Playing his high school ball for Benet Academy in Illinois, Frank Kaminsky was not highly rated nor sought after by all of the best programs in the country. He was never supposed to be the superstar for one of the most efficient offenses in the nation. Nobody foresaw the greatness that laid ahead of him when he arrived at Wisconsin for his freshman season in 2011, and now three years removed from his graduation from UW-Madison, his number 44 will hang from the Kohl Center’s rafters.
The story of Frank Kaminsky’s journey at Wisconsin can only best be told by the man himself, but the story everybody who followed Wisconsin basketball got to see unfold over the years was arguably the greatest success story in the history of Wisconsin athletics. On Thursday night, when Kaminsky is in attendance to see his jersey officially retired, he’ll deserve every second of the standing ovation he’s sure to receive. The progress and development Kaminsky showed each year at Wisconsin inspired a campus, a fanbase, and eventually the whole country as he helped the Badgers “Make ‘em Believe” on their way to back-to-back Final Fours and a National Championship appearance in his senior season.
During Kaminsky’s freshman year in 2011, playing time was hard to come by. Head coach Bo Ryan was notorious for making players earn their time on the court through hard work and experience, so freshmen rarely made major impacts during his time coaching Wisconsin. The man who would come to be known as “Frank the Tank” appeared in 35 games, but only sparingly. He averaged just 2 points and 1 rebound per game for the season, but the storm was slowly brewing.
As for Kaminsky’s sophomore season, things were hardly much different. The Badgers boasted an experienced big man in 6’10” senior Jared Berggren and had bodies to back him up in the paint with forwards Ryan Evans, Mike Bruesewitz, and Duje Dukan ahead of Kaminsky in the pecking order. Star freshman Sam Dekker had arrived on campus for this season as well, taking up some of the minutes Kaminsky potentially could have gained at forward. As a result, Kaminsky saw just 10 minutes per game in his sophomore season and averaged 4 points and 2 rebounds in that time. However, Kaminsky showed a flash of what was to come in the future by scoring a then career–high 23 points in a Big Ten matchup against Illinois.
Kaminsky’s junior year was when things took a turn for the unexpected. In an early season matchup against North Dakota, the now starting center for the Badgers exploded for a team record 43 points. In the game, Kaminsky shot a ridiculous 6/6 from three and 16/19 from the field. It was one of the most memorable performances in Wisconsin men’s basketball history and could be a record that stands for many years to come. But that’s not all Kaminsky accomplished in his third season in the cardinal and white. He served as the team’s leader enroute to 1st team All-Big Ten honors by averaging 14 points, 6 rebounds and 2 blocks per game. The Badgers had a potent offense with players immortalized by their eventual Final Four run such as guards Traevon Jackson, Josh Gasser, Ben Brust and Bronson Koenig, and forwards Nigel Hayes and Sam Dekker.
With so many players capable of scoring the ball, the Badgers were a serious contender come March Madness and earned a #2 seed in the West division. After knocking off American, Oregon and Baylor, the #1 seed Arizona Wildcats stood in the way of Wisconsin’s first Final Four since 2000. In the biggest game of his life to date, Kaminsky did not disappoint. The big man erupted for 28 points and 11 rebounds shooting an efficient 11/20 from the floor in a thrilling 64-63 overtime victory. The only other Badger in double figures was Jackson with 10 points. Kaminsky had answered the bell when it mattered most, and although Wisconsin suffered a close loss to Kentucky in the Final Four, history had been made in Madison.
Despite hype surrounding his name after a breakout junior season, Kaminsky opted to stay at Madison and play his senior year while finishing his degree. Kaminsky was named the preseason Big Ten Player of the Year and expectations were lofty for the Badgers, who returned the bulk of the roster that had made the Final Four the previous season. With a target on their back all year long, the Badgers continued to play Bo Ryan basketball and the wins came hot and heavy. Kaminsky had taken serious strides since his already fantastic junior year and averaged 19 points, 8 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 blocks per game shooting a scorching 42% from three and 55% from the field. Wisconsin ran away with the Big Ten regular season title and kept the hot streak going enroute to a Big Ten tournament title as well. Kaminsky made good on his preseason selection of Big Ten player of the year by winning the regular season award, and the 31-3 Badgers were given a #1 seed heading into March Madness.
Come tournament time, the loaded Badgers with their homegrown superstars Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker played like the #1 seed they well-deserved. After skating through the first weekend of the tournament, the Badgers took care of college basketball powerhouses North Carolina and Arizona to secure a spot in their second straight Final Four. After the previous year’s heartbreak to Kentucky, Wisconsin was given a chance at the ultimate redemption.
Kentucky was in their way of a title game appearance, and the Wildcats were seen as a team of destiny — they were 38-0 on the season. Loaded with star recruits inevitably heading to the NBA such as Karl Anthony Towns, Willie Cauley-Stein, Devin Booker, and more, Kentucky versus Wisconsin seemed a lot like David versus Goliath. But, there was one thing Wisconsin had that Kentucky lacked, and that was college basketball’s men’s Player of the Year Frank Kaminsky. He matched Towns and Cauley-Stein in the paint and was able to stretch the floor to knock down threes on the other end, something Kentucky struggled to defend. With the help of hot shooting from Sam Dekker, Wisconsin took care of business and did the impossible, emerging victorious by a score of 71-64 in what has to be the most memorable game in Badger basketball history. “38-1” will forever live on at campus and Kaminsky’s 20 points and 11 rebounds played a vital role in creating a memory that any Badger basketball fan will cherish forever.
Kaminsky followed up that performance with 21 points and 12 rebounds in the national title game, and despite the heartbreaking defeat which we’ll avoid covering in major detail, the Badgers made everyone believe in their program that has epitomized consistency since the turn of the century.
Kaminsky’s wonderous senior season capped off the most legendary season in Wisconsin basketball history. From the awards to the Big Ten titles all the way to the national championship game, Frank Kaminsky had shown every little kid out there watching him what hard work can do for you. A near non-factor during his first to seasons at UW, he had now locked himself in as a Wisconsin legend and a legitimate NBA prospect.
Kaminsky would go on to the NBA following his graduation and he was selected 9th overall in the 2015 NBA draft by the Charlotte Hornets. He remains with the team today where he currently averages 11 points and 4 rebounds per game.
While we are lucky enough to get to continue watching him perform with the world’s best ball players, Thursday night will mark the perfect time to reminisce on his glory days at Wisconsin and thank him once again for the amazing things he and the team achieved during his time as a Badger. His number 44 will be rightfully immortalized in Wisconsin basketball history and it is only right that he will be there to witness it hang from the Kohl Center’s highest beams for the first time.