Frank Kaminsky was an anonymous Wisconsin big man entering last season. The 7-foot junior had barely played his first two years in Madison, but he became a household name by the end of the season — when he helped lead the Badgers into the Final Four and a near-victory over Kentucky in the national semifinals. Kaminsky thought long and hard about leaving Wisconsin to take a shot at the NBA, and he talks to Athlon Sports about that decision, his nickname(s) and why he was a class clown back in high school.
This interview and more appears in the 2014-15 Athlon Sports college basketball annual, available on newsstands and in our online store now.
Related: No. 2 Wisconsin Team Preview
Let’s start with the nickname — Frank the Tank. What was the origin?
I’ve actually got a few nicknames. That one started in high school. I didn’t play at all as a freshman on the sophomore team, then stayed on the sophomore team the next year. I only played two years on varsity, and our point guard got hurt our senior year for about eight games — so I played point guard at 6-10. I got to do whatever I wanted. It was so much fun. I’d call ball-screens, call plays for myself. Anyway, we had the best student section — and they started calling me Frank the Tank. I didn’t love it at first, but eventually I embraced it.
But I had a nickname before then — Fupps. I was fat my freshman year of high school, and someone started calling me “Fuppa Face.” I was puffy, had a little extra love on my body. I was called that for four years of high school. I like it and brought it with me to Madison.
Is it true you were cut from your AAU team?
I was the first kid cut during the Under-15 tryouts. I made it through half of the first tryout before they told me. After that, anytime I touched the ball I shot it. Then the next year I made the 16’s, but I didn’t travel. I just went to the local tournaments, but I wasn’t allowed to go on the road. I was 2-for-2 from the field the entire month of July. Then on the 17’s, I was playing behind (current Illinois center) Nnanna Egwu, and he got hurt so I started to play. When I went into that summer, there were a couple of low-major Division I teams. Then I got to play the entire month of April after Nnanna got hurt and more schools started showing interest. It was basically Wisconsin, Northwestern, DePaul, Bradley and Southern Illinois. But Wisconsin was really the first one and had faith in me before anyone else did.”
You came into Wisconsin and barely played your first two years. How frustrated were you?
I knew that coming in. My first year I didn’t expect to even get on the court. I thought I’d redshirt, so I was fine with a backup role. I knew it wouldn’t be much different my sophomore year because everyone was back — Jared Berggren, Ryan Evans and Mike Bruesewitz.
You went from anonymous to having a breakout season as a junior. How much did that surprise even you?
Some games I surprised myself, but other games I expected what I accomplished. I’ve worked hard and never got any respect from anyone. Obviously, I’ve had my own dreams and goals, and it frustrated me that the respect never came. Once it started happening last year, it may have surprised a lot of people — but not me.
Your introduction to the college basketball world came on Nov. 19 last season, the fourth game of the year, when you erupted for 43 points in a win over North Dakota. What do you remember from that night?
It was interesting. I’ve had some games like that before where everything is falling — a lot of people have — but it was surreal. That was the most points I’d ever scored in a game, other than in the summer league. It was cool that Coach (Bo) Ryan kept putting me back in to get the school record. After the game, I went on Twitter, and seeing everything was crazy. I got so many texts after the game, and I’d never experienced anything like that before.
Social media exploded that night about you, but now that you’ve had a chance to deal with Twitter as a known commodity for the past year, what are your thoughts on it?
In the past it was fun. I got to say some things and be myself. I had about 1,000 followers. Now I have 20,000 followers and so much of the time I hate it. I’ve pretty much gotten off Twitter. Sometimes I get on to check out articles or whatever, but other than that I try not to go on there, It’s a difficult forum because sometimes you can’t just be yourself — people take everything you say and read into it.
Do you enjoy the recognition you’ve received lately, or do you prefer to be questioned to add more fuel to the fire?
I’m not satisfied with what I’ve accomplished individually or as a team. I’ve never been about individual awards. I don’t care if I score two points, as long as we win. The Final Four was a great achievement, but we didn’t win anything. I want to win championships. I haven’t won a Big Ten title or a national title. The great thing about our team is that no one cares about the glory. We all just want to win. Sure, we had a great year and a terrific tournament run — but we all want more. We want to win championships.
You recently started a blog and called it The Moose Basketball. What was the reason for that, and how has it gone thus far?
I took a digital social media class in the spring, and I set up a blog for that. I’m not really the most creative person, but I wrote about my decision whether to stay in school or try and go to the NBA. It was about 10 paragraphs, but three words got all the headlines: “NBA looks boring.” That’s not at all what I meant. That’s my end game to be in the NBA, but I love college and really wanted to stay for my senior year.
How difficult was the decision to come back for your final season?
I thought about it for a while. I did research and talked to people, my parents talked to a ton of people. Right after we lost to Kentucky, I remember telling people that I wasn’t going anywhere. At that point, I hadn’t even thought about it. I didn’t even realize I had the potential to leave for the NBA. Then I was intrigued by it. I know I could have been drafted if I left, but I enjoy college and my teammates so much — and I want to come back and see if we can do even more than we did last year.
Your teammate, Sam Dekker, and many of the other top returning and incoming college players were at the LeBron James Skills Academy in July. Why weren’t you there?
As far as I know, I wasn’t invited. I’m not going to get mad about it, because I have no control over it. It would have been nice — especially to get all the free stuff! But I’m OK with it. I’ve been working out all summer with people I’m close to in my hometown. I’m watching a lot of film, have gotten my body in better shape. I know what I need to do to get better. I’m not trying to overdo it, either, and be in the gym for six hours a day. I’ve been efficient and do what I need to finish my college career strong.
The word is that you were a class clown back in the day. True or false?
So completely true. I couldn’t be any worse growing up. I was the tall kid who got picked on for being so tall. I remember one time in the seventh grade, the teacher was late for class, and I shut and locked the door so she couldn’t get in. I told everyone to hide in the back of the room. Then one kid finally opened the door, but I was hiding under the teacher's desk until she noticed. It took a while. I was pulling things down and knocking stuff down off her desk practically the whole class. I might have gotten in a little trouble for that one, but it was worth it.
How often have you watched Aaron Harrison’s game-winner that knocked you guys out of the Final Four?
Not once. I’ll probably never watch it — and I’m not kidding, either. It’s too painful. The same thing happened to me in high school when we were playing Jabari Parker’s team downstate. We were up three in regulation and we missed a free throw. He came down and pulled up from halfcourt to force overtime. We wound up losing in double-overtime.