Kaminsky's versatility works for Badgers

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Wisconsin guard Traevon Jackson had the same initial reaction as many often do the first time he witnessed 7-footer Frank Kaminsky launch a 3-pointer.

“I’m like ‘you’re 7-foot bruh, get on the block,’” laughed Jackson, who was even more surprised that Kaminsky made the shot.

There’s just something about a big man taking a jumper that makes people cringe. But it’s Kaminsky who has finally grown as comfortable on the blocks as he is outside and the Badgers are better for it.

The junior center who leads the Badgers in scoring (13.6) and rebounding (6.3) doesn’t often shoot from long range, but when he does, he’s as effective as anyone. Kaminsky is shooting 36.6 percent from 3-point range and has actually made two more 3s this season than Jackson.

Kaminsky’s outside shooting touch will come in handy when the Badgers face Baylor on Thursday in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament. The Bears, the sixth seed in the West Region, have used a zone to shut down their opponents -- including the nation’s leading scorer, Doug McDermott.

“They have the quickness and they have the length inside to protect the rim,” Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan said. “That’s why it’s been pretty effective. They’ve certainly shown that towards the end of the season for sure.”

Kaminsky was especially concerned with Baylor’s 7-foot-1 center Isaiah Austin.

“He’s one of the longest players we’ll play all year,” Kaminsky said. “So just the athletes and the length combined in their zone is going to be tough to go against.”

But Kaminsky’s size will be a challenge for Baylor as well. The Bears' zone isn't quite used to giving full close out status, normally reserved for sharpshooting guards, to a 7-footer like Kaminsky. Normally an opponent would welcome a big man who stepped outside to shoot. Kaminsky, however, isn't exactly alone.

Wisconsin’s entire starting five shoots better than 32 percent from 3-point range with guard Josh Gasser leading the way at 45.6 percent. Gasser cautioned that the Badgers can’t become so fixated on the perimeter that they forget to feed Kaminsky in the post.

“You’ve got to touch the post, you’ve got to get it inside still and not just rely on 3s,” Gasser said. “Obviously we’ve proven we can be a great 3-point shooting team, but you can’t rely on it too heavily.”

In his previous two seasons, the Badgers didn’t rely on Kaminsky much at all on the post. He still hadn’t found his comfort zone on the blocks.

“I had that perimeter game from when I was little,” Kaminsky said. “My first two years of high school I was almost strictly a perimeter player. Then when I grew, the outside game came first then the inside came second.”

Kaminsky’s story is somewhat typical of a big man with a late growth spurt. He was so used to playing like a guard he stayed on the outside instead of running to the post.

That didn’t always go over too well.

“There would be some frustration moments with my coaches,” Kaminsky said. “Obviously, I had those tendencies to be on the perimeter.”

He didn’t want to lose that ability altogether. Part of the reason why Kaminsky picked Wisconsin was because Ryan wasn’t going to force him to be a traditional back-to-the-basket post player.

“I could play that inside, outside game, maybe with some other programs I wouldn’t have been able to get away with that,” Kaminsky said.

After playing just reserve minutes his first two years, Kaminsky has started every game this season. His development on the post combined with his skill from the perimeter made him a matchup problem.

He displayed the full array of his skills when he erupted for 43 points against North Dakota in the fourth game of the season. Kaminsky made all six of his 3-point attempts and shot 16-of-19 from the floor.

Michigan had no answer for him when he pumped in 25 points in the Badgers’ win in Ann Arbor. Michigan State couldn’t contain him either when he went for 28 in the Big Ten tournament championship game.

In the Badgers’ comeback against Oregon, Kaminsky made 7 of 10 shots inside the arc and scored a team-high 19 points.

In a reversal for a center, this season he’s actually wowed his teammates with how well he’s played in the post.

“I’m so proud of him this year just because of how much better he’s gotten in the post,” Jackson said. “He’s able to do both which is a huge factor for our team.”