Having recruited the former five-star Chicago center – the No.1 player in the 2014 recruiting class – for four years, Izzo knows exactly what he’s talking about and how good the Duke freshman is.
“You have to talk about the versatility of a player,” said Izzo. “I wouldn't have even put them (Kaminsky and Okafor) close when you look at Kaminsky a year ago, but he’s phenomenal right now. I just think he does it in so many different ways. He's become a better passer, he's become a guy that just has a knack for drawing the defense (and) he's a hard cover.
“I would say that there's no doubt in my mind - and that's not slighting Jahlil or the kid from Ohio State (D’Angelo Russell), who is sensational too - but if you talk about consistently solid and great in many different areas, there's nobody like him.”
Izzo saw an early version of the college Okafor Nov.18 in an 81-71 Blue Devils victory. Playing in his third collegiate game, Okafor scored 17 points on 8-for-10 shooting.
In Wisconsin’s 68-61 win Sunday, a game in which the Badgers led by as many as 22 in the second half, Izzo saw a player in Kaminsky score a season-high 31 points on 11 of 17 shooting, add eight rebounds, three assists, three blocks and two steals in a complete performance that looked almost effortless at times.
“We didn’t play great but that kid made some plays,” said Izzo. “He made some shots with his right hand, with his left hand. He made passes. He played pretty good defense. I’ve never been more impressed with a player in our league since maybe ‘Big Dog’ back in the day.”
Izzo was referring to Purdue’s Glenn Robinson, who was the Big Ten and national player of the year in 1993-94. Robinson averaged 30.3 points, 10.1 rebounds and 1.6 steals as a junior, helping the Boilermakers win the outright Big Ten title and earn a No.1 seed in the NCAA tournament, advancing as far as the Elite Eight.
Wisconsin has similar goals but expects to win six games in the national tournament instead of three. And with a player with Kaminsky’s skill set, the Badgers have a great chance.
Kaminsky leads Wisconsin in scoring (18.1), field goal percentage (54.9), 3-point percentage (41.7) rebounds (8.3), assists (69), blocks (46) and steals (24).
Okafor enters the final week of the regular season sixth in the country in field goal shooting percentage (66.3 percent) and is averaging 18.2 points, 9.6 rebounds and 1.5 assists per game. It appears to be a two player race, but there’s no debate in the biased Wisconsin locker room.
“He’s the best player in the country, there’s no doubt about it in my mind,” said senior guard Josh Gasser. “Just watch him play. He does everything for us, and (Sunday) proved that even more. Obviously he had 30-plus (points) but he was tremendous on the defensive end, great on the glass and he really led us in all categories, as he has been.”
“He put on a terrific display of post moves, as well as showing his outside tough and being able to put the ball on the floor,” added sophomore forward Nigel Hayes. “Frank is a very versatile player, and he should be player of the year. If I had a vote, he’d have my vote.”
Three of Kaminsky’s field goals against the Spartans came with less than five seconds on the shot-clock. He hit a contested three-pointer and twice scored on runners. He scored 12 of UW’s 34 points in the paint, hit 3 of 4 from 3-point range and added six points to the line.
“If I wasn’t coaching against him,” said Izzo, “I would have started clapping they were so good.”
He also had a hand in Michigan State – the league’s best rebounding team – securing only a season-low 24 rebounds and limiting the Spartans top three frontcourt players to a combined four points.
Having made five Final Four appearances since beginning his coaching career in Michigan State in 1995, Izzo said the Badgers are in position to return to the Final Four for the second-straight season because of two key factors: Kaminsky and coach Bo Ryan.
“Those two things are really big,” said Izzo. “A Hall of Fame coach … and one of the two or three best players in the country.”
Kaminsky could have gone pro after his junior season, seeing his stock skyrocket after being named West Regional Most Outstanding Player following his 28-point, 11-rebound performance against No. 1 Arizona to send UW to the Final Four.
He returned because he had unfinished business at Wisconsin, goals that he’s starting to check off in the month of March.
“(Returning) was the best decision I’ve ever made in my life,” said Kaminsky. “It wasn’t even much of a decision. It wasn’t hard. I knew I wanted to come back to school here. It’s days like this that reassure that decision. It’s been an unbelievable journey, from where I was to where I am now.”