Frank Kaminsky, the do-it-all 7′, 242 lb. senior center on 6th ranked Wisconsin, averaged three ppg as a freshman and sophomore on 8.9 minutes of playing time. As a junior, Frank dramatically raised his game and averaged 14 points and six rebounds as the cornerstone of the Final Four bound Badgers. As a senior, “He’s the best player in the country,” said Tom Izzo after The Big Kaminsky torched Izzo’s Spartans for 31 points on senior day in Madison last Sunday.
If ever there was an argument for a young college player who’s a pro prospect to spend an extra year or two in school to refine/develop his skills, it is Frank Kaminsky. In the course of four years, Kaminsky transformed himself from an awkward, skinny bench player to a multi-faceted, dominating big man. His father referred to him as a “goof who had to find his own way.” Now, far removed from his goofy days, he’s a certain first team All-American at center and the likely Player of the Year. Kaminsky is the only major conference player to lead his team in points, rebounds, assists, blocks, steals, and FG percentage. He shoots 75% from the charity line and over 40% from afar. What’s left?
Jerian Grant of Notre Dame and Rakeem Christmas of Syracuse also broke out in their last year of eligibility. Grant was suspended for the second half of last season, and the Irish plunged to 15-17 without him. The episode left a bad taste, and Grant, a freshman redshirt, returned to ND for his fourth year on the roster and fifth year in college. The extra seasoning was helpful. Grant is the unquestioned leader of the 25-5 Irish, and will be a top five pick in the 2015 NBA draft.
Christmas’s senior year leap was even more pronounced. After averaging 2.8, 5.1, and 5.8 pts/game, respectively, in three years as a starter in a star-studded line-up, the 6’9″, 250 lb Christmas became the go-to guy on a Syracuse squad that was bedeviled by injuries (DaJuan Coleman, Chris McCullough) and the premature defections to the NBA of Tyler Ennis and Jerian Grant’s younger brother, Jeriam. With renewed confidence and a jump hook to die for, Christmas is among the ACC leaders in scoring and rebounding.
But for every Kaminsky, Grant or Christmas, there are ten knuckleheads who left college early and are now buried on an NBA bench, laboring in the D league, or playing abroad. Jeriam Grant and Ennis certainly would have benefited from another year of college, and whatever happened to Derrick Williams?
So it’s no surprise that today’s college game is bereft of household names. The average fan must scramble to name even five collegiate stars, let alone an all-american or all- conference team. Fan identification is one of the biggest casualties of the one-and-done rule, which should be changed to a two-year college commitment. Still, the basketball purist can find solace, and familiarity, in the ever-increasing number of squads who are relying on third and fourth year players to fuel championship runs. Kaminsky’s Wisconsin and veteran-studded Virginia are well-equipped to challenge Kentucky for this year’s NCAA crown.
Kaminsky evokes a bygone age. His looks and skill set are remindful of some great white players out of the past. In facial appearance and with the push shot, he conjures up Dolph Schayes. His all-round game and ubiquitous presence are reminiscent of Rick Barry. As a passer from the high or low post, he looks like Bill Walton.
But there’s nothing old-fashioned in the multiple ways he fills up a stat sheet. Like Dirk Nowitzki, Kaminsky can shoot from mid-range or deep and can finish at the rim with either hand. As a slasher, he’s Keith Van Horn. Add it up, though, and the sum total of his moves is pure Frank Kaminsky.
Kaminsky is in constant motion on the court. At the beginning of a possession, he’ll set a pick, then he’ll slide to the top of the foul line where he can receive a pass and become the point center. From there, he can hit the cutter, shoot, or drive to the hoop for an awkward, but highly effective 5-footer. There is no wasted movement. Hardly a Wisconsin basket occurs without some involvement by Kaminsky.
And Kaminsky has a wonderful supporting cast. The Badgers lack the height and muscle of Kentucky, but they are big enough, smart enough, and deep enough to give the Wildcats a struggle. Wisconsin leads the nation in offensive efficiency (points/possession), in fewest fouls committed (12/game), in fewest turnovers, and in most foul shots made relative to their opponent. Defensively, they relinquish only 56 ppg and enjoy a margin of victory of 15 pts/game in the tough Big Ten. “We’ve got five guys that can score on the court, and we’re unselfish,” noted second-best player Sam Decker.
But despite the Badgers’ balance and Final Four experience, it all comes down to Kaminsky. In their one outing this year without him, when Kaminsky was sidelined with concussion symptoms, Wisconsin lost 62-67 to lowly Rutgers.
It’s not clear how well Kaminsky’s skills translate to the NBA, where he lacks the girth to play center and may not be quick enough to guard some of the mobile power 4′s. But as a college player, he’s the nuts.
He’s The Big Kaminsky.