekker was day to day. All indications are that Dekker will be ready for the Nov. 14 season opener against Northern Kentucky.
Dekker grew about an inch in the offseason and added 10 pounds to weigh in at 230 this year - a bulking up that's perhaps meant to help take more pounding inside.
SLIMMING AND SHOOTING: As a freshman, Hayes added an energy and athleticism off the bench, and was often Wisconsin's best scoring option during a 1-5 midseason stretch. But Hayes didn't have a consistent jumper to complement his ability to get to the bucket.
Guess what the 6-foot-8 Hayes, who grew an inch and shed 15 pounds, worked on in the offseason?
''Yeah, I put my fair share of time you could say, that I became a decent outside shooter. More so than what I did last year,'' Hayes said before deadpanning, ''and hopefully fill Ben Brust's void.''
REPLACING BRUST: Hayes would become quite the threat if he could come anywhere close to Brust's 39-percent shooting percentage from 3-point range. That's highly unlikely to happen for a guy who didn't take a single 3.
Hayes, however, is one option to take over as a starter. If Ryan goes with Koenig, it would give Wisconsin a three-guard look similar to last season's starting lineup.
GLUE GUYS: Jackson is Ryan's trusted point guard, a senior who has had a knack for making clutch shots. And Gasser was third in the Big Ten with a 43 percent shooting percentage and Wisconsin's top defensive player on the perimeter.
Jackson played in the offseason at a basketball camp overseas, and Ryan says it shows - he looks more confident.
''So I was more than happy for him to be able to do that, knowing how hard he works and that he would come back in shape and not lose any of the conditioning that some guys lose in the summer,'' Ryan said.
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