MINNEAPOLIS - Frank Kaminsky was on top of the college basketball world seven months ago, grabbing every piece of college basketball national player of the year hardware imaginable while leading the University of Wisconsin to the national championship game.
Now in his first year in the N.B.A. with the Charlotte Hornets, Kaminsky is feeling like a freshman back in college – starting out on the bottom rung of the ladder.
Kaminsky – the ninth overall selection in the 2015 N.B.A. Draft – has played in every game this season for the Hornets but is averaging only 3.1 points a little over nine minutes off the bench as he gets his feet wet in the professional ranks.
“It’s been going pretty well,” Kaminsky told BadgerNation before Charlotte’s 104-95 victory over Minnesota at the Target Center Tuesday night. “I’m enjoying it. I’m getting used to everything.”
The process of Kaminsky, who was only player in NCAA Division I to average at least 17.0 points, 8.0 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 1.5 blocks per game a season ago, adjusting to the game is twofold. Having watched the N.B.A. his entire life, Kaminsky had an idea of what to expect coming into the league. The second part is adjusting on the fly considering the rapid amount of games.
Since the start of the month, the Hornets have played six times with their longest break between games being two days.
“These are the best athletes in the world in the sport of basketball,” said Kaminsky. “It’s the strongest, the fastest, the most athletic guys, so you’ve just got to adjust and find your role … (The travel schedule) has been the most brutal part so far, just city to city and being gone for a while.”
According to Charlotte head coach Steve Clifford, Kaminsky is a far cry from the player struggling to compete with the stronger veterans during September training camp.
“He’s ready to play, skill wise, right now,” said Clifford. “He has size, I.Q., skill. He’s a very good competitor. Already in practice he’s doing a lot better. His role will expand. His defense is the big part. Like most young players, N.B.A. defense is the challenge for most rookies.”
Kaminsky has also had to make the adjustment from being a college center to primarily playing the four spot. The Hornets center Al Jefferson averages 14.9 points and seven rebounds per game.
“You could argue is the one (position) that takes the most effort (defensively) because you have to play pick-and-roll defense against both guys that roll and flair,” said Clifford. “It’s not easy to get comfortable with.”
The 7-0 Kaminsky downplayed the transition, saying playing center at Wisconsin was similar to playing the four professionally.
“It was more a four-type role than anything else,” said Kaminsky of his role at Wisconsin. “I always knew I would play the four or five if I got to this level. I’ve been comfortable with it.”
Kaminsky delivered one of the greatest seasons in Wisconsin basketball history, helping lead the Badgers to the national championship game for the first time since 1941. The 7-footer from Lisle, Illinois, led the Badgers in points (18.8), rebounds (8.2), assists (103), blocks (57), field goal percentage (.547), 3-point field goal percentage (.416), free throws (156) and free throw attempts (200).
He admits that he still keeps in touch with head coach Bo Ryan and texts back and forth with the assistant coaches to check up on the team, not wanting to fully close that chapter of his life quite yet.
“There’s times when I miss it,” said Kaminsky. “I still have a lot of friends there. I see stuff going on and you wish you could be there, but I’m moving on with my life … It was a lot of fun for four years, but I always knew that time had to come to an end.”
While he has the N.B.A. television package so he can watch all the out-of-market games and keep track of players he’s come across, Kaminsky likes to pay attention to the Houston Rockets, where former teammate Sam Dekker is trying to find his footing.
The Rockets traded up to No.18 to pick him nine spots after Kaminsky, but Dekker is still finding his niche. Of the team’s eight games, Dekker has only played in three and has yet to score his first points in six total minutes on the court.
The two former teammates will see their teams face each other for the first time Dec.21 in Houston.
“Sam and I were at the same school for three years and are very good friends,” said Kaminsky. “Those kind of relationships last a long time. We’ve got to share a lot of experiences together, the draft, rookie camp, summer league, stuff like that. It’s so cool to have someone you have been so close with for so long to go through the same thing as you.”
Kaminsky’s Hornets play their first game in Milwaukee Feb.19.
Tyler Mason contributed to this report