ARLINGTON, Texas -- It isn’t easy being 7-foot. It really isn’t easy to be 7-foot when you were 6-foot-3 as a freshman in high school.
Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky isn’t exactly complaining about having to deal with any of that. In fact, it’s helped him turn into the player he is today. He has powered his Badgers into the Final Four, at times solely on his gangly back. The once seldom-used role player has blossomed before the nation’s eyes in averaging 22 points in his past three games including 28 points against Arizona in the Elite Eight last weekend.
It just took a little while for Kaminsky. The old adage is, big kids take longer to develop.
Every tall, skinny kid has stories about difficulties growing up. And growing up fast. There are the troubles finding shoes and trouble keeping your closets and drawers filled with clothes that fit. For Kaminsky, it was something a little different.
“It was difficult growing so much so fast,” Kaminsky said. “My biggest battle was with doorways. I used to hit my head on everything so learning to duck was my first big battle. But I knew once I conquered that I would be good going forward.”
Leave it to the Wisconsin faithful to nickname Kaminsky Frank “the Tank” thanks to Will Ferrell’s role in the movie “Old School.” But how can you not call him that after the way he has played. The ball skills he developed as a point guard help him in every game. Yes that’s right, he played point guard in high school before the growth spurt.
His inside-outside game have people in the NBA intrigued. Frank “the Tank” can hit the 3-pointer. He’s shooting 38 percent from downtown this season and is the Badgers’ biggest threat outside. But he’s also a force inside by racking up 64 blocks. He scored 43 points in a game earlier this year and led the team in scoring while earning MVP honors at least weekend’s West Regional. He’s awkward. And he’s really good.
It’s something that has given Kentucky head coach John Calipari, Kaminsky’s opponent on Saturday, a tough time.
“First of all, I had to stand, I wanted to make sure he was really 7 foot tall,” Calipari said. “Can I tell you, he's 7 foot tall. He's a better ball handler than you think. He bounces it better than you think. Obviously he's their best 3-point shooter. He's playing with a swagger right now, like, ‘None of you can guard me.’ So that's a challenge in itself.”
So then how do you guard a guy who can take advantage of anything you throw his way? Arizona couldn’t figure it out last Saturday. The Wildcats would switch and Kaminsky would take advantage of a smaller opponent by driving in the paint. The Wildcats wouldn’t switch and Kaminsky would launch a three. Lethal.
“We’ve got to be on top of what we're doing because he will put people in positions to hurt you,” Calipari said. “If he does, he's going right back at it until you do something, then he's coming out another way. But it's going to be a big challenge. Again, if I could tell you Willie [Cauley-Stein] were playing, I would feel a little more comfortable because he's a 7-footer that can guard inside and outside and all that. We don't have that guy if he doesn't play.”
Wisconsin’s starting lineup is the first group of people to tell you that they may not pass the eye test when they first step onto a court. Many times, it’s been head coach Bo Ryan who has told Kaminsky what he looks like out there. Awkward is one word some opponents have used to describe his play.
“Sometimes we kind of fail that eye test,” Kaminsky said. “I know that me personally, I’ve heard comments about how I look like I’m asleep all the time. I don’t know where that came from.”
Pointing to himself right next to Kaminsky while making that last comment? His head coach. And Kaminsky knew it. It was all tongue and cheek.
But luckily for the Badgers, they aren’t going to the eye doctor on Saturday against Kentucky. Scoring and playing defense like Wisconsin has during this NCAA tournament run is what matters.