Frank Kaminsky can play -- and laugh

The Wisconsin junior center has skills on the floor, and a sense of humor off of it

Originally Published: April 3, 2014
By C.L. Brown | ESPN.com

The questions came one after another to Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan, probing how tough it was for him growing up in Chester, Pa. Questions and answers that the Badgers' players had all heard to the point where they probably could have recited them back verbatim.

Not to be outdone, junior center Frank Kaminsky deadpanned a response about growing up in the suburbs of Chicago.

"Sometimes they call my hometown of Woodridge, Hoodridge," Kaminsky said. "If that means anything."

And that sums up the Badgers' 7-foot personality. His nickname, "Frank the Tank," is based on Will Ferrell's character in the movie "Old School." He's witty. He's self-deprecating.

Northwestern guard Dave Sobolewski and Kaminsky starred on the same team at Benet Academy, which at one time was the nation's No. 6 team, according to USA Today. (As seniors, they beat a Chicago Simeon team led by Duke's Jabari Parker and lost to Aurora East and Ryan Boatright, now a key part of Connecticut's backcourt.)

[+] EnlargeKaminisky
Jeff Gross/Getty ImagesFrank Kaminsky, a 7-foot center, has given opponents all kinds of trouble this season.

Sobolewski has known Kaminsky since kindergarten and began playing on the same teams with him in fifth grade. Kaminsky, who was 24 inches at birth, has always been the big kid in the class. But Sobolewski said he's always been something else, too.

"A goofball," Sobolewski said. "Not in a bad way at all, but he's trying to keep people laughing, trying to keep people smiling. That's kind of the kid he's always been, the class clown."

His mother, Mary, is used to hearing her son say strange things. She just laughs and smiles at the stories.

"He's still my knucklehead little kid who will come home and put his head on my lap and just hang out," she said.

Kaminsky and the Badgers still have more to accomplish before he takes a break. Wisconsin will face Kentucky on Saturday in the NCAA tournament semifinals, with the winner advancing to Monday's national championship game.

Kaminsky made the leap from little-known reserve as a freshman and sophomore at Wisconsin to the Most Outstanding Player in the NCAA tournament's West Region. The people least surprised are those who saw him play in high school.

They witnessed a similar progression back then.

Kaminsky watched his good friend Sobolewski make the jump to varsity as a sophomore, while he stayed down. He didn't complain because he thought it was better for his development so he'd be ready for his opportunity on varsity. He didn't make the travel team for his AAU team, the Illinois Wolves, either that summer. But it just motivated him to keep working.

Kaminsky took the same approach when he played limited minutes his first two years at Wisconsin. He trusted the track record of big men who played for Ryan.

"He knew his place and he accepted his role," Mary Kaminsky said. "He knew his role was to come in and give minutes the best way he can."

Benet Academy coach Gene Heidkamp pointed to two moments in particular from Kaminsky's high school career that made him stand out. Benet trailed Glenbard North High at halftime of an Illinois state regional playoff game. Kaminsky took over in the second half, scoring 16 of his 39 points in the fourth quarter as Benet rallied to win.

[+] EnlargeGary Franklin, Frank Kaminsky
Harry How/Getty ImagesOn the court, Frank Kaminsky has matured into a leader his teammates respect.

The second came when Sobolewski was injured over a five-game span. Kaminsky, who was one of the tri-captains, expanded his leadership role off the court as well as his responsibilities on it. He actually took over the point guard position, bringing the ball up the floor.

"A real maturity took place, I think he saw what his potential was and I think he understood kind of what he was capable of," Heidkamp said. "He was always a great kid; he took another step as far as becoming a man and that rubbed off on his teammates in a real positive way."

Kaminsky has shown the same maturity with the Badgers this season -- even while still squeezing in jokes.

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

Kentucky would be wise not to sleep on Kaminsky's ability. He put up 28 points with 11 rebounds against Arizona and 19 points against Baylor, which had a frontcourt as big and imposing as the one the Wildcats will put in front of him Saturday night at AT&T Stadium.

Arizona coach Sean Miller said Kaminsky has "got to be one of the best offensive players who plays college basketball, for sure."

"Frank Kaminsky," Miller said, "is the reason Wisconsin's in the Final Four."

And that's nothing to joke about.

C.L. Brown | email

College Basketball

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