ARLINGTON, Texas — He's big, he's goofy, and he might be the most important thing standing between Kentucky and a spot in Monday's national title game.
Wisconsin junior Frank Kaminsky has emerged as the darling of this NCAA Tournament, a 7-footer who was a relative unknown in college basketball until a few months ago.
Kaminsky is the son of two NCAA athletes. His father, Frank, was a Division II basketball standout; his mother, Mary, a volleyball player at Northwestern. Frank Jr. starred for Benet Academy in Lisle, Ill., where he was a three-star recruit with few notable scholarship offers other than Wisconsin.
A little less than three years later, he has the Badgers in the Final Four and is being mentioned as an NBA Draft pick.
"It's been crazy, to say the least," Kaminsky said Friday. "I've got people calling my friends from back home. Talking to my dad. It's just been kind of crazy to see all of the stories that have surfaced about me when I was younger, maybe some that I didn't want people to find out about. It's nice to have this attention, but at the same time it has been crazy."
Kaminsky describes himself as "goofy," and his teammates are quick to agree. His nickname — "Frank the Tank" — comes from the movie Old School, not from his ability to bowl over opponents in the lane.
His offensive success comes from craftiness, not power. Kaminsky can score in a variety of ways. He can make threes, he can take his man in the post, and he can get off shots at angles that leave defenders puzzled.
Last season, he played only 10 minutes a game, averaging about four points and less than two rebounds. Now he's Wisconsin's leading scorer and rebounder.
His teammates say the talent has always been there.
"I think what's different is his confidence — his mentality, his maturity," teammate Josh Gasser said. "I think he's just starting to realize how good he is. And we all realized it a few years back. The more mature he's gotten, the better he's gotten as a player."
Senior guard Ben Brust looked all over the court for Kaminsky after last week's Elite Eight victory over Arizona. When Brust finally found his teammate, he gave him a big hug.
"We've really enjoyed watching Frank just do his thing," Brust said. "I knew he was a big part and a big reason of why we're here today."
The progress hasn't been easy.
Kaminsky jokes about his ungainly transition from a "6-3, goofy kid" in high school to a 7-footer who is, in his own words, still just as goofy.
"My biggest battle was with doorways," he said Friday. "I used to hit my head on everything. Learning to duck was my first big battle."
The adjustment once he arrived in Madison was tough. He expected to be a redshirt player during his first year of college. The game didn't come as easy as it had in high school, and he didn't respond well to the change.
"I let a lot of things faze me and get frustrated all the time," he said. "I really wasn't doing the best that knew I could do. I knew I had to grow up — physically and mentally. It took me a couple of years."
In his fourth game this season, he made all six of his three-point attempts and scored a school-record 43 points in a victory over North Dakota. More big games followed, especially in Big Ten play.
Now Kaminsky is finally on a roll. His most recent performance was a 28-point, 11-rebound showing against top-seeded Arizona.
"Frank the Tank" is locked and loaded, and now it's Kentucky's turn to try and stop him.
"It took me a while to figure it out at this level," he said. "It's been trial and error with a lot of the different things I've been doing this season. I found something right now that's working for me, and I'm going to keep going with it."
Ben Roberts: (859) 231-3216. Twitter: @NextCats. Blog: UKrecruiting.bloginky.com.