Frank Kaminsky, Travis Trice making the Big Ten look mighty good
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INDIANAPOLIS — It has been said over and over: No one is having more fun this college basketball season than Wisconsin superstar Frank Kaminsky. In no particular order, the big fella from Lisle has repeatedly been “caught” busting out gangly and awesome seven-footer dance moves, had a strange and hilarious on-camera celebration with the Big Ten trophy, revealed himself as the geekiest of video-game enthusiasts and clearly reveled in his “Frank the Tank” fame.
Don’t let any of it fool you.
Kaminsky is here — surrounded by the greatness of Kentucky and Duke, yet still an unlikely leading figure at this Final Four — because he kept his nose to the grindstone and improved over the course of a full college career as much as any player of his time. You want revealing? Ask Kaminsky what the experience of losing in the Final Four a year ago to Kentucky, a game in which he scored only eight points, taught him.
“I learned that maybe I wasn’t as good as I thought I was at that point,” he said Thursday.
Boom — it gets no realer than that. And he’s dead on with his self-assessment. Kaminsky became a household name during the 2014 NCAA Tournament, but it was premature, if we’re being totally honest. He was a player still fully in the throes of his own development — a body not yet strong enough, scoring moves not yet refined enough — and nowhere close to what he would become as a senior.
“It definitely wasn’t easy, but I was willing to put in the time, effort and work to do so,” he said. “It has gone better, better than I planned. At the end of the day, there’s still a lot of work left.”
In this season of otherworldly freshmen at Kentucky and Duke, player development remains the Wisconsin way. And maybe it’s still the Big Ten way. Certainly, it’s the Michigan State way. There have been seasons when the Spartans seemed to have more talent than the rest of the teams in the Big Ten, but this isn’t one of those. This has been the year of the grinder in East Lansing, Mich., embodied most dramatically by small, skinny senior guard Travis Trice.
Without half the fame and stardom, with a scant fraction of the notepads and microphones in his face, Trice has nevertheless gone and pulled off a total Kaminsky. Even last season, Trice was a role player for the Spartans and still a non-starter. Now, he’s their leading scorer. More than that, he’s their heartbeat — the No. 1 reason, or perhaps 1A behind the brilliant coaching of Tom Izzo, their difficult journey has reached Indianapolis.
Midway through the season, Trice pointed out, the Spartans still were stuck somewhere on the tourney bubble. Trice led their comeback, and he has played so well in leading his seventh-seeded team to the Final Four that Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski — whose Blue Devils will try Saturday to beat MSU for a second time this season — called him the player of the tournament.
“The other three teams here are No. 1 seeds. They definitely have more McDonald’s All-Americans, more star power than we do,” Trice said. “At the same time, I feel that’s kind of what drove us to get here, an us-against-the-world mentality.”
That sort of thinking has taken both Trice and Kaminsky far. Not long ago at all, the world didn’t have a clue who either guy was. Their developments as players, team leaders and representatives for their schools have struck twin blows for some of the older-fashioned values of the college game. And if that’s not the Big Ten way, it’s sure making the league look good just the same.