Badgers’ Kaminsky takes home Big Ten player of the year honors

Frank Kaminsky is Wisconsin's third Big Ten player of the year, joining Devin Harris (2004) and Alando Tucker (2007).

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MADISON, Wis. — Frank Kaminsky averaged all of 1.8 points per game as a freshman and generally looked exactly like the type of player whose best scholarship offer outside of Wisconsin came from Northwestern. So to suggest anyone foresaw his incredible development into the Big Ten’s player of the year as a senior would be absurd.

Especially to Kaminsky.

"I would’ve called you a liar, honestly," Kaminsky said. "I couldn’t have expected this."

And yet, that’s exactly what happened. On Monday, Kaminsky was named the conference’s player of the year, as well as a unanimous first-team all-conference pick for the second straight season, in an awards show televised on the Big Ten Network. He was joined on the all-conference team by Ohio State’s D’Angelo Russell, Maryland’s Dez Wells, Indiana’s Yogi Ferrell and Iowa’s Aaron White.

Kaminsky, a national player of the year front-runner, is the only major conference player to lead his team in points, rebounds, assists, blocks and steals. He also is on pace to become the first major conference player to average 18.0 points, 8.0 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 1.0 blocks per game since Oklahoma’s Blake Griffin in 2008-09. Kaminsky has eclipsed the 20-point mark in 10 of Wisconsin’s last 15 games. He has scored in double figures in 24 straight games and 29 of 30 games played this season.

"Just the progression I made throughout my career, it’s been awesome so far," Kaminsky said during an interview on BTN. "It’s awesome to win this award. I’m really happy about it. There’s a lot left in the season, and hopefully we can get some bigger awards."

Kaminsky wasn’t the only member of Wisconsin’s team to take home some hardware. Badgers coach Bo Ryan was named the Big Ten’s coach of the year by the league’s coaches, while Maryland coach Mark Turgeon earned coach of the year from the media.

Badgers guard Josh Gasser was selected to the Big Ten’s all-defensive team and became Wisconsin’s first three-time honoree in that category. Only Ohio State’s Aaron Craft (four), Michigan State’s Travis Walton and Purdue’s Chris Kramer and JuJuan Johnson have earned that distinction three times.

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In addition, Badgers forward Sam Dekker earned second-team all-league honors, while forward Nigel Hayes took home third-team honors one year after being named the Big Ten’s sixth man of the year.

Kaminsky became Wisconsin’s third Big Ten player of the year, joining Devin Harris (2004) and Alando Tucker (2007). And his impact has been undeniable. With Kaminsky on the floor this season, Wisconsin has outscored opponents by 350 points — the best mark for any player in a major conference this season.

Gasser said he recently was joking with former teammates Ben Brust, Dan Fahey and Jared Berggren that, at one time, players simply hoped Kaminsky would develop into a "decent" player.

"Like if Frank can kind of step up and grow up, we could be all right," Gasser said last week. "We could be a good team. We always kind of saw it. But to be national player of the year, that’s something I never really would’ve expected. I knew he could be good, but he’s exceeded everyone’s expectation. Maybe, I don’t know if his own, too, but it’s special what he’s done."

Kaminsky is averaging 18.4 points and 8.1 rebounds for No. 6 Wisconsin (28-3, 16-2), which has earned the No. 1 seed in the Big Ten tournament in Chicago. After Kaminsky scored a season-high 31 points during Wisconsin’s victory against Michigan State to clinch at least a share of the Big Ten’s regular season championship on March 1, Spartans coach Tom Izzo called Kaminsky the best player in the league since Purdue’s Glenn "Big Dog" Robinson played in 1994.

"The impact that Frank has had on this group of young men at this institution, I’d have to agree with Tom that there might be one or two others that are like him, but he is in that class of what he brings to the table for one team," Ryan told BTN on Monday. "And the impact that he has had, Frank Kaminsky is definitely in that class."

Ryan, meanwhile, earned his fourth Big Ten coach of the year honor, which trails only Purdue’s Gene Keady (seven) and Indiana’s Bob Knight (five). And his team excelled this season despite beginning the year with higher expectations than ever before after reaching the Final Four a year ago and losing only one key rotation player.

Ryan gave credit to the team’s seniors — Kaminsky, Gasser, Traevon Jackson and Duje Dukan — for helping to keep Wisconsin on an even keel this season.

"They’re the ones that made it a lot easier," Ryan said. "It’s never easy. But they made it easier to contend with all the expectations. Our guys just stayed true to each other. And that’s the most important thing."

Kaminsky noted what separated Ryan as a coach was his preparation over the course of a season.

"He treats every single practice, every single possession, like it’s a game," Kaminsky said. "It’s just awesome going into every practice knowing you’re going to be prepared for whatever is in front of you. The way he prepares with film, scouting, everything, I think it’s unmatched in the Big Ten, and I think that’s why we’re so prepared for every game.

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Dekker ranks second on the team in scoring (13.1 points) and third in rebounds (5.5) and turned his game on in Big Ten play. During that stretch, he was one of five players averaging at least 13.5 points and 6.0 rebounds, along with Kaminsky, Russell, White and Michigan State’s Denzel Valentine.

Hayes ranks third on Wisconsin’s team in scoring (12.0) points and second in rebounds (6.4) and dramatically expanded his offensive ability as a sophomore. He has made 24 3-pointers this season after not attempting a single 3 last season.

Gasser, who averages 7.0 points and 3.5 rebounds, has routinely guarded the opposing team’s best guard during his Wisconsin career. During Wisconsin’s 72-48 victory against Ohio State on Sunday in the regular-season finale, he helped hold Russell, the Big Ten Freshman of the Year, to 7 of 18 shooting, including 1 of 7 on 3-pointers — his lowest long-range percentage since December.

"He’s our glue," Ryan said of Gasser. "He is just so solid. He never takes a possession off in practice, let alone games. He’s always trying to find a way to do something better in every drill that we have. People know my old school ways of certain drills we do every day. Or before games, we have a routine. Josh never skips a beat, and that’s why he’s so solid."

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