Frank Kaminsky has sights set on bigger things than 43

MADISON, Wis. — Leading SportsCenter with a highlight

package dedicated strictly to his every point was pretty neat. So were the 200

congratulatory text messages waiting afterward on his cell phone, pats on the

back around campus and a Wilt Chamberlin-style picture of him holding

“43” that quickly spanned the Internet.

But of all the developments to take shape following Frank

Kaminsky’s record-setting 43-point night two weeks ago, the one he’ll cherish

most is a single hand-written letter from Ab Nicholas, an all-American guard in

1952 and one of the most famous Wisconsin basketball players in history.

“I thought that’s pretty cool,” Kaminsky said,

declining to address the contents of the note. “He’s always around and

talking to us, but he’s never written me a letter or anything before. I think

that’s really nice.”

Life after breaking the single-game scoring record at

Wisconsin certainly has been nice for Kaminsky. The key, however, will be to

use the game as a springboard to bigger things and not allow a single two-hour

event to define his career. Kaminsky, after all, believes he has much more to

prove — for both himself and his team.

“This year’s goal is to get a Big Ten

championship,” he said. “I don’t think I’ll be happy until after that

happens.”

Through eight games, Kaminsky has shown he can be one of the

catalysts to help Wisconsin achieve its first Big Ten regular-season title

since 2008. The 7-foot center is the Badgers’ leading scorer on an 8-0 team

that’s ranked eighth in the country — Wisconsin’s highest ranking since the

end of that last Big Ten championship season.

Wisconsin will put its new ranking on the line at 6 p.m. CT

Wednesday with a road game against Virginia (7-1) as part of the Big Ten/ACC

Challenge.

What has made this year’s Wisconsin team special is the

ability for every starter to score in different ways. All five starters have

led the team in scoring at least once, and each player averages in double

figures. Kaminsky’s value isn’t simply that he can score (15.8 points per

game). He also does it in the most efficient manner of any starter, leading the

Badgers by shooting 57.8 percent from the field (48-for-83) and 48.0 percent on

3-pointers (12-for-25).

Kaminsky has more than half of the Badgers’ blocked shots

(16 of 31) and is second in steals (eight).

“Frank’s progress has been very good,” Badgers coach

Bo Ryan said. “If he’s happy with himself, then I’d be extremely

disappointed because you’re always trying to get better. When I say happy with

yourself, I mean he’s not going to rest on any laurels to this point. He’s

going to continue to work.”

The leap Kaminsky has made from his sophomore to junior

season has been nothing short of tremendous. A year ago, Kaminsky averaged 10.3

minutes per game and 4.2 points. Now, he is playing 28.3 minutes per game, and

his 11.6 points-per-game increase is the largest of any player in the Big Ten.

“Last year, he had a lot of ups and downs,”

Badgers forward Sam Dekker said. “Some little confidence struggles here

and there. He stayed the course, man. He worked hard this offseason. The thing

I like about it, he’s taking advantage of the opportunities he’s getting. I

think that’s the story with our whole team. We have a bunch of unselfish guys.

It doesn’t really matter who gets the shine on what night, as long as we get

that win.”

Kaminsky gave part of the credit for his performance boost

to former Badgers center Jared Berggren, who started over Kaminsky the past two

seasons. Berggren now plays professional basketball in Belgium and imparted his

wisdom on Kaminsky before he left.

“He told me things I needed to work on,” Kaminsky

said. “He knows the coaches. He was here for five years. He played a lot

of minutes. Things I needed to do with recovery, being ready on the court, the

mental game, too. It’s tough mentally to go out there and play as many minutes

as I am. He prepared me for every situation.”

This season, Kaminsky has done a better job of using his

size, length and athletic ability to reach the rim. During his first two years

in the program, 51.9 percent of Kaminsky’s overall shots came from 3-point

range (80 of 154). This season, 30.1 percent of his shots have come from behind

the arc (25 of 83).

Kaminsky acknowledged making six 3-pointers in a game — as

he did during his 43-point outburst against North Dakota two weeks ago — has

helped keep defenders off balance when he has the ball around the perimeter.

“With big people, it’s easy even if, any motion, not

even jumping, it’s easy to go around them,” he said. “That’s

something the coaches have been working on with me with the drills and things

we do, just being able to have that option, and I think it’s been working so

far.

“There’s lanes to go there. I feel like I’m more

comfortable with the ball in my hands than I was in past years. It’s a nice

thing to be able to do things like that for this team.”

Badgers associate head coach Greg Gard noted Kaminsky was

sure to become a bigger focal point of opposing teams’ defenses moving forward

given his recent string of strong performances. He has scored in double figures

in each of the last six games.

“I think as his game continues to evolve, he can hurt

you in a lot of different ways,” Gard said. “It’ll be an ongoing

process of when defenses adjust to him, how does he adjust and take his game to

another level?”

Whatever level Kaminsky achieves, it isn’t likely to include

any more 43-point games. But that’s OK with Kaminsky, who has enjoyed the

spoils from his amazing feat enough. What matters to him is that his

improvement already is noticeable — as is his team’s early-season success.

“There’s those people out there that text me before

games and say go get 50. Why can’t you do it again?” Kaminsky said.

“I don’t think I’m ever going to average 43 points a game. It’s tough to

play consistently sometimes with all the things that go on in this program. I’m

trying to do my best. We’re 8-0 to start the season. I can’t complain about

that.”

Follow Jesse Temple on Twitter