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Kaminsky punctuates Naismith-worthy season with Big Ten title

Frank Kaminsky hit a one-dribble pull-up, muscled inside for a layup and blew by a defender for an easy bucket.

Sounds familiar, right?

The victim Thursday night was a mostly helpless Minnesota team, but if it makes the Gophers feel any better this is what Kaminsky does, night in and night out, to all of college basketball.

Thursday night he finished with 25 points, seven assists, six rebounds, two steals and one block in helping lead Wisconsin (27-3, 15-2) to the outright Big Ten Conference championship with a 76-63 road win. He told ESPN afterward that an outright title is all he’s been thinking about the last four years, and that the “great ride” he’s on is the most fun he’s ever had.

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In typical Kaminsky fashion he shrugged off praise (this time for the career-high seven assists) and gave credit to his teammates. Had he been asked about locking up the Naismith award as the best player in college hoops, he likely would have sidestepped that question, too. But there’s no doubt that trophy belongs to Kaminsky.

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Yes, JahlilOkafor at Duke is a better professional prospect than Kaminsky, and he provides more flash than Frank the Tank. But Kaminsky, at 7’, 242 pounds, is the matchup nightmare in college basketball. He’s also the key to another deep postseason run for the Badgers. He’s one of, if not the, most versatile players in college hoops, and that helps make his case.

Kaminsky is fundamentally sound, cerebral (a must when you’re not the most athletic player on the floor) and a great story. His father has referred to him as “a goof who had to find his way.” Rough and gruff Bo Ryan, who just won his fourth Big Ten title—​mostly with guys the McDonald’s high school All-American committee hasn’t ever heard of—smiles when he talks about Kaminsky’s journey from unknown to unstoppable. And coaches around the country, in college and high school, can point to Kaminsky as an example of perseverance in a society that demands instant gratification. Two years ago he played 10 minutes a game. Now he draws double teams.

He does basically everything. No, really: He leads Wisconsin in points (18.4), rebounds (8.2), assists (2.6), blocked shots (1.6) and field goal percentage (55.4). He’s second on the team in three-point percentage, at 42.1 (32 for 76). And one more time, just for clarification: He’s a center.

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Many believe Kentucky has already locked up the NCAA tournament title, regardless of if the Wildcats go undefeated through the regular season or not. That could prove to be true but Wisconsin, led by Kaminsky, has the pieces to challenge. Besides Frank the Tank, the Badgers feature Sam Dekker (20 points, six rebounds) and Nigel Hayes (12 points, nine rebounds, three assists). Once he gets healthy, Traevon Jackson, who was averaging 9.2 points and 2.9 assists before he got hurt, will add another punch. Better yet, because they’ve already been to a Final Four, they know what it takes, and can play with freedom instead of pressure.

Ryan, now in his 14th season in Madison, likes to talk about winning “the Wisconsin Way.” It’s a motto built on hard work, patience and grit, all necessary characteristics if you last on the Badgers’ roster. In a society that talks non-stop about one-and-dones, not every kid can handle it. There was a time Kaminsky wondered if he could, too. Now he’s the best, most complete player in the country (did I mention he’s terrific defensively, too, altering shots and rarely getting into foul trouble?) and deserving of the award that represents it.

Let’s give him the Naismith. And if he keeps playing like this, he might be holding another trophy at the end of the season as well.