Eyes Wide Open

Frank Kaminsky defends Jorge Diaz (US Presswire)

He doesn't score a lot of points or pull down a lot of rebounds but when true freshman Frank Kaminsky is on the floor for No.25 Wisconsin, the Badgers typically get a big lift.

MADISON - Stopped at a red light, Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan allowed his eyes to wander as he patiently waited for the green light to signal that he was free to continue on his journey.

As he people watched, it wasn't hard for Ryan to notice the tallest player on his team – 6-11 freshman Frank Kaminsky – sitting on his moped and appearing to have his eyes closed. Problem was Kaminsky was just naturally sitting and waiting to press on, as his eyes naturally rest half closed.

"I was going to honk to wake him up," said Ryan. "It looked like he was sleeping."

Consider Ryan just another person that has been fooled by Kaminsky's sleepy look, a look that hasn't prevented him from being an important contributor off the bench for No.25 Wisconsin this season.

Although he's averaging just 8.1 minutes per game and has played over 10-plus minutes only six times this season, Kaminsky has been providing key minutes off the bench in vital situations when the Badgers' experienced big men – Mike Bruesewitz and Jared Berggren – need to come to the bench because of foul trouble.

Having played in 20 of 21 games, Kamisnky has brought some energy, some good minutes and some production, averaging 2.4 points and 1.6 rebounds per game.

"He's worked hard, and he is ahead of the curve as far as applying things," said Berggren. "He's given us some good minutes with him getting on the offensive glass and playing solid defense. It's good to see."

To some it was surprising to see Kaminsky even get on the floor this season. One of four scholarship recruits in Wisconsin's 2011 recruiting class, many thought the Badgers would be using Jarrod Uthoff in that role off the bench. Uthoff, rated the No.21 power forward in his class by Scout.com, was highly praised by Ryan in the preseason as a guy that can help the team immediately in the low post.

Kaminsky was thought to be ‘a work in progress' despite being rated the No.22 center in the country by Scout, but he's come in with the mindset that he wanted to help his team win right from the start. It was a notion given to him by former UW assistant Howard Moore, who recruited Kaminsky from Benet Academy outside Chicago.

"When I got here, I knew that I didn't want to take a year off," said Kaminsky. "I was prepared if I had to, but I wanted to come in and impress the coaches as much as I could. I knew they were losing players and there would be an opportunity for me if I worked hard and did what I knew I could do."

That hard work is what Ryan loves out of his young big men – play smart defense and hit shots within the offense. Kaminsky did that at No.5 North Carolina, hitting a three-pointer in 12 minutes on the court and being a part of a group effort that held senior standout Tyler Zeller to only five shots.

Kaminsky will likely be needed again against another Zeller Thursday when Wisconsin (16-5, 5-3 Big Ten) takes on No.16 Indiana (16-4, 4-4). Leading the Hoosiers averaging 15.1 points and 6.5 rebounds per game, true freshman Cody Zeller leads the Big Ten and is third in the nation with a 65.9 percent field goal percentage.

Zeller has averaged a team-best 16.7 points in the last seven games. Kaminsky has averaged only 0.9 over that same stretch, but it's been the kind of production he has expected in his first college season.

"I didn't expect a ton," Kaminsky said. "I didn't think I would be averaging a lot of points. I just try to do whatever I could and whatever minutes I get, I try to take advantage of. My role is to make some hustle plays."

To get that physicality, Kaminsky has upped his weight 18 pounds since he first starting summer workouts. The key has been what Kaminsky calls ‘recovery time' after practice by eating good meals throughout the day and taking advantage in the weight room on days when practices aren't as intense. It's a plan that has shown dividends.

"A lot of times, especially for big guys, they don't come in as a freshman and contribute like he is," said Berggren, who would know after redshirting his first year. "He's come in, really learned quickly and really applied what the coaches have been telling him."

And what's that message coming from Ryan? Keep your eyes open and keep competing.

"I don't know exactly what it is, but it certainly doesn't keep him from finding people that are open, from hitting shots, from rebounding," said Ryan. "He's a delightful young man. He comes into the Nicholas-Johnson (practice gym) every day ready to compete. He doesn't just come to play. He comes to compete, and that's what I like about him."

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