Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky impresses Spartans’ Tom Izzo
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Frank Kaminsky walked onto the Kohl Center court for a ceremony before his last home game, wearing a goofy grin with a small camera strapped to his chest. Wisconsin’s premier big man wanted his own view of Senior Day.
Then he went out and convinced Michigan State’s Tom Izzo, one of the game’s most respected coaches, he was indeed the best player in college basketball this year.
A 7-footer who can block shots, shoot the 3 and handle the ball like a guard, Kaminsky at the very least has few peers when it comes to across-the-board production.
“I’ve never been more impressed with a player in our league since maybe Big Dog back in the day,” Izzo said Sunday after Kaminsky scored a season-high 31 points in a 68-61 win over the Spartans.
Izzo was referring to Purdue’s Glenn Robinson, who flummoxed the Big Ten in the 1990s. Izzo, in his 20th season as a head coach, then delivered a ringing endorsement.
“I would like to give my early vote that Kaminsky is, no question, the best player in this country this year,” he said.
One who led the Badgers to at least a share of the Big Ten regular-season title after beating the Spartans. Wisconsin (26-3, 14-2) dropped one spot to No. 6 in the AP Top 25 poll released Monday.
A victory at Minnesota on Thursday allows the Badgers to claim the title outright. Kaminsky and the rest of his teammates allowed themselves a few hours to savor Sunday’s win before returning their focus to unfinished business.
“When you put in the work that they have, and you have players that have been as dedicated as these guys are, it’s fun to want,” coach Bo Ryan said. “I hope that each day they come to practice they’re working on satisfying the want. That is being successful and continuing to play as long as we can.”
No Badgers player has drawn the spotlight quite like Kaminsky, who has been a star since finishing his breakout 2013-14 season with a memorable NCAA tournament run to the Final Four.
Since then, Kaminsky has been on the short list of many for player-of-the-year honors. He is averaging 18.1 points, 8.3 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1.6 blocks. Kaminsky is shooting 41 percent from 3-point range and 54 percent from the field overall.
When Izzo was asked about Duke’s Jahlil Okafor as a possible player of the year, Izzo cut off the question. Okafor is averaging 18.2 points and 9.6 rebounds while shooting 66 percent.
Izzo also likes freshman guard D’Angelo Russell, a freshman guard averaging 19 points at Ohio State — though not as much as Kaminsky.
“But if you think about consistently solid and great in many different areas, there ain’t nobody like him,” Izzo said.
Kaminsky, with a dry sense of humor, has handled the attention with ease. Ryan says Kaminsky and the rest of the team are grounded to the point that he doesn’t need to worry about how they handle hype. It is balanced by a hunger to keep winning.
Kaminsky, however, was far from blase in the hours leading to the Michigan State game, needing to “psych myself up.”
He knows how to enjoy the moment, too, as when he strapped the camera to his chest for pregame Senior Day introductions and the postgame Big Ten title celebration. He ran up the stairs at the Kohl Center to exchange high-fives with students.
More milestones could be on the way.
Note: Ryan said Monday that point guard Trevon Jackson may still be a couple weeks away from being cleared to play following a right foot injury. That would mean Jackson would miss the team’s final two games to close the regular season — at Minnesota and at Ohio State — and possibly the Big Ten tournament, which starts next week.
“Can’t rule anything out. His clearance? Maybe — maybe — two weeks? Who knows?” Ryan said. Jackson has been out since getting hurt during a 67-62 loss on Jan. 11 at Rutgers.
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