MADISON, Wis. — Tailback Corey Clement was strolling through the Wisconsin campus last fall when he encountered a stranger. A towering stranger with an elongated face, droopy eyes and a passive persona.
“I thought: ‘Man, that’s a tall dude,’ ” Clement said.
So Clement, at the time a curious freshman, did the natural thing and asked: “How tall are you?”
Forward | Sr.
The junior replied quietly: “Seven-foot.”
That gentle giant was Frank Kaminsky, who in a few months would help the UW men’s basketball team reach the Final Four for the first time under coach Bo Ryan.
College basketball fans saw an animated Kaminsky carry UW past Arizona in the West Regional final with 28 points and 11 rebounds and average 16.4 points and 5.8 rebounds overall in five NCAA Tournament games.
While that might be America’s image of Kaminsky, Clement and others close to him see another side.
“Frank is a goof,” Clement said. “He is one of the tallest, biggest goofs I could ever meet.
“Away from basketball he is a down-to-earth guy who just likes to have fun.”
Fun for Kaminsky includes posting unflattering pictures of friends, including Clement at a UW women’s volleyball match, on Twitter. It includes imitating taking a charge, in the middle of the street on the way to Camp Randall Stadium for a football game. It includes going on Twitter to post a YouTube video of Illinois basketball fans reacting angrily after seeing Chicago native Cliff Alexander choose Kansas over the Illini and then writing “HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA.” It includes zipping around the UW campus on a scooter that his teammates insist sounds like flatulence.
All those high jinks, typical of so many college students, mask the engine that has driven Kaminsky from his days as an unheralded prospect at Benet Academy in Illinois to the doorstep of the NBA.
“I’ve always wanted to be a basketball player,” Kaminsky said. “Some people dream of becoming a businessman. Some people dream of becoming a doctor. I’ve always dreamed of being a basketball player.
“So I thought I have four years to do something crazy, something that people might not have expected out of me. So I’ve put all my effort into doing that. And I think it has paid off so far.”
Kaminsky, whose father was a standout basketball player at Lewis University in Romeoville, Illinois, is polite, thoughtful and articulate.
He initially hated being interviewed, mostly because he feared saying something stupid. Yet last year when he wrote a blog — The Moose Basketball — for a class, he revealed a flair for writing and a passion most fans probably never saw.
In his blog, Kaminsky declared how he jumped at Wisconsin’s scholarship offer because other coaches didn’t think he was tough enough, fast enough or athletic enough to flourish at a marquee program. He wrote how he hated the players from Arizona. The reason? Recruiters thought Kaminsky couldn’t carry their jocks.
“In high school people didn’t have [high] expectations for me,” he said. “People wanted to tell me what I could and couldn’t do without even really asking me.
“It was just another added chip on my shoulder when I got to college. I wanted to prove all the people wrong who were saying I couldn’t do certain things. I shut my mouth. I listened to my coaches. I put in all the work to make the best me I could be.”
Kaminsky sat behind veterans his first two seasons and earned modest minutes.
“Frank had a chance his first two years to see, get a taste and then he gobbled up everything he could,” Ryan said.
Kaminsky’s biggest weakness was a tendency to punish himself for a mistake, even a minor failure.
“He beats himself up at times,” Ryan said. “But what successful person doesn’t say to themselves at times: ‘I’m better than this. I know I can do this.’ “
As UW prepares for its season, Kaminsky finds that once unfamiliar face on the cover of magazines, including Sports Illustrated and the Sporting News.
The senior is the Big Ten Conference preseason player of the year, an Associated Press preseason All-American.
He can’t go anywhere on campus — to a volleyball match or a football game — without students wanting a quick photo.
“They call him the god of campus,” Clement said, laughing.
A god or a goof?
A teammate of Clement’s, senior right tackle Rob Havenstein, has the answer.
“If you take away basketball he is a goofy 7-foot kid,” said Havenstein, who was in the writing class with Kaminsky. “If you throw basketball in there he is a goofy 7-foot kid who plays basketball really, really, really, really, really well.”