Long before tipoff. Long before the 17,000-plus fans entered the arena, Frank Kaminsky sat in a daze in a courtside seat.
The Naismith Player of the Year front-runner and senior leader would step on the court for his final home game in Madison with a chance to clinch a share of Big Ten title. The Badgers big man wanted to make this moment would be something he’d never forget.
“It’s my last game here and I wanted to do something special,” Kaminsky said. “And obviously I was in my own thoughts, just sitting there thinking about everything. I was just mentally trying to psyche myself up.”
The 7-footer received a standing ovation prior to the game during the pregame senior festivities. Then during the game, he kept bringing the fans to their feet. Kaminsky would score 18 points, on 7-of-9 shooting (3-of-3 from beyond the arc) in the first half alone.
“I don’t have to worry about Frank,” head coach Bo Ryan said following the Badgers victory over Michigan State and a parade of ceremonies – raising the trophy, video tributes to the seniors and of course the cutting down of the nets to commemorate the moment. “I don’t have to worry about any of these guys. He was ready to play. He was not going to be denied.”
It’s Wisconsin’s first Big Ten title since 2008, but – even for a team that reached the Final Four a season ago – this day was something they had been looking forward to for a long time.
“When the schedule came out, the first time I looked at it I had this date circled. I envisioned this exact scenario happening – on senior night, the last home game against a really good team, closing out the Big Ten,” senior Josh Gasser asserted. “We were hungry and we worked really hard at it so it’s definitely fulfilling but we have a few more goals left to do.”
Kaminsky, along with Wisconsin native Gasser, Duje Duke and Trevon Jackson had all talked raising the Big Ten trophy in their final game at the Kohl Center. Their journeys to this point – the season and their careers – make this moment all the more significant.
“Just looking at the four of them and really, a book could be written about the four of them,” Ryan continued. Kaminsky rarely played his first two seasons in Madison, Gasser tore his ACL and was forced to red-shirt last year, Dukan missed a major amount of time with mononucleosis and Jackson is still rehabbing an injured foot. “You just think of the experiences these guys have had and what some of them have been through and how they’re battling things right now. I couldn’t be prouder of a group of seniors.”
And, of course, the Badgers seniors would love to write the final chapter of this season the same way they closed out their careers here – by cutting down the nets – this time at the Final Four in Indianapolis.