Final Four: Improved Kaminsky powers Badgers


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ARLINGTON, Texas -- Frank Kaminsky took offense to the question: No, he is not funnier this year!

"I think I'm a little more mature this year, thank you very much," the Wisconsin big man said with a straight face this week.

A little goofy around his teammates, Kaminsky has been all business on the court in leading the Badgers' charge to the Final Four. The 7-footer had 28 points and 11 rebounds in the 64-63 victory against Arizona in the regional final, a breakout performance for one of the most improved players in the Big Ten Conference.

Wisconsin (30-7) started practicing Thursday at the behemoth that is AT&T Stadium -- home of the NFL's Dallas Cowboys -- to prepare for the national semifinal Saturday night against Kentucky (28-10). For all the talk about Wisconsin's trademark discipline and toughness, Kaminsky and his teammates seem to be a pretty loose bunch.

As the Badgers walked past the AP Player of the Year award that was to be presented to Creighton's Doug McDermott, the players couldn't help but remark about the size of the golden trophy.

As the team was driven to the stadium, another Badger remarked on the bus the players were indeed finally on the road to the Final Four.

"So I think our guys are loose enough; they understand it's another two-game tournament," coach Bo Ryan said.

It is a crew led by veterans who like to have fun off the floor. Some of the attitude comes from Kaminsky, who doesn't seem quite taken with the media spotlight that comes with success. Instead, he is in his element, joking around with teammates despite the high stakes of the next game.

Then there is a sleepy-eyed look that Kaminsky can sometimes display on the court -- Ryan has described him as being in "Frank's world."

"He might look at you like, 'Coach, do you know what you're talking about?' It's not a sarcastic look. It's just, have you looked at Frank?" Ryan said a couple weeks ago. "Sometimes he has a face that looks like he really is somewhere else, but he's not. So I've learned not to interpret it that way."

He's a good listener and hard worker, Ryan said. The results are paying off -- Kaminsky's scoring average of 14.1 points is nearly 10 more than a year ago when he came off the bench. He is not all that physically imposing, but is deceptively athletic.

Defend Kaminsky with a big man, and he'll maneuver around for a drive to the hoop or step back for a mid-range jump shot. Go small on Kaminsky, and he'll post up. Give him room on the perimeter, and he'll shoot the 3-pointer.

Kaminsky also had to deal with getting poked in the eye last year at midseason, an injury that then forced him to wear goggles. This year started with the confidence that he was the man in the middle on a team light on big men.

A glimpse of what was to come came in November, when Kaminsky scored a school-record 43 points in a 103-85 victory against North Dakota.

The season comes to an end with Kaminsky on a roll, averaging 18.5 points and six rebounds in the tournament while shooting 54 percent.

For every story about how relaxed Kaminsky can be, there is another about his intensity.

To get ready for the regional semifinal against Baylor, he watched the Bears' third-round game by himself in the locker room; he wanted no distractions. When something goes wrong, Kaminsky can sometimes be found screaming at himself.

"He criticizes himself over some of the just most nonsense things," guard Traevon Jackson said. "The guy can play. Nowadays, he's just doing it on a bigger stage, and it's just great to see."

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