Frank Kaminsky: College Basketball's 'Unlikeliest Star'

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Frank Kaminsky could be playing in the NBA right now. Last season, Wisconsin’s 7-foot-tall forward with a knack for knocking down three-pointers was one of college basketball’s top players. After leading the Badgers to the Final Four, Kaminsky would likely have been a first-round NBA draft pick. But he returned to Wisconsin for his senior season.

Pablo Torre recently profiled Kaminsky for ESPN The Magazine and he joined Bill Littlefield on Only A Game.

BL: Pablo, you describe Kaminsky as “the unlikeliest star in college basketball.” Why is that?

He's one of those guys who embraces being the offbeat, off-brand sort of character. ... This guy is now this cult figure and his popularity is only growing.

Pablo Torre, ESPN The Magazine

PT: Well, he was this obscure, three-star recruit coming out of Chicago, and nobody really had any expectations for him. He was a beanpole when he showed up in Madison. And then he ends up being the face of the sport. And it’s not just because he became arguably the best big man in the country last year — he led Wisconsin almost single-handedly to the Final Four — but he pens this essay where he says the NBA looks very boring to me, essentially, and college basketball is the pinnacle of my career. And he doesn’t want to leave.

BL: Did he provide any details about how he reached the conclusion that the NBA was “flat-out boring?"

PT: He mentioned looking at Charlotte Bobcats' games and thinking to himself, “That is so much more boring than a Wisconsin basketball game,” which is absolutely true by the way. I went to Madison, and the term I use in the piece is “Dairyland Biebermania.” I mean, this guy is now this cult figure and his popularity is only growing.

But honestly it’s somebody who has a past that kind of predisposes him to appreciating college. He was kind of bullied in grade school and high school as the classic tall kid who was awkward. He said he made one friend in the fourth grade another in the seventh thanks to a playdate forcibly arranged by his parents, and the basketball team — sports — is kind of how he became socialized.

BL: Frank Kaminsky is a man of many nicknames. I’m not quite sure how you kept them all straight. Have you settled on a favorite?

PT: Frank the Tank — it’s just this name that gets chanted everywhere you go. It’s kind of remarkable. You follow him around — you know, he said before the Final Four run last year he could kind of be anonymous, but now everybody knows Frank the Tank and everybody yells that at him.

BL: What are some of the other nicknames?

[sidebar title="A Conversation With Syracuse's Jim Boeheim" width="630" align="right"]Hall of Fame Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim joined us to discuss his new book, NCAA investigations, and meeting his boyhood hero.[/sidebar]PT: Well, he’s the Sleepy-Faced Assassin, which is something that he named himself. He has this very, shall we say, soporific look on his face. He’s the Moose — it’s in honor of an animal that portrays qualities of both weakness and strength. The vulnerability and yet the hugeness of a moose, I suppose.

And then there are a couple of other ones. Big Daddy Fupps is the name that didn’t make it into the piece. That was just one of these nonsensical names that he still gets called. He's one of those guys who embraces being the offbeat, off-brand sort of character.

BL: You write that Kaminsky’s success has made him a target for opponents’ defensive schemes. No surprise there. But given that he’ll be facing double and even triple-teams this season, do you think he’ll manage to improve on last year’s performance, or will his NBA stock fall because he stayed for his senior year?

PT: That’s a great question because what Kentucky did — Wisconsin lost to Kentucky in the Final Four — what they did was they double- and triple-teamed him. They threw wave after wave of athletic body up against him. The question is, do other teams have the personnel to do that? I don’t know if they do, which is a good sign for Frank. But the other thing is he’s now just significantly stronger. Frank is physically improving. I don’t think he’s anywhere close to where he’s going to be with physical development, which will be crucial in him actually exceeding expectations this year.

BL: One of the major arguments against staying in college and in favor of taking advantage of the opportunity of going to the NBA is you might get hurt playing that one more or two more years in college. That’s got to be on his mind, I would think.

PT: I asked him about that. That’s the logical thing if you’re looking at it from a purely cost-benefit analysis. There’s money that — at the very least — he’s postponing. But what he said is, he’s honestly — and this was very genuine — he’s more worried about his last day of college. He worries more about not having his teammates and friends around. He’s going to miss that social structure, and he’s going to — honestly, he’s a bit afraid of starting from scratch all over again. And that’s something a lot of us who miss college can appreciate.

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This segment aired on November 8, 2014.


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