Men's basketball | Final Four: Wisconsin’s Kaminsky grows into big role

By LOS ANGELES TIMES  • 
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The big man talks to himself. Cuss words, which can be a problem in the team huddle.

“I always put the towel over my mouth in timeouts,” he says.

If Frank Kaminsky has an unusual method of self-motivation during games, count that as one of his many uncommon qualities.

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>> Seriously? You're following all those Twitter accounts but not @buckeyextra? Go ahead and move to Michigan while you're at it.

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The Wisconsin forward has led his team into the Final Four with a combination of inside and outside skills that make for a special kind of 7-footer. Strong moves equal tough baskets in the lane. A shooter’s touch translates into points from the perimeter.

“He’s a difficult matchup,” Arizona coach Sean Miller said. “Got to be one of the best offensive players (in) college basketball, for sure.”

But unlike other marquee names gathering in north Texas this week — including Julius Randle of Kentucky and Shabazz Napier of Connecticut — Kaminsky entered this season as an unknown quantity, previously a secondary option off the bench for the Badgers.

“His eyes are more wide open now,” said Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan, who was not using a metaphor.

“Last year, I thought at times his eyes were closed,” Ryan added. “If you see him sometimes, you think, ‘Oh, look, Frank’s asleep.’ He’s not asleep, he’s just got that sleepy look.”

Kaminsky explains that he is taking the long way around to basketball stardom: “For some people, it’s natural to grow, and grow into your body. For me, it took a little while.”

His parents played college sports — father basketball; mother volleyball — so it made sense that Kaminsky showed athletic promise at a young age. By the time he reached high school, the teenager from outside of Chicago was a capable 6-foot-3 freshman guard. Then his pituitary gland took over, stretching his body to 6-10 by his junior season.

“Once I started growing, those skills just kind of stayed with me,” he said of his experience in the backcourt. “It’s something my coaching staff in high school really tried to keep part of my game.”

For two years, Wisconsin coaches played Kaminsky behind veterans Jared Berggren and Mike Bruesewitz. They worked him hard in the weight room and watched his diet, trying to add a few pounds. At 234 pounds, his body still qualifies as lanky, but all that gym work has paid dividends.

In a program traditionally known for defense, Kaminsky has become an offensive force, leading his team with averages of 14.1 points and 6.4 rebounds a game — a quantum leap from the two previous seasons, when he averaged 3.0 points and 1.6 rebounds. His 37 percent shooting from three-point range has kept opponents off balance.

“He’s one of those rare (forwards) that pops out and shoots threes,” Arizona center Kaleb Tarczewski said.

All of Kaminsky’s newfound skills were on display last weekend at the West Regional. The junior showed his strength and smarts in a semifinal game by attacking the middle of Baylor’s often confounding zone, making catches in traffic, bobbing and weaving to the rim.

“It’s tough to understand timing for some people,” he said. “You see some other post players, they think they have to do something quick, and you don’t have to do that. You can really do anything you want if you take your time.”

Late in the Baylor game, he took a pass at the top of the key, pump-faked his defender and drove the lane, scoring on a layup and drawing a foul, a fitting highlight for his game-high 19 points.

Two nights later, Kaminsky took control of a tight regional final against Arizona. His game-high 28 points included 3-for-5 shooting from three-point range and three baskets in overtime. By then, fans across the country had come to know Francis Stanley Kaminsky III, who goes by “Frank the Tank” around Madison, Wis.

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