Frank Kaminsky named Player of the Year in college basketball

The best basketball player in the nation stands 84 inches tall, possesses the footwork of a ballerina and was overlooked by almost every marquee program when he was a high school senior at Benet Academy in Lisle, Ill.

Wisconsin senior Frank Kaminsky.

Kaminsky, who had scholarship offers from UW, DePaul, Northwestern, Bradley, Northern Illinois and Southern Illinois, on Friday won the two top awards as the college basketball player of the year.

In the morning, he accepted the Oscar Robertson Trophy, voted on by the United States Basketball Writers Association. Robertson won the first award in 1958. In the afternoon, he was named the Associated Press player of the year, receiving 58 votes from the 65-member national media panel. Duke freshman Jahlil Okafor received five votes and Kentucky’s Wille Caulaey-Stein and Notre Dame’s Jerian Grant had one each in the AP voting.

Kentucky’s John Calipari was named AP coach of the year, receiving 40 of the 65 votes, ahead of Virginia’s Tony Bennett and Notre Dame’s Mike Brey.

“It’s been a long journey,” Kaminsky said during a news conference Friday, responding to a question from teammate Nigel Hayes. “It wasn’t easy at times but I just believed in the process and believed in myself and had a lot of people who also believed in me. They really pushed me.

“My teammates really helped me by making me a better player every day in practice.”

The honor was the latest for Kaminsky, whose remarkable development from freshman to senior has been chronicled by writers from coast to coast.

Kaminsky, who earlier this week was named a unanimous first-team All-American by the AP, leads UW in scoring (18.2 points), rebounds (8.0), assists (2.7), blocks (1.5) and field-goal shooting (54.9%), and has the Badgers (35-3) in the Final Four for the second consecutive season. UW meets Kentucky (38-0) at approximately 7:49 p.m. Saturday at Lucas Oil Stadium.

The Big Ten player of the year has scored 91 points (22.8 per game) in four NCAA Tournament games this season, the No. 1 mark.

Kaminsky averaged just 7.7 minutes and 1.8 points per game as a freshman and 10.3 minutes and 4.2 points as a sophomore.

He blossomed during his junior season and averaged 13.9 points and 6.3 rebounds in 27.2 minutes per game. His work that season is remembered for two huge games. Kaminsky scored a program-record 43 points against North Dakota and carried UW past Arizona in the Elite Eight with 28 points and 11 rebounds.

“I wanted to play him more as a sophomore,” UW coach Bo Ryan joked, “but the assistant coaches felt that he wasn’t quite ready yet and if you hold him back … he is the type of guy that will use that as fuel to come back his junior year and senior year and really be a good player.

“So that’s what I did. I kept Frank off the court. … To this point, no one has come as far as Frank.”

Through it all, Kaminsky hasn’t forgotten that he is a college student bent on soaking up every day before he embarks on a career in the National Basketball Association.

Whether he is wearing a GoPro camera on UW’s senior day to chronicle every second of his final home game to passionately reminding fans and reporters he is the team’s best video player, Kaminsky isn’t afraid to behave like a 7-foot clown minus the makeup.

“We’re just trying to have as much fun as possible,” Kaminsky said recently. “We’re still kids.

“We know what we’re trying to accomplish and what we want to have the outcome be. But at the same time, I’m 21 years old. I’m having a blast. I’m trying to do all the fun things that I can do while I can still do them.”

That includes appearing live on ESPN’s SportsCenter while UW was in Los Angeles for the NCAA West Region games – in a Wisconsin Badgers T-shirt and frumpy gray sweatpants that barely extended below his knees.

“This is the ‘I left the hotel without enough clothes’ look,” he said during his appearance last week.

Kaminsky enjoyed every second of his on-air work.

“It was fun,” he said. “I wish I would have had some better clothes to wear. I didn’t know I was actually going to be on SportsCenter. But it was a blast.”

Kaminsky’s player of the year honor is the first ever for UW in college basketball. The Badgers came close to having the top player this school year in football and basketball, with running back Melvin Gordon finishing second to Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota in the Heisman Trophy voting.

Marquette’s Butch Lee was named player of the year in 1977-’78, the only other time a player from the state has won the award.

Kaminsky could have turned pro after his junior season but decided to return to UW for his senior season, in part, because of UW’s 74-73 loss to Kentucky in the national semifinals. Kaminsky was held to seven field-goal attempts and eight points.

“I learned that maybe I wasn’t as good as I thought I was at that point in time,” he said. “Just going against a team like theirs, they have so many elite players on the court at all times, I just struggled and didn’t play as well as I wanted to.

“I think that was a big driving factor, motivating factor to try to get back here, try to play better than we did last year, hopefully come out on top. It going to be definitely tougher than last year, we know that. We’re going to do whatever we can to do so.”

True to form, Kaminsky and his teammates on Friday showed no signs of pressure despite being one day away from facing Kentucky in the national semifinals.

Every UW player and the coaches attended the news conference. Hayes asked the first question and identified himself as “Nigel Hayes – Badger beats writer/inter-squad team relations.”

Up next: “Sam Dekker, @Samdek1.”

“Do you think not playing many minutes on your AAU team really put a chip on your shoulder to get to this point?” Dekker asked, zinging his teammate.

Kaminsky’s loquacious response: “Yes.”

A follow up question came from senior Josh Gasser.

“Who is your favorite teammate?” Gasser asked.

“All of them,” Kaminsky said. “Especially Josh.”

Ryan summed up the day this way:

“To have Frank Kaminsky … and seeing (him) as the player of the year speaks volumes to what he has done to elevate our program.

“The reason a guy like Frank Kaminsky can get that kind of support is because of how he handles his teammates, how he handles his success.

“He is one of a kind, I can tell you that.”

PLAYERS OF THE YEAR FROM BIG TEN

Frank Kaminsky is the ninth Big Ten player to be named AP player of the year since the award started in 1961. Only five Big Ten schools have had players win the honor, led by Ohio State.

Ohio State 4 Jerry Lucas (1961, ’62), Gary Bradds (’64), Evan Turner (2010)
Indiana 2 Scott May (’76), Calbert Cheaney (’93)
Michigan 2 Cazzie Russel (’66), Trey Burke (’13)
Purdue 1 Glenn Robinson (’94)
Wisconsin 1 Frank Kaminsky (2015)

Written by Nick Endress

Nick Endress

Nick the Quick Endress is an avid fan of basketball and hip hop, and a contributing writer with WJS since 2013. Nick has interviewed rappers, ballers, rapper ballers, and baller rappers on the site and continues to preach that the NBA should have a team in Europe. Maybe because Nick currently lives outside London where to them Football is actually played with your feet, can you believe this fatuousness?