UW Health Sports Medicine 

Strong survive: Badgers' next run begins in weight room


April 21, 2014


MADISON, Wis. -- The week following Wisconsin’s victory over Arizona in the Elite Eight, he graced a regional cover of Sports Illustrated along with teammate Josh Gasser.

The week following the Badgers’ loss to Kentucky in the Final Four, he was listed among Big Ten Network's “Magnificent 7” players who are in the early running to be the 2014-15 MVP in the Big Ten.

Frank Kaminsky, in fact, was No. 1 on the BTN list.

Since elevating his profile regionally and nationally during Wisconsin’s memorable Final Four run, there have been seemingly endless opportunities for Kaminsky to hold his head up high.

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But he’s working on that, too, this offseason with UW basketball strength coach Erik Helland.

“Erik is getting with me and working on getting me stronger,” Kaminsky said.

And, oh, by the way. “He’s also working on getting my posture better,” he continued, “because he thinks that it will help me get stronger.”

It’s just one of those things that you shouldn’t take for granted with an athlete: good posture. “It’s tough being this tall sometimes,” sighed Kaminsky, a 7-footer. “I’m slouching forward a bunch.”

Helland, no slouch, is meticulous in his preparation, not leaving anything to chance after 25 years honing his craft in the NBA with the Chicago Bulls. He joined the UW program last summer.

Mention a specific player, and he has an offseason plan mapped out for him. “Everybody has different characteristics,” Helland said. “Each of them has their own little expectations.”

Or, maybe, big ones in Kaminsky’s case.

“For tall guys, strength is always a deficiency. For guys of that length, their strength is relative to their body weight,” said Helland, who worked with six NBA championship teams in Chicago.

“What you really want to do with Frank is give him a greater ability to be able to hold and deny position in the post. He has a lot of physical contact with how he plays and the position that he plays.

“In terms of speed, overcoming his own body weight (234) is a big issue; in others words, that quickness in that initial first step and his ability to go from a stance to pursuing a rebound.”

Helland has other projects in this category.

“Sam is very similar in that he’s a tall, lean kid,” he said of Sam Dekker. “We want to improve the efficiency of his movement a little bit. He’s a very skilled kid and athletic.

“Now, you want to build on that athleticism. I want to see him be able to execute the skills that he has at that higher rate of speed.

“Sam,” Helland went on, “is somebody who can make a difference in terms of beating someone off the bounce and making a play -- kind of being more physically assertive from his perspective.”

Dekker, incidently, was No. 5 on the “Magnificent 7” list. Dekker was ranked behind Michigan State’s Branden Dawson, Michigan’s Mitch McGary, Nebraska’s Terran Petteway and Kaminsky.

Last season’s Big Ten MVP was Michigan’s Nik Stauskas, who has opted to walk away from his final two seasons of eligibility to declare for the NBA draft. The early entry deadline is April 27.

The NBA offers a projected draft status to anyone who wants to know. More importantly, the application to the Undergraduate Advisory Committee is not a declaration to enter the draft.

After Thursday night’s postseason celebration at the Kohl Center, Kaminsky confirmed that he has taken advantage of the advisory service, but he added, “I have yet to call them back” for the results.

Kaminsky, a junior, is looking forward to the feedback since he recognizes that it will alert him to the “things that I can do to get better to boost by my campaign for getting drafted next year.”

He’s no different from any other high-profile college player in today’s game (though his profile became prominent much later than most). Like all of the others, he aspires to play in the NBA.

“That’s ultimately the end goal,” he said. “It’s nice to see what other people have to say -- potentially the people who could get me a job later that would hopefully last for a long time.

“You really go through a reconditioning phase to lay a foundation for the offseason,” Helland said of his program.It’s almost like a reset button that you’ve got to hit.”

“But I still have a lot of things to accomplish in college.”

Kaminsky will get a jump on some of those things during four-man workouts this week and next.

“Everyone has to go back and refine their skills,” he said. “Throughout the course of the season you don’t necessarily use everything in your arsenal, so there are things that we have to touch up.

“Personally, I’ve got to find my shooting stroke again. I shot it well in the Arizona game, but in the games prior to that, I kind of dropped off. I need to get it back together, especially my free throws.”

Kaminsky led the Badgers in scoring (13.9), rebounding (6.3) and field-goal percentage (.528). He also shot 38 percent from long range; converting on 37 of 98 shots from beyond the 3-point arc.

In the national semifinal against Kentucky, he didn’t attempt a triple. By contrast, he was 3-of-5 from 3-point distance and scored 28 points in Wisconsin’s overtime victory over Arizona.

Prior to that Elite Eight game, he had made only five of his previous 22 shots from outside the arc. This season, the 3’s came in flurries against Purdue (4-of-5), Iowa (3-of-3) and North Dakota (6-of-6).

Kaminsky was one of five UW players overall to shoot 100 or more free throws. Although he didn’t get to the line in the Kentucky game, he still finished with good numbers: 101-of-132 (.765).

But after going 8-for-8 against Michigan State in the Big Ten tournament and 2-for-2 against American in the first NCAA game, Kaminsky made just 8-of-15 free throws (2-of-7 against Oregon).

Kaminsky got back in the gym last week. “I’m not a guy that likes to take a lot of time off,” he said, “I took a few days to get my body right and, now, I’m ready to get back at it.”

UW associate head coach Greg Gard senses Kaminsky’s teammates are of the same mindset.

“It’s a huge offseason for everyone,” Gard said. “Guys who are proven have to take another step forward and not go backwards. You look at Frank and he has to deal with expectations.

“Guys who have gotten a little taste of it -- like Nigel (Hayes) and Bronson (Koenig) -- how are they going to come back? Are they going to come back bigger and stronger?

“And the guys who were kind of on the outside (of the rotation) looking in -- Vitto (Brown) and Jordan (Hill) -- now is their time. There are minutes to be had.”

Gard suggested that all of the returning players have to ask themselves one thing.

“What are you going to do,” he said, “to put yourself in a positive light in the coaches’ minds as we evaluate through the spring, the summer and fall? They’ll be sending a message every day.”

Josh Gasser sent one last season by starting all 38 games and averaging 33.4 minutes, second only to departing senior Ben Brust (34.7). In case you forgot, Gasser was coming off ACL surgery.

“I always thought this past year would be kind of day-to-day,” Gard admitted. “We’re beyond that now and he can get that leg stronger. They always say the first year after surgery is the hardest.”

Outside of Koenig, who didn’t play against Florida, everyone else in the rotation played in all 38 games; a tribute to their durability and the dedicated work of athletic trainer Henry Perez-Guerra and Helland.

“Erik will jump in with them in the weight room and that will be a big thing,” Gard said, looking ahead. “He’ll be starting a base with the players that we will build on in the summer.”

Helland views most facets of the “process” from the standpoint of an investment.

“We’re looking at a rebuilding process,” he said, “where you reassess the athletes to see where they’re at. You’re looking at anything they may have accumulated during the season.

“And you really go through a reconditioning phase to lay a foundation for the offseason. As we go forward, you should see improvement in strength and all the athletic qualities: speed and power.

“An NBA season is longer and you’re playing more games and typically I think you have to give them a longer period off. But it’s really not a lot different.”

Every offseason, at whatever level, has a common characteristic for a strength coach.

“It’s almost,” Helland said, “like a reset button that you’ve got to hit.”

As a team, the Badgers would most assuredly like to reset this Final Four season.

“A lot of people are going to be gunning for us next year,” Kaminsky said. “We know that we’re returning a real good team and it’s going to be difficult because we’re not going to surprise anybody.”

But that’s OK. Holding his head up high, he said, “It’s our turn to be that dominant team.”

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