Using the above term to describe a player can be tricky.
Questions immediately arise: Is he really among the best? What did he do to separate himself from the other good, even great, players?
The history of Wisconsin’s program is extremely rich and dates back to the early 1900’s. So, of course, there have been some pretty good players to pass through Madison.
As part of a new BTPowerhouse series, we will reflect on the history of Badger basketball and look at some of the best and most decorated players in its history.
The first player we will take a look at will be Frank Kaminsky.
Through Kaminsky’s first two high school seasons at Benet Academy, as the 6-foot-10 center did up until his junior season at Wisconsin, the center flew way under the radar. This is because, as an underclassman at Benet, Kaminsky had yet to play the quality of basketball that would eventually give him a scholarship from Wisconsin.
However, as Kaminsky matured to an upperclassman in high school, his skill set developed greatly as well. Kaminsky rebounded the ball with dominance and displayed the capability to score the ball in numerous ways during the second half of his high school career. As a result, Kaminsky was rated as a pretty solid recruit.
“We always liked his potential and especially for the size he was with the skill set he had in terms of handling the ball and shooting it and passing,” former Wisconsin assistant coach Gary Close said.
Kaminsky was a four-star recruit on ESPN and ranked as a 92 overall. ESPN seemed to be the highest on Kaminsky, as he was listed as only a three-star player on Scout and Rivals. Despite his clear development and above-average ratings, Kaminsky still didn’t catch the eyes of many Division 1 programs.
Wisconsin was the only program to offer the big man a scholarship. Local schools such as Depaul, Northwestern, Bradley, and Northern Illinois were interested in Kaminsky, but didn’t offer him a scholarship.
“Kaminsky was a very good athlete,” Close said. “But, I would guess that it might have scared a few people away that he wasn’t an off the chart athlete. Sometimes people get carried away with athleticism and things like that. Frankly, there are a lot of people who make mistakes. That’s the art of recruiting.”
What makes Frank Kaminsky a legend is the amount he was able to accomplish on an individual level and for his program in a four-year period.
The progression from where Kaminsky’s career began and where it ended is more than one sees from the average Division 1 player.
But, we’ll get to that later. For now, let’s focus on Kaminsky’s performance under the spotlight. Kaminsky came up huge when Wisconsin needed him most. Specifically in enormous games for the Badgers.
Kaminsky averaged 16.4 points and 5.8 rebounds per game during the Badgers’ 2013-14 Final Four run. The center also shot a stellar 59.6 percent from the floor during the NCAA Tournament that season. The game that sticks out the most is an Elite 8 matchup with the 33-4, No.1-seeded Arizona Wildcats.
The Badgers were looking for their first Final Four appearance since 2000 and their first ever in the Bo Ryan era. The Wildcats were gunning for a championship and were favored in the game. Kaminsky single-handedly carried Wisconsin to a thrilling 64-63 overtime victory, scoring 28 points while the seven other Badgers that played combined for only 36 points. Traevon Jackson was the only other player on Wisconsin to score in double figures with 10. Kaminsky also collected a team-high 11 rebounds.
When classifying Kaminsky as a legend, his performance against Arizona is without a doubt one of the single-game examples that come to mind. After all, Kaminsky led Wisconsin to one of the biggest wins in program history in this case.
“Arizona could have won the national championship both years,” Close said. “They were that good. We were fortunate to beat them both times. I think if you were to ask them they would say those are two of the best teams they’ve ever had.”
I say one of the biggest wins and not the biggest win for a reason. It’s because Kaminsky had a similar performance the following season in what is arguably the most significant victory in Badger history.
The 2014-2015 Final Four featured Wisconsin and Kentucky. Although Wisconsin was also a No. 1 seed, it wasn’t being treated like one headed into the game. After beating Wisconsin in the Final Four the season before, Kentucky was a perfect 38-0 and some were calling the Wildcats the best team ever.
But, the Badgers outlasted Kentucky and hung on for a 71-64 victory. Kaminsky led all scorers in the game with 20 points and collected the most rebounds in the game with 11. Once again, Kaminsky was lights out from the floor, going 7-11.
“I doubt there has been a bigger win,” Close said. “I think that’s probably as good as it gets in terms of a stage and in terms of who we beat and how we beat them. I think if you ask most people that would probably be the first game they mention.”
Kaminsky was simply the best player on the court during two of the most significant, one of which is the most significant, wins in Wisconsin basketball history.
Does that make Kaminsky a legend? Absolutely.
Also, the amount Kaminsky grew during his time as a Badger makes the center a legend regardless of how well he performed on the big stages.
To be a non-contributor during a player’s freshman season is one thing. But to be far from a factor for two seasons and then become a superstar is not something one sees very often. With that being said, it’s extremely impressive that Kaminsky concluded his Wisconsin career in the manner in which he did.
Kaminsky averaged only 2.9 points and 1.6 rebounds per game over his first two seasons at Wisconsin. He played only 7.7 minutes per game during his freshman year and 10.3 minutes per game the following season. Plain and simple, his seat on the bench stayed pretty warm.
“He had to develop confidence,” Close said. “He lacked some confidence. He would get down on himself quickly, so to get through that he had to mature.”
But, as a junior, Kaminsky was a member of the All-Big Ten first team. Saying that his production increased by an immense amount is an understatement. Kaminsky averaged 13.9 points and 6.3 rebounds per contest.
“With increased playing time and an opportunity to be a focal part of the team, his confidence grew and caught up with some of his skills,” Close said.
Things only went up from there. Kaminsky filled the stat sheet on a nightly basis during his final season as a Badger, collecting 14 double-doubles and averaging 18.8 points and 8.2 rebounds per game. These stats are very difficult to believe after realizing how little Kaminsky was involved as an underclassman on Wisconsin.
Nevertheless, Kaminsky improved more than one will see most players ever improve in college. He went from being a low-end role player for two years, all the way to a National Player of the Year, Big Ten Player of the Year, and two-time All-Big Ten first team selection.
“Frank always worked hard and he got a little more efficient in what he was doing,” Close said. “He just continued to add things to his game and just kept developing. That’s the key. You don’t get satisfied and you feel like you can always get better. That’s how he approached it. He added things to his game whether it was a different post move or range to his shot or ball handling and passing. He just kept adding and just kept improving. It doesn’t happen overnight. It’s usually a very slow, methodical process. You just have to stay with it and to his credit he did.”
Kaminsky told a tale of two players during his time as a Badger. One was a bench player fighting for each and every minute. The other was a superstar. And it all came together during one game. Even though Kaminsky scored 16 points and grabbed eight boards in the previous game, the “new” Kaminsky truly came into fruition when Wisconsin hosted North Dakota on November 19, 2013. This is when “Frank the Tank” was born.
Kaminsky scored 43 points against North Dakota to break Ken Barnes’ single-game Wisconsin Badgers scoring record. Kaminsky was flat-out unconscious from the floor. The center went 16-19 overall and a perfect 6-6 from three-point range. In fact, he didn’t even miss a shot until a little over three minutes into the second half.
“It’s always fun to see a guy get on a roll and obviously in that game he did,” Close said. “He scored in a variety of ways. He made some threes, he made post moves, he put it on the floor a little bit and so you saw the talent. Obviously when you see something like that it gets you excited because there is something there that you can build on.”
From that game on, “Frank the Tank’s” reign in Madison really began. Kaminsky went on to score double figures in 61 of his final 73 collegiate games.
“Could he translate that play into Big Ten play and the NCAA Tournament play was the big question,” Close said. “To Frank’s credit, he was able to.”
Kaminsky definitely made up for lost time during his final two seasons in Madison. But let’s clarify even further what exactly makes Kaminsky a legend, besides his incredible two seasons against all odds.
Kaminsky is one of only eight Badgers ever to be named a Consensus All-American in the 120-year history of the program. Kaminsky is also the only Wisconsin player ever to win AP Player of the Year in the history of the award, dating back to 1961. And, although his performance during these runs was mentioned earlier, the banners that Kaminsky helped raise in the Kohl Center cannot be overlooked. Kaminsky led the Badgers to two of the program’s four Final Four appearances as well as only their second NCAA Championship appearance ever.
“Nobody ever thinks they’ve recruited an All-American and Player of the Year, but we thought he had a chance to have a really good career and he just kept building on it and obviously had a special career,” Close said. “The way he finished being Player of the Year puts him in a very elite category. I’d say he is a Badger legend.”
Frank Kaminsky was selected 9th overall in the 2015 NBA Draft by the Charlotte Hornets.
Kaminsky’s growth as a player has continued through his two NBA seasons. Though he has yet to dominate like he did at the collegiate level, he has without a doubt already displayed that he is fit for the NBA.
“He had a unique skill set that I think will give him a long NBA career as well,” Close said. “I think he is at a position where he realizes how he got there and what he needs to keep doing to keep advancing. I think he will. His work ethic and discipline are major strengths.”
Kaminsky averaged 21.1 minutes per game, mainly off the bench, during his rookie year in which he played in 81 games for the Hornets. Kaminsky made the most of his somewhat limited playing time. The big man averaged 7.5 points and 4.1 rebounds per game.
Kaminsky was able to score at least 10 points in 23 games as a rookie. His best game of the season came against the Boston Celtics on December 23, 2015. Kaminsky went 9-20 from the floor in 31 minutes against the Celtics and scored a season-high 23 points.
Kaminsky also notched a double-double as a rookie against the Wizards. The center scored 18 points and grabbed 11 rebounds.
As was the case with every one of his college seasons, Kaminsky’s second season in the NBA was better than his last. During the 2016-2017 season, Kaminsky averaged 26.1 minutes per game and started 16 times for the Hornets.
Kaminsky scored in double figures 44 times last season, 21 times more than during his rookie season. Kaminsky collected four double-doubles and scored a career-high 27 points against the Raptors on February 15th.
The only thing Kaminsky didn’t improve upon was the number of games in which he saw action. Kaminsky played in 75 games during his second season, six less than the season prior. This was because of some nagging injuries. Kaminsky missed the first two games of the season with a sore foot and later missed six games in March with a sprained left shoulder. Other than those minor bumps in the road, Kaminsky’s season was much improved in every facet.
Overall, Kaminsky averaged 11.7 points and 4.5 rebounds per game last season on Charlotte. These numbers are really solid for a second-year pro that is not supposed to be a superstar. What this really means is that Kaminsky keeps getting better. At the very least, there was no sophomore slump for the big man.
The Wisconsin legend has a very bright NBA future. Though he may never be the superstar he was in Wisconsin, Kaminsky is on the right track towards becoming an everyday starter in the NBA.
Kaminsky has shown many improvements in his game since playing in the NBA. Whether it is his post move or his outside shooting, The 24-year old is getting better than he was in Madison.
“I think at the minimum he will have a long career and I think he will be a very, very effective player,” Close said. “He’s one of those guys that you win with and can count on and will be a very important part of a basketball team. Can he get beyond that? Who knows. But if he stays healthy he is going to have a long, productive and lucrative professional career.”