Patience and hard work helped Frank Kaminsky transform into ‘Frank the Tank’

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source: AP
Frank Kaminsky (AP Photo)

Beginning on October 3rd and running up until November 14th, the first day of the season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2014-2015 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

MORE: 2014-2015 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule

Frank Kaminsky committed to Wisconsin in the middle of US Soccer’s World Cup draw against England on June 12, 2010, and it barely registered a blip in the college basketball recruiting world.

The Badgers and Bo Ryan landing a 6-foot-10, three-star, “system-fit” center from the Midwest wasn’t national news, but even in basketball-crazy Illinois, many local fans looked at Kaminsky playing in the Big Ten and shrugged.

As a high school junior, the center helped lead Benet Academy to a game away from the final four in Illinois’ Class 4A, but 2010 marked the Summer of Anthony Davis and the state of Illinois was loaded with high-major prospects.

Rivals ranked eight kids in its top 150 from Illinois for the 2011 class and Kaminsky wasn’t one of them. The center couldn’t even earn a consistent starting spot with local grassroots powerhouse the Illinois Wolves, so why would fans believe Kaminsky would be capable of performing at a high level in the Big Ten?

This certainly wasn’t, Frank the Tank: Big Man in Madison, All-American candidate and versatile senior center. This was more, Frank Kaminsky: Scrawny, developing high school center who hadn’t figured out his game or his rapidly-growing body.

But as Wisconsin’s strength program took hold and Kaminsky learned the ropes of the college game, the now 7-foot senior is one of the best players in the country. In 2013-14, during his junior season, Kaminsky started and earned heavy minutes for his first time at Wisconsin, averaging 13.9 points and 6.3 rebounds per game and becoming a key piece of the Badgers’ well-moving offense.

Besides becoming the main post presence in head coach Bo Ryan’s offense, Kaminsky also had a knack for some timely big-game performances. Kaminsky first turned heads early in the regular season by setting a school record with 43 points in a win over North Dakota, but the junior also had 28 points and 11 rebounds in a big Big Ten road win at Michigan in February and another 28 points and 11 rebounds in the Elite Eight win over Arizona last March.

For Kaminsky, it took a long time to reach this point in his basketball career, but it was all about staying patient, learning from those around him and becoming more confident with his game as time went on.

“It came with getting older and getting more confidence and growing into my body; I grew kind of fast,” Kaminsky said of his game’s evolution to NBCSports.com. “I think the most important thing I took from high school was situational things. Like when it’s my turn to kind of take over the game but also when not to force it too much. And that really kind of slowed the game down for me. It translated into the college game. I’ve learned to take my time and not force things and not go too fast and it’s worked well for me.”

Slowing the game down helped Kaminsky figure things out on the floor, but Ryan also said that Kaminsky’s attention to detail and winning attitude have helped with his increased productivity. During the early years of his college career, Kaminsky credited learning from Wisconsin’s big men that played ahead of him, specifically Jared Berggren, and Frank took whatever opportunity he could to learn from those around him in practice or away from the floor. When he finally had his chance to play heavy minutes last season, Kaminsky’s relentless pursuit of perfection had already put him in position to shine.

“He’s worked hard to put himself into that position; it didn’t happen by accident,” Ryan said of Kaminsky to NBCSports.com.

“He does it with his actions. He works hard. He’s not one of those guys to take possessions off in practice. He’s always trying to do the right thing. Obviously, that spreads. And we have other guys with the same kind of work ethic so that puts us in position to be focused on the task at hand.”

MORE: Big Ten Preview: Wisconsin is the class of the Big Ten

It’s one thing to work hard and have talent, but not many players in college basketball can do the things that Kaminsky can do as a 7-footer. Pure back-to-the-basket scorers are becoming an endangered species in basketball and Kaminsky’s ability to knock in jumpers made him perfect to stretch opposing defenses at any number of unexpected times last season.

Having a roster full of players on the same page last season gave Kaminsky and Wisconsin’s offense a chance to tinker with the center’s tremendous offensive versatility. That sort of floor-spreading ability helped Kaminsky and Wisconsin make a trip to the Final Four last season for the first time in Ryan’s tenure. Kaminsky shot 37 percent from three-point range last season,  but his offensive approach isn’t solely predicated on focusing on one area of the floor to score from.

source: Getty Images
Getty Images

“It’s reading what the defense is giving me and trying to take advantage of any situation I’m in. It varies from team-to-team,” Kaminsky said. “It’s not like I go out there and say, ‘hey, I’m going to shoot a lot of threes today.’ Obviously with scouting reports, and being able to watch film, I know what I’d like to do more with tendencies of other things. But it’s one of those things where I have to be on the floor and take what teams give me.”

No matter what the other team might “give” to Kaminsky, the senior has the rare ability at center to make defenses pay from all over the floor. That kind of shooting ability made Kaminsky attractive to some NBA scouts last season and the attention Kaminsky received from them increased this summer during trips to events like adidas Nations in Los Angeles.

But the pro game will have to wait as the college experience in Madison is appealing to Kaminsky and the center had an easy decision to stay and go for a title as the Badgers only lose Ben Brust from last season’s 30-win team. As Kaminsky walks around Wisconsin’s campus, he said he’s constantly getting recognized and shown support from a fan base that is dying for a national title.

Although he’s already beloved by Wisconsin fans, a national title would permanently cement “Frank the Tank” as an unforgettable college basketball player. From scrawny high school center, to preseason All-American, Kaminsky has maintained the same approach to preparing before each game. Not much has changed for Wisconsin from last season to this one in terms of personnel or preparation, and Kaminsky hopes he can earn a title in his final season of college basketball.

“Everyone expects to be a championship contender and to do that we have to prepare at a championship level,” Kaminsky said. “That’s something that everyone took to heart on this team this offseason. We’ve just approached everything like we’re going to win the national title this year.”

BYU guard Nick Emery announces retirement from basketball

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PROVO, Utah (AP) — BYU guard Nick Emery said Tuesday he is retiring from basketball following a college career that began with high expectations but that ended with him at the center of an NCAA investigation.

Emery used social media to announce he is stepping away with a year of eligibility still remaining.

“My time here has been rocky at times, but the good times definitely outweighed the bad,” Emery wrote in an Instagram post also shared to his Twitter account. “I’ve learned so many life lessons and this journey has been so rewarding. I am at a point in life where I am happy with what I’ve accomplished with basketball and I’m ready to start the next chapter of my life with my wife and son.”

The school confirmed the retirement.

“We are excited for Nick as he begins this next stage of his life,” BYU head coach Mark Pope said in a news release. “He has great things ahead.”

Emery made a splash right away at BYU, averaging a career-best 16.3 points per game during his first season and setting a BYU freshman record with 97 3-pointers. He helped the Cougars reach the semifinals of the 2016 NIT.

After playing for two years, he withdrew from school for the 2017-18 season, citing personal reasons. The 6-foot-2 guard returned to the program in 2018 and he began his third and final season serving a nine-game suspension following the NCAA investigation.

The NCAA last year placed the men’s basketball program on probation for two years and said it must vacate 47 wins from Emery’s freshman and sophomore seasons.

The NCAA said Emery received more than $12,000 in benefits from four boosters, including travel to concerts and an amusement park and the use of a new car. The NCAA also accepted the university’s self-imposed penalties of reducing one scholarship, disassociation of one of its boosters and a $5,000 fine. The NCAA didn’t identify Emery by name but the university said the case involved him.

Emery averaged 12.6 points, 2.9 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.4 steals per game over his three seasons with the Cougars.

With grad transfer Jake Toolson joining BYU from Utah Valley for the upcoming season, Emery’s role with the Cougars would likely have been greatly reduced this fall. Toolson earned WAC Player of the Year honors as a junior after averaging 15.7 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 2.3 assists for Utah Valley.

NCAA punishes DePaul for basketball recruiting violation

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CHICAGO (AP) — The NCAA suspended DePaul men’s basketball coach Dave Leitao for the first three games of the regular season Tuesday, saying he should have done more to prevent recruiting violations by his staff.

The NCAA also put the Big East program on three years of probation, issued a $5,000 fine and said an undetermined number of games will be vacated because DePaul put an ineligible player on the floor. An unidentified former associate head coach is also facing a three-year show cause order for his role in the violations.

According to an NCAA infractions committee decision, in the Spring of 2016, the associate head coach arranged for the assistant director of basketball operations to live with a prospect to help ensure the player did the work necessary to meet NCAA eligibility requirements. That arrangement violated recruiting rules. At the time, Rick Carter was DePaul’s associate head coach and Baba Diallo was the program’s assistant director of basketball operations.

“The head coach did not promote an atmosphere of compliance because three men’s basketball staff members knew about the arrangement but did not report the violation or question whether it was allowable,” the NCAA said. “Even more troubling to the committee was the director of basketball operations stated he knew the contact was a violation but did not report it because he did not want to be disloyal, cause tension, get in the way of the associate head coach or otherwise hurt his career. … According to the committee, a culture of silence pervaded the program.”

Leitao was hired in 2015 and has pushed to return the Blue Demons to respectability in his second stint as head coach at DePaul. After a pair of nine-win seasons under Leitao, DePaul went 11-20 two years ago before going 19-17 and reaching the College Basketball Invitational championship last season, falling to South Florida in three games.

Leitao is also a former head coach at Virginia and his assistant stops include Connecticut, Missouri and Tulsa.

“The head coach did not monitor his staff when he did not actively look for red flags or ask questions about the assistant director of basketball operations’ two-week absence,” the NCAA said. “The committee recognized the head coach’s efforts to require staff attendance at compliance meetings and communicate with compliance officials, but it said he needed to do more.”

DePaul said it would not challenge the decision, but called it “disappointing.”

“This infraction was an isolated incident directed and then concealed by a former staff member that resulted in, at most, a limited recruiting advantage relative to one former student-athlete,” the university said. “Since our self-report in January 2018, DePaul has cooperated with the NCAA enforcement staff to proactively pursue the resolution of this matter and has reviewed and further strengthened related protocol and practice. … Coach Leitao is a man of character and integrity, who has the support of the administration in leading our men’s basketball program.”

DePaul was among several schools mentioned at a recent federal trial involving corruption in college basketball.

Brian Bowen Sr., father of a top recruit, testified in October that DePaul assistant coach Shane Heirman paid him $2,000 a month to send his son to an Indiana high school where Heirman coached at the time. The school responded by saying it had done its due diligence on the matter and had previously investigated the allegations.

Zion Williamson signs with Jordan Brand

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Zion Williamson may not be the next Michael Jordan, but he will be the next NBA player to don the Jumpman logo.

On Tuesday afternoon, Zion announced that he has signed with Jordan Brand, ending speculation about where the Duke product and biggest brand to enter the NBA in years, if not ever, will sign his endorsement deal.

Where Zion ended up signing was never the most interesting part of this process – although the fact that he ended up under the Swoosh’s umbrella after a Nike shoe blew out on him and nearly cost him his left knee. What we all want to know, and what is yet to be reported, are the terms of this deal.

Outside of LeBron and Jordan, I’m not sure there is a more marketable player in the NBA right now. Think about it like this: When I say Zion, even non-basketball know exactly who I’m talking about. There are only a handful of basketball players that is true for, and the only active ones are LeBron and Steph with KD and Kyrie potentially thrown in that mix.

That’s elite company, and none of those guys have the social media following or ability to go viral with the next generation of basketball fans like Zion does. He already has a global following, one which is only going to grow as he becomes more mainstream.

And while we’re on the subject, it’s worth mentioning this piece on how going to college made Zion a literal fortune. We’ll see if Nike’s investment in the 18-year old pays off.

Utah State star injures knee playing in FIBA U-20 event, reportedly not an ACL tear

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Update (11:58 ET) According to a report from SPORT TV Portugal, Neemias Queta sprained and dislocated his knee, but it doesn’t appear to be an ACL tear.

The star center for Utah State suffered a knee injury while playing for Portugal’s U-20 team in the FIBA European Championships over the weekend.

Queta landed awkwardly while trying to grab a rebound and immediately reached for his left knee. He had to be carried off the floor without putting any weight on the leg, although he was eventually able to walk through handshake lines – with an icepack on his knee – after the game.

Queta did not return for Sunday’s final, and he had his knee wrapped while using a cane while watching from the bench. Portugal won the B Division championship despite his absence.

This would be a massive loss for the Aggies, who are a top 15 team in the NBC Sports preseason rankings and the clear-cut favorite to win the Mountain West. The 6-foot-11 Queta averaged 11.8 points, 8.9 boards and 2.4 blocks while shooting 40 percent from three as a freshman.

According to reports out of Portugal, Queta is due to undergo an MRI Tuesday.

 

Ex-Tar Heel Woods comfortable back home in South Carolina

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COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina guard Seventh Woods can’t take a few steps around town these days without someone telling him it is good he came home. The former North Carolina player is happy with his latest choice, too.

“It’s been great,” Woods said Friday. “Family’s here, friends here. I’ve been getting along well with the players and the coaches.”

The 6-foot-2 Woods expected to be a collegiate force when he finished Hammond School in Columbia and picked the Tar Heels over Georgetown and South Carolina in 2016.

Instead, Woods was a backup during his time with the Tar Heels. He was part of North Carolina’s NCAA Tournament title team in 2017 but never averaged more than 11 minutes or three points a game during his three seasons in Chapel Hill . Woods missed 17 games with a broken foot during his sophomore season and averaged 2.5 points and 2.1 assists last season as backup to freshman Coby White.

In April, Woods posted on social media that it was time for a change. Woods will sit out next season per NCAA transfer rules and return to the court in 2020-21.

“I can focus on me getting into a groove,” Woods said. “Learning a new system and we didn’t want to rush anything.”

Woods, who turns 21 next month, gained attention during his middle school years for his ability to dunk and dominate opponents off the dribble at Hammond. He was a YouTube, basketball mixtape regular in the early 2010s, when ability like his was largely experienced in person watching youth games.

The buzz about Woods intensified the pressure for him to stay put and revive South Carolina. Woods felt differently.

“I just wanted to do what was best for me,” Woods said. “Going away was best for me at the time.”

Woods felt comfortable with the Tar Heels and believed it would be the best place for him to grow as a player and person.

“Only positives, all positive,” Woods said of his three years at North Carolina.

When Woods met with Martin to discuss is basketball future, the coach emphasized him taking some time away from games.

“Every time he dribbled, the crowd was sold out and every critic was out there criticizing everything he did wrong,” Martin said. “I have no idea how that young man has been able to keep the class he lives with under those circumstances.”

Woods looked at Gonzaga and Michigan before picking the Gamecocks this time. The relationship he built with Martin was rekindled the past few months and Woods was grateful to his new coach for this latest chance.

“I felt it was perfect timing just being able to come back home,” Woods said. “To come back to a coach who allowed me to come back home. That was big for me.”

Woods says he’ll spend his time improving his strength, consistency and outside shooting. He’ll be part of practices and knows that will help him develop chemistry with his future teammates.

His aspirations, as they were during middle school, are to play basketball professionally after college. He’s looking forward to a productive time off the court to recharge and improve.

“I feel like sitting out a year will be great for me and I’m going to try and use it to my advantage to make the most out of my senior year,” he said.