Some former teammates of Frank Kaminsky were recently involved in a group text message conversation, and the topic was how much the senior center has developed during his time with the University of Wisconsin men’s basketball program.
Badgers senior guard Josh Gasser was part of the exchange, along with former Badgers Ben Brust, Jared Berggren and Dan Fahey. It wasn’t the first time Kaminsky was the subject of conversation.
“We always kind of saw it in him,” Gasser said of how Kaminsky’s potential could be spotted at times early in his career. “We were like, ‘If Frank could kind of step up and grow up, we could be all right, we could be a good team.’ ”
But nobody saw this coming.
Kaminsky added another honor to a remarkable second half of his career with the Badgers on Monday when he was named the Big Ten Conference Player of the Year.
The preseason pick to win that award, Kaminsky wore a target on his back during his final season but has still managed to average 18.4 points and 8.1 rebounds to help the Badgers (28-3) win the Big Ten title outright with a 16-2 record. One of those defeats — a 67-62 decision at Rutgers on Jan. 11 — came with Kaminsky sidelined due to a concussion.
Kaminsky was a repeat first-team selection and was a unanimous pick this season by both the coaches and the media.
“I couldn’t have expected this,” Kaminsky, who averaged 1.8 points as a freshman and 4.2 as a sophomore, said during an interview on Big Ten Network after the award was announced. “Just the progression I’ve made throughout my career has been awesome so far. It’s awesome to win this award and I’m really happy about it, but we know there’s a lot left in the season and hopefully we’ll get some bigger awards.”
UW’s Bo Ryan was selected Big Ten Coach of the Year by the conference’s coaches, while the media selected Maryland’s Mark Turgeon.
It’s the fourth coach of the year honor for Ryan during his 14 seasons at UW. Only Purdue’s Gene Keady (seven) and Indiana’s Bob Knight (five) have won the award more times than Ryan, whose .717 winning percentage in Big Ten games (172-68) is the best in conference history.
UW was the overwhelming favorite to win the Big Ten this season after returning seven of its top eight players from a team that went 30-8 and advanced to the Final Four, but Ryan and his staff deserve credit for recruiting and developing that talent.
The Badgers also dealt with major adversity this season, losing senior point guard Traevon Jackson to a broken right foot in the loss at Rutgers. UW reeled off 10 consecutive victories after that defeat and is 13-1 overall since Jackson was sidelined.
“He treats every single practice, every single possession like it’s a game,” Kaminsky said of Ryan, who also won the award in 2001-02, 2002-03 and 2012-13. “And it’s awesome going into every practice knowing you’re going to be prepared for whatever’s in front of you.”
Junior forward Sam Dekker was a second-team All-Big Ten selection, while sophomore forward Nigel Hayes was named to the third team.
Gasser, meanwhile, was named to the All-Defensive team for the third time in his career. A tireless worker who established program records in games played, games started and minutes played, Gasser wrapped up the regular season with two brilliant defensive performances.
In a 76-63 victory at Minnesota on Thursday, Gasser helped hold senior guard Andre Hollins, the Golden Gophers’ leading scorer, to five points on 2-for-9 shooting. Three days later, Gasser helped force freshman sensation D’Angelo Russell, Ohio State’s leading scorer, into a 7-for-18 shooting performance.
“It was really tough,” Russell said of going against Gasser. “He did a great job, as you can see from my stats. He’s a tough defender, and a great defender, so all the credit goes to him.”
Purdue junior guard Rapheal Davis was named the Defensive Player of the Year.
Russell was named Freshman of the Year and joined Kaminsky on the coaches’ first team along with Iowa senior forward Aaron White, Maryland senior swingman Dez Wells and Indiana junior guard Yogi Ferrell. The media’s first team was the same except it had Maryland freshman guard Melo Trimble instead of Wells.
Any chance Russell had of making it a photo finish in the race for player of the year honors was wrecked by Kaminsky’s brilliant finish to the regular season.
He scored at least 20 points in five of the last seven games and finished Big Ten play with a terrific stat line of 19.9 points, 8.2 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 1.2 blocks per game.
UW associate head coach Greg Gard talked last week about how Kaminsky, coming off performances of 31 points vs. Michigan State and 25 vs. Minnesota, has “just put us on his back” down the stretch.
“I don’t know how you stop him,” Gard said of Kaminsky, who has posted 10 double-doubles this season. “I think opposing defenses are trying to figure that out, too. He’s scoring in every way possible, he’s embracing contact, he’s driving the ball. He makes plays like a point guard, so in shot-clock situations you can throw the ball to him and you’ve got a 7-footer making a play. …
“I haven’t been around anybody that has that wealth of a skill set, and knows how to use it. It’s one thing to be talented and have some skills, but he understands exactly when to use it and how to use it. That’s a special, special gift.”
‘I haven’t been around anybody that has that wealth of a skill set, and knows how to use it. It’s one thing to be talented and have some skills, but he understands exactly when to use it and how to use it. That’s a special, special gift.’ Greg gard,
UW associate head coach