Wisconsin's Frank Kaminsky a tall order on the court and off the cuff

Wisconsin's Frank Kaminsky a tall order on the court and off the cuff
Wisconsin's Frank Kaminsky celebrates as he cuts down the net following the Badgers' 64-63 overtime over top-seeded Arizona on Saturday to advance to the NCAA Final Four. Kaminsky's breakout season has played a key role in pushing Wisconsin to within two victories of claiming its first men's basketball title since 1941. (Jeff Gross / Getty Images)

The big man talks to himself. Cuss words. Which can be a problem in the team huddle.

"I always put the towel over my mouth in timeouts," he says.


If Frank Kaminsky has an unusual method of self-motivation during games, count that as one of his many uncommon qualities.

The Wisconsin forward has led his team into the Final Four with a combination of inside and outside skills that make for a special kind of 7-footer.

Strong moves equal tough baskets in the paint. A shooter's touch translates into points from the perimeter.

"He's a difficult matchup," Arizona Coach Sean Miller said. "Got to be one of the best offensive players who play college basketball, for sure."

But unlike other marquee names gathering in North Texas this week — Julius Randle of Kentucky, Shabazz Napier of Connecticut — Kaminsky entered this season as an unknown quantity, previously a secondary option off the bench for the Badgers.

"His eyes are more wide open now," Coach Bo Ryan said.

Ryan wasn't using a metaphor.

"Last year, I thought at times his eyes were closed," the coach said. "If you see him sometimes, you think, 'Oh, look, Frank's asleep.' He's not asleep, he's just got that sleepy look."

Kaminsky explains that he is simply taking the long way around to basketball stardom: "For some people it's natural to grow, and grow into your body. For me, it took a little while."

His parents played college sports — dad basketball, mom volleyball — so it made sense that Kaminsky showed athletic promise at a young age. By the time he reached high school, the kid from just outside of Chicago was a capable 6-foot-3 freshman guard.

Then his pituitary gland took over, stretching his body to 6-10 by his junior season.

"Once I started growing, those skills just kind of stayed with me," he said of his previous experience in the backcourt. "It's something my coaching staff in high school really tried to keep part of my game."

Benet Academy even called upon him to fill in for the team's injured point guard during his senior season. But Wisconsin coaches recruited Kaminsky for the front court and, when he arrived on campus in the fall of 2011, they had a project on their hands.

For two years, they played him behind veterans such as Jared Berggren and Mike Bruesewitz. They worked him hard in the weight room and watched his diet, trying to add a few pounds.

At 234 pounds, his body still qualifies as lanky. Think Ichabod Crane with a scruff of a beard. But all that gym work has paid off.

In a program traditionally known for defense, Kaminsky has become an offensive weapon, leading his team with 14.1 points and 6.4 rebounds a game. That's a quantum leap from the two previous seasons, when he averaged three points and 1.6 rebounds.

His 37% shooting from three-point range has kept opponents off balance.

"He's one of those rare [forwards] that pops out and shoots threes," Arizona center Kaleb Tarczewski said.

All of Kaminsky's newfound skills were on display last weekend at the West Regional in Anaheim.

The junior showed his strength and smarts in a semifinal game by attacking the middle of Baylor's often confounding zone, making catches in traffic, bobbing and weaving to the rim.

"It's tough to understand timing for some people," he said. "You see some other post players, they think they have to do something quick, and you don't have to do that.

"You can really do anything you want if you take your time."

Late in that game, he took a pass at the top of the key, pump-faked his man and drove the lane, scoring on a layup and drawing the foul, a fitting highlight for his game-high 19 points.

"If you think you're going to give him the first shot, it's easy [for him]," Baylor forward Cory Jefferson said. "So you go try to block it, but he uses another move and finishes pretty well."

Two nights later, Kaminsky took control of a tight regional final against Arizona. His game-high 28 points included three-for-five shooting from long distance and three baskets in overtime.

By then, fans around the country had come to know Francis Stanley Kaminsky III, who goes by "Frank the Tank" around Madison, Wis.

Asked to describe his team in one or two words, he had replied: "White guys."

His coach suggested that public speaking was a part of Kaminsky's continuing development.

"They tell me he's funnier than he used to be," Ryan muttered.

A growing sense of humor. Add it to the list of traits for a big man finally coming into his own.

Twitter: @LATimesWharton

Staff writer Chris Dufresne contributed to this report.