Frank Kaminsky was the national player of the year in college basketball, named as such by just about everyone you can think to ask.
But college is over, and now it’s time to see if Kaminsky’s success at the NCAA level can translate to success in the pros.
Being dubbed college hoops’ best player doesn’t have much correlation to NBA greatness. Yes, the last 10 years of honorees have included Kevin Durant and Anthony Davis. They’ve also included Jimmer Fredette and Tyler Hansbrough.
Kaminsky, obviously, will hope to be more like the first two guys named than the last two, and given the amazing transformation he went through during four years at Wisconsin, you shouldn’t count him out.
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Most believe that Kaminsky will be able to find NBA success thanks to a phenomenal offensive game that includes a bottomless bag of post-move tricks and an accurate 3-point shot. He shot 54.7 percent last season from the field and 41.6 percent from 3-point range. That’s a seven-footer shooting 41.6 percent from 3-point range, to be precise.
“I bring a lot of different things to the table,” Kaminsky told reporters at the NBA Draft Combine. “On the offensive end, I bring a versatile skill set, I can fit in with systems, I can fit in with people. I feel like I’ve got a good personality, and I’m committed to winning. If I’ve shown anything in the last two years in college, it’s that I want to win. I have a winning attitude, and I can bring that to the table.”
His offensive game is impressive, though he might need to move down a position in the NBA because of it. Yeah, he’s seven feet tall, but NBA teams might want to use him as a power forward instead of a center, something Kaminsky mentioned at the combine.
If there’s anything that folks are concerned might not move over to the NBA, it’s his defense. Playing power forward will mean guarding smaller guys. He proved himself as part of a strong defensive Badgers team defending the low post, grabbing a ton of rebounds and ranking highly in the Big Ten in blocked shots, but how will he do when he’s guarding guys away from the basket? Kaminsky knows it’s the part of his game he’ll need to improve the most.
“I think I need to improve on the defensive end,” Kaminsky said. “It’s a whole different evil at the next level. You can get away with some deficiencies in college, but in the NBA you’ll get exposed. So I know I need to get work on my body and get better.”
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There’s plenty, though, that won’t be in question.
Kaminsky’s bringing the same confidence and attitude to the draft process that made him a national celebrity this spring. It was a Final Four run during which the Badgers seemed more like fun-loving rock stars than college kids on a basketball mission, though both of those descriptions applied.
Kaminsky was the star of that show, putting his goofiness on display for the American basketball-watching public with on-air dance moves, humorous magazine photoshoots and an interview with actor Will Ferrell for Access Hollywood.
“Your everyday interesting character,” Wisconsin teammate Sam Dekker described. “He’s quirky, he’s fun-loving and he’s very straight forward. Sometimes people might not like that, but that’s Frank. He’s not afraid of who’s around, he’s just going to be himself, but that’s the thing that makes him great. He doesn’t care who’s watching him, he’s going to be him, he’s going to play his game. … The guy you see on the court’s the guy you see off the court.”
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Through all the giggling during press conferences, though, Kaminsky and the Badgers made it very clear that a switch flipped when they took the court, that winning was still the most important thing. And that proved true as they mopped the floor with the Big Ten and won some NCAA tournament games in incredible comeback fashion. Wisconsin took down Michigan State in the Big Ten Tournament title game, bested Arizona in an Elite Eight rematch and put a stop to Kentucky’s undefeated season in a memorable Final Four showdown.
And through it all, Kaminsky played exceptionally well. He scored 29 points against Arizona, poured in 20 against Kentucky and finished with 21 points and 12 rebounds in the national title game loss to Duke. He averaged 18.8 points and 8.2 rebounds per game during his senior season of college, earning national and conference player of the year honors and becoming a no-doubt first team All American.
So what’s the issue?
“Haters, man. There’s haters,” Dekker said. “When you’re good enough to put yourself in that position with the stuff he did, people are going to try to knock you down and doubt you. But the best players ever are going to go through that stuff. And I see Frank as a really, really good player. He won those awards for a reason. And he’s going to add even more to his game, and I see him doing well regardless of where he goes, he’s going to represent well and have a very long and very good career.”
That’s what Kaminsky is hoping for. He said his expectations were to be picked anywhere from No. 5 to No. 12. It’s a projection that would’ve seemed like lunacy just a few years ago, when he was an unheralded recruit out of Benet Academy who couldn’t find his way onto the court for Bo Ryan’s Badgers. But by the time he was an upperclassman, Kaminsky was leading the Badgers on deep NCAA tournament runs and winning national player of the year awards.
Time will tell how Kaminsky’s NBA career goes, but if the past is any indication, counting him out would seem a bad decision.