MADISON, Wis. — One minute, Frank Kaminsky was drilling consecutive 3-pointers against the No. 2-ranked college basketball team in the nation. The next minute, he couldn’t even play after his left eye had been inadvertently poked by a stray finger from Indiana guard Will Sheehey in the battle for a rebound.
In the blink of an eye — pardon the pun — Wisconsin’s backup center had gone from playing some of his best basketball of the season to playing no basketball at all. He had suffered from a condition known as hyphema, which is a collection of blood inside the front part of the eye.
Though doctors initially told Kaminsky he would miss only three to five days, the severity of the injury wasn’t known, in part, because he couldn’t open his eye for the first three days. Ultimately, he sat out three games and didn’t appear in another contest for two weeks.
“I didn’t expect two weeks,” Kaminsky said before Friday’s practice. “But I had to take it carefully. I couldn’t risk coming back too early. I had to let it heal, so I just listened to what our trainers had to say and what the doctors had to say.”
The injury took place on Jan. 15 after Kaminsky buried two 3-pointers in the span of 44 seconds against Indiana to push Wisconsin ahead, 22-18, early in the game. His baskets proved vital as Wisconsin pulled off a 64-59 upset against a top-five team on the road for the first time since 1980.
When the 6-foot-11 sophomore returned home, he required “three or four” different types of drops, which dilated his eyes and confined him to his bed and couch. He also was not allowed to travel with Wisconsin for its Jan. 19 game against Iowa, the first time Kaminsky said he missed a game with his team since his freshman year of high school.
“The first five to seven days, I had to be on bed rest, basically,” Kaminsky said. “If I had too much activity, it could have started bleeding again. They said if it bleeds again, then it’s really going to be in some trouble.
“… I’d come here and watch practice and then have to go right back home and go sit down on the couch and do nothing. It was getting pretty frustrating.”
Kaminsky said he wanted to come back earlier but was told by family members and medical personnel to rest. He was finally cleared to practice on Monday and played Tuesday against Ohio State but appeared for just four minutes because of his limited practice time. He is expected to be at full strength for the remainder of the season.
Kaminsky’s addition to the lineup comes at a critical time for Wisconsin (14-7, 5-3), which plays at Illinois (15-7, 2-6) at 2:30 p.m. CT Sunday. The Badgers have lost three of their last four games as the team’s playing rotation has shrunk without Kaminsky’s full services.
Wisconsin associate head coach Greg Gard noted Kaminsky will help with his length defensively and stretch the floor offensively for the Badgers because of his ability to shoot 3-pointers. Of Kaminsky’s 56 field-goal attempts, 22 have come from beyond the 3-point line.
This season, Kaminsky is averaging 4.4 points and 1.5 rebounds in 9.7 minutes per game. He has scored in double figures three times, including a season-best 16 points against Samford on Dec. 29, just before Big Ten play began.
“He’s a guy that he was playing at a really high level earlier in the season,” said Badgers center Jared Berggren, whose minutes increased with Kaminsky sidelined. “He has the ability to really give a big lift to our team. We’re looking to get him going again.”
Wisconsin forward Mike Bruesewitz said he could commiserate with Kaminsky’s plight and tried to lift his spirits while he sat out. Bruesewitz missed the first two games of the season with a lacerated right leg and later missed two more games after suffering a concussion in practice.
“It’s a little different to get your feet set and your timing right,” Bruesewitz said. “It’s not an easy thing to sit out for two and a half weeks and then just hop right into the game. He had a good practice before the Ohio State game and he did some nice things for us, too, at Ohio State. He’s only going to get better. Physically, he’s healthy and he’s going to start picking things up again and playing at that level he was before he got injured.”
Kaminsky will wear goggles for the rest of the season to avoid further damage. He said he still struggles with vision problems when looking at bright lights, although that problem has subsided substantially.
“They said I needed some protective eyewear because they obviously don’t want it to bleed again,” Kaminsky said. “That would cause more serious problems. I would be out longer, so I’ve just got to protect my eye.”