All summer long, Frank Kaminsky has been grinding.
Following a steady third year in which the emerging seven-footer showed flashes of being one of the better stretch bigs in the League, Kaminsky has a new coach and a new role with the Charlotte Hornets. And he’s ready to take that next step.
Kaminsky’s basketball journey truly took off when another coach believed in him nearly a decade ago.
Coming out of tiny Benet Academy in Chicago’s west suburbs, Kaminsky didn’t turn many heads early on. Despite having a unique perimeter skill set for a “footer,” most coaches thought that he was too frail or not athletic enough to play big time college hoops. He’s the prototype for today’s modern NBA forward, but folks weren’t thinking like that back in 2010. Except for one person, that is. Wisconsin head coach Bo Ryan.
“When I was getting recruited, I didn’t have very many offers and obviously Wisconsin was the biggest school that was recruiting me,” Kaminsky says of a recruitment that only saw him receive offers from local schools such as Northern Illinois, Southern Illinois, and Bradley, aside from the Badgers. “I went into [Bo’s] office and he brought up this point. He says, You know what I really like about watching film on you? Your demeanor changes when you do something well. Honestly, I didn’t even know that he was watching film on me at all.”
With a coach like Ryan behind him, Frank improved every single year at Wisconsin. He had an outstanding finish to his junior campaign and went into his senior season with a ton of hype, living up to every bit of it. The program went 36-4 overall (16-2 in the Big Ten) and nearly won the National title, falling by five in the championship to a Duke squad that saw 7 of its players eventually land on NBA rosters. Kaminsky was named AP Player of the Year, averaging 18.8 points and 8.2 rebounds per game.
Combine that impressive year with some stellar pre-draft workouts and Kaminsky caught the eye of Hornets owner Michael Jordan. Charlotte selected him with the ninth overall pick in the 2015 draft, jumpstarting a whirlwind pro career that has featured glimpses of stardom as a stretch big (shot 38% from 3PT last year) and has him ready for a potential contract extension this fall.
“I actually hate the buildup to games, especially on the road,” Kaminsky explains to SLAM after one of his summer workouts. “We’re done with shootaround at maybe 1030 or 11, but the bus doesn’t leave til around 4:30. I’m so antsy to go play that the whole day I’m either trying to take a nap or eat correct.
“I’m always one of the first people to the arena for home games because I’m literally sick of sitting at home. I’m just so excited to play that night that I can’t think about anything else.”
On the campus of UIC in Chicago where Kaminsky has been grinding, we got an inside look at that level of excitement. Respected CHI-town trainer Jeff Pagliocca works with the likes of Patrick Beverley, Enes Kanter, and Evan Turner year round, so he’s quite familiar with the NBA game and what it takes to maximize his clients’ potential. That being said, a specific, strategic plan has been devised with the Hornets and new head coach James Borrego to make Kaminsky the perfect fit in Charlotte’s modern system.
“Obviously he’s excited because it’s his first job. He really wants to spread the floor, get more uptempo, get more threes up, play more loose,” Kaminsky says of Borrego’s vision. “It will be a lot different from last year, when everyone was so tense that it wasn’t easy to get over the hump.
“I feel that with him, it’s a much more relaxed approach, but it will also be much more uptempo. You see that the way San Antonio plays. They move the ball, they spread the floor, and everyone is passing. That’s what he’s trying to instill.”
Going to the gym six days a week with his heralded trainer, Kaminsky, who posted 11.1 points and 3.6 rebounds per contest in 2017-18, has been putting some serious work in on his low post game.
It’s not the low post game many of us associate with Hall of Fame bigs like Hakeem Olajuwon, Patrick Ewing and Shaquille O’Neal. It’s the new age low post game. The separation that Frank is able to create on his fadeaway is resounding and when you tack on the fact that he’s every bit of 7-0, it makes it virtually unguardable.
Footwork and creating space aren’t the only things that he’s been addressing, though.
“I’m just working on getting more confident and getting more consistent shooting the ball,” Kaminsky explains of the weapons he hopes to add to his arsenal before the 2018-19 season. “Obviously with the floor being more spread, I want to be creating more moves off of the dribble.”
Pagliocca put his prized pupil through a gauntlet of drills that replicated game-like situations. Whether it was simulating pick and roll play, drag screens, or isolation settings, Kaminsky was consistently placed in positions that he will certainly face multiple times each night. There were a number of instances when the drills had onlookers mentioning Dirk Nowitzki; and while that may be premature, it was definitely apparent, based on the movements, that there are similarities there.
Just as much as improving his skills, the 25-year old is developing a killer mindset that will never let him dwell on a mistake for longer than that possession itself.
“What I’ve tried to do is learn to forget things. You’ll see it in my workout. In my first two years, maybe into my third year, it was tough for me to mentally move past things to where I’d let one bad thing turn into two, three, or four. I’d be in my own head to the point that I would miss four shots in a row,” admits Kaminsky before discussing the shift in his mentality.
“What I’ve really tried to learn how to do is turn my mind off and move past things. That’s why in my workout you’ll see me take walks to half court to mentally reset myself.”
As eccentric of a player as you’ll meet, the summer hasn’t been spent entirely in the gym for Frank. He’s been hitting weddings for his Wisconsin friends on the regular and has constantly been adding to his ridiculous Jordan collection. Don’t get it twisted: Just because Kaminsky isn’t always caught rocking crazy J’s on the court, it’s not because he doesn’t have them — it’s because he cherishes them so much that he won’t tap into his vault unless he has a backup pair.
“My favorite pair is definitely the all white Off-White 1’s,” he says. “For some reason Jordan messed up their shipment and sent me double on accident, so I actually get to wear them. I don’t like to hurt my shoes, they’re like my children.When I get the really exclusive pairs, I just keep them in the box and don’t really ever use them. It is kind of stupid, but that’s just who I am.”
Frank dives into a variety of other topics during our interview, ranging from his gameday routine, to his time at Wisconsin with his teammates who are “more like a bunch of friends who happen to play basketball than college basketball players,” to his culinary choices. There is one restaurant that has Kaminsky’s heart and he has no problem letting the world know about it: Chipotle.
“I try everything there. At other places I order the same thing over and over,” he says of his favorite spot, which awarded him with the prestigious Chipotle card after showing them mad love on social media. “I’ve got a Great American Bagel right here over on the corner [near UIC] and when I walk in, they just start making my food since I get the same thing every time. At Chipotle, I get something different every time.
“I get the burrito, I get the bowl, I get tacos. Sometimes I go chicken, sometimes I go steak. I even tried the tofu thing recently and that’s pretty good, too.”
As you get to know Frank Kaminsky, you experience first hand the reputation he has from teammates and fans alike: A funny, outgoing, dedicated dude who is going to bust his ass to prove everyone wrong.
With a first year head coach who brings an outstanding rep, and a new opportunity right around the corner, Frank appears ready to do just that.
Rodger Bohn is a contributor to SLAM. Follow him on Twitter @rodgerbohn.
Photos via Getty.