Wearing a cardinal red suit and specially designed Jordan sneakers, Frank Kaminsky walked out onto the court at halftime of Wisconsin’s (5-10 Big Ten, 12-16 overall) eventual 57-53 win over No. 6 Purdue (12-3, 23-5) and promptly hugged his family who was standing on the baseline closest to UW’s bench.
More than a dozen of his former teammates including Sam Dekker, Nigel Hayes, Bronson Koenig, Josh Gasser and his best friend Jordan Smith, among others, watched feet away on the very same baseline.
After the No. 44 banner was raised to the Kohl Center rafters, Kaminsky took the microphone from UW Athletic Director Barry Alvarez and addressed the more than 17,000 members of the Kohl Center faithful in attendance.
“I’m a little bit nervous so I’m gonna try to get through this,” he said. “When I came to this school, I used to always tell myself, do something you would be proud of. Just work, and at the end of the day, do something that you can be proud of. And I’m proud to be standing here tonight being able to tell you all how much I accomplished…”
He thanked his teammates for supporting him and Wisconsin’s coaching staff for turning him into a man.
He pointed out his friends who had been screaming from the top of the Kohl Center’s lower bowl for being the “biggest lovable idiots that you could possibly ever have around you.”
He spoke about his family’s willingness to let him be a goof ball and for instilling in him a sense of confidence to act whatever way he saw fit. He then acknowledged the fans in building, saying they were best in the country.
“My name and my number might go up there tonight, but there’s a story behind it,” Kaminsky said. “There’s so many people behind it that I have to say thank you too…Because without all of you I wouldn’t be standing here tonight.”
Wisconsin head coach Greg Gard said after Tuesday afternoon’s practice that Kaminsky is the “poster child” for how a player can develop in Madison. He arrived as a freshman who looked as if he hadn’t lifted a weight in his life, and left as a two-time Final Four participant, a lottery pick and the Naismith Player of the Year.
With Kaminsky and co. in attendance Thursday night, the current iteration of Badgers looked more like teams of old. According to Gard, they played disciplined and consistent defense for almost the entirety of the night. They kept the game close and made plays down the stretch when it mattered.
And, when the final buzzer sounded Thursday night, Wisconsin’s student section stormed the floor. Many of the UW basketball alumni joined in on the fun and celebrated alongside the students and the current group of Badgers. The cheers of joy, which have been few and far between for fans of the program, returned.
“If you wanna say thanks to Frank, you wanna say thanks to all these alumni, the best way to show respect and give your thanks and your salute, go out and play really well,” Gard told the team before the game. “And I think they really, they honed in and were engaged and were connected for 40 minutes.”
As the madness wound down, redshirt junior forward Ethan Happ — Wisconsin’s high-scorer on the night — embraced Kaminsky.
“I love you,” Kaminsky told him.
“You’re the best,” Happ replied.
Kaminsky just might have been Wisconsin’s best. His jersey will forever hang in the Kohl Center rafters.