Maturing Kaminsky helps Wisconsin to Final Four

Frank Kaminsky took offense to the question: No he is not funnier this year!

“I think I’m a little more mature this year, thank you very much,” the Wisconsin big man said with a straight face this week.

A little goofy around his teammates, Kaminsky has been all business on the court in leading the Badgers’ charge to the Final Four. The 7-footer had 28 points and 11 rebounds in the 64-63 victory over Arizona in the regional finals, a breakout performance for one of the most improved players in the Big Ten.

Wisconsin (30-7) started practicing Thursday at the behemoth that is AT&T Stadium — home of the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys — to prepare for Saturday night’s national semifinal against Kentucky (28-10). For all the talk about Wisconsin’s trademark discipline and toughness, Kaminsky and his teammates seem to be a pretty loose bunch.

As the Badgers walked past the AP Player of the Year award that was to be presented to Creighton’s Doug McDermott, the players couldn’t help but remark about the size of the golden trophy.

As the team was driven to the stadium, another Badger remarked on the bus the players were indeed finally on the road to the Final Four.

“So I think our guys our loose enough, they understand it’s another two-game tournament,” coach Bo Ryan said Thursday.

It is a crew led by veterans that likes to have fun off the floor. Some of the attitude comes from Kaminsky, who doesn’t seem quite taken with the media spotlight that comes with success. Instead, he is in his element, joking around with teammates despite the high stakes of the next game.

Then there is a sleepy-eyed look that Kaminsky can sometimes display on the court — Ryan has described him as being in “Frank’s world.”

“He might look at you like, ‘Coach, do you know what you’re talking about?’ It’s not a sarcastic look. It’s just have you looked at Frank?” Ryan said a couple weeks ago. “Sometimes he has a face that looks like he really is somewhere else, but he’s not. So I’ve learned not to interpret it that way.”

He’s a good listener and hard worker, Ryan said. The results are paying off — Kaminsky’s scoring average of 14.1 points is nearly 10 more than a year ago when he came off the bench. He is not particularly physically imposing, though he is deceptively athletic.

Defend Kaminsky with a big, and he’ll maneuver around for a drive to the bucket or step back for a mid-range jumper. Go small on Kaminsky and he’ll post up. Give him room on the perimeter and he’ll shoot the 3.

Kaminsky also had to deal with getting poked in the eye last year at midseason, an injury that then forced him to wear goggles. This year started with the confidence that he was the man in the middle on a team light on big men.

A glimpse of what was to come came in November, when Kaminsky scored a school-record 43 points in a 103-85 victory over North Dakota.

The season comes to an end with Kaminsky on a roll, averaging 18.5 points and 6 rebounds in the tournament, while shooting 54 percent.

“But the No. 1 thing, I think he’s more mature from the standpoint of he understands patience, and he understands that he can get hit and things are going to be OK,” associate head coach Greg Gard said in Madison. “And now he likes to be physical in there, on both ends of the floor.”

For every story about how relaxed Kaminsky can be, there is a another about his intense preparation.

To get ready for the regional semifinal game against Baylor, Kaminsky watched the Bears’ third-round game by himself in the locker room. He wanted no distractions.

When something goes wrong, Kaminsky can sometimes be found screaming at himself.

“He criticizes himself over some of the just most nonsense things,” guard Traevon Jackson said. But since the beginning of the year, “Kaminsky has matured mentally so much. … The guy can play. Nowadays, he’s just doing it on a bigger stage, and it’s just great to see.”