Skip to content

Why is Wisconsin basketball so good at producing talented big men?

Apr 4, 2014, 8:31 PM EST

source: Getty Images

AP Photo

FINAL FOURShabazz vs. Kemba | The Harrisons | UK vs. UW | UF vs. UConn

ARLINGTON, Texas – Bo Ryan is one of the best system coaches in all of college basketball. With very few exceptions — maybe Shaka Smart, maybe John Beilein — no coach in the country is better at identifying players that will fit into his basketball program than Ryan is.

The stereotype of a ‘Wisconsin player’ is that they are big, they are slow and they are white, and while that is not exactly inaccurate — it is a fact that Frank Kaminsky is big, he is slow and he is white — it does ignore one indisputable fact: no one on the Badgers is a stiff.

Kaminsky may not have the physical tools of Mason Plumlee and he may never get mistaken for a professional wrestler like Patric Young, but he is by no means a stiff. In fact, I’d argue that he was one of the five most skilled big men in college basketball. His low-post moves are NBA-caliber, he can step out and hit a three and he can beat a slower-footed big man off of the dribble and get all the way to the rim.

Outside of Adreian Payne on one of his good days, there may not have been a more difficult player to matchup with in the entire country. How do you guard him? He over powers smaller players and he torches bigger defenders on the perimeter. He made the second-best defensive team nationally this season — Arizona, just so happened to feature the best individual defender in Aaron Gordon – look powerless against him in the Elite 8.

Frank Kaminsky single-handedly sent Arizona into the offseason.

Think about that.

Kaminsky played about 10 minutes per game as a sophomore. If you aren’t a serious Big Ten fan or a resident of Wisconsin, you probably had no idea who he was entering the season. I’m sure there is a large population of college hoops fans that had never head of Kaminsky until that Elite 8 performance.

He may be the most improved player in college basketball, but none of that should surprise you if you’ve been paying attention.

——————————————————————————————

FINAL FOURAll Final Four coverage | X-Factors | Why each team can/won’t win | UConn family

Brian Butch was a McDonald’s All-American coming out of high school in 2003, and a top ten recruit usually enters schools with a center level of expectation. They’ll get minutes right away. They’ll get a chance to showcase their skills in their first season. They’ll have a chance to show NBA scouts that they belong in the NBA Draft’s HOV lane, bypassing the traffic on the road to the riches of a guaranteed contract.

Butch?

He redshirted.

“I was a McDonald’s All-American, but I was 185 pounds coming in trying to play in the Big Ten,” Butch told NBCSports.com in a telephone interview on Friday. “I sat down with the coaches and they said would I be better my freshmen year, or take some time to develop my body and really be a force my fifth year.”

For Butch, the decision was simple. He redshirted, giving up his first season on campus for the chance to get better because, in the long run, that’s what would be better for the program.

“They knew what kind of person I was, first and foremost,” Butch said. “They knew I was all about winning and all about team and not a selfish guy. I was all about what the University of Wisconsin was about. And those are the guys that they continue to get.”

Butch was just one link in a chain of Wisconsin big men that have paid their dues, as a redshirt or a scout team member, before stepping into a bigger role in the program. Mike Wilkinson gave way to Butch. Butch passed the torch to Marcus Landry, who was succeeded by Jon Leuer and Keaton Nankivil, who gave way to Jared Berggren who, eventually, led us to Kaminsky.

“It’s a culture thing,” assistant coach Gary Close said, doing everything he could to deflect credit from the coaching staff and directing it all towards the players. The way Close sees it, all the coaching in the world wouldn’t help a kid whose uninterested in actually getting better. They put in the work, which is why they see the results.

But Close and the coaching will take some credit in what they have their players do to improve. In every college basketball practice at every level, at some point the team will split up into big men and guards, running through drills and working on specific fundamentals. Post moves and outlet passing drills for the big men. Ball-handling and jump shooting drills for the guards. Wisconsin makes a point of ensuring that every player on the roster goes through both. “We ask a little more than other programs,” he said. “We want our guys to be versatile out on the floor, in the post, passing, handling the ball, shooting. There’s a little more work there in terms of versatility.”

“The coaches have a lot to do with [our development],” current Memphis Grizzlies forward Jon Leuer said. “We work hard in the preseason and the offseason. [They] are big on the individual work.”

And it certainly doesn’t hurt that all of that individual work is done against all-Big Ten caliber big men.

“I got to play against Jared [Berggren] for two years and that really helped me grow as a player,” Kaminsky said. “I had to learn things from him and apply it to my game. I had to learn to score on him. I had to learn how to defend him.”

“Jared used to beat me up, day in and day out, but eventually got to the point where I was beating him up a little bit. It’s a process. It’s frustrating. But it really works for us.”

Wisconsin’s success lies in their ability to identify and develop players that fit in their program, and while that’s a testament to the kids that they bring in, it also says a lot about the work that Ryan has put in to get Wisconsin basketball to where it is today.

“Coach Ryan has a system and he recruits people into his system that are going to take their four years to grow, physically and mentally, into that system,” Kaminsky said. “By the time you’re ready to play you’re going to be effective in that system. It comes with a lot of frustrations and a lot of ups and downs, but he really demands the best out of every one of his players. That’s happened with me and I’ve been able to grow into this person and player that I am today.”

“I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Latest Posts
  1. College Basketball Talk’s latest top 25: Kentucky reigns, but how far will Kansas, Florida slide?

    Nov 24, 2014, 7:00 AM EST

    Miami v Florida Getty Images

    Putting together a top 25 this early is tough to do as we balance expectations with early season performance.

  2. Late Night Snacks: West Virginia, Miami win in-season tournament titles

    Nov 24, 2014, 1:10 AM EST

    Juwan Staten, Terrence Samuels Juwan Staten, Terrence Samuels

    No. 1 Kentucky set a new school record, Ohio State’s Shannon Scott broke Aaron Craft’s single-game assist record and more.

  3. Miami caps 4-0 week with second Gildan Charleston Classic title

    Nov 23, 2014, 11:49 PM EST

    McClellan Fernandez Palmer Rodriguez Lecomte Thomas McClellan Fernandez Palmer Rodriguez Lecomte Thomas

    A week that began with a win at No. 7 Florida ended with a commanding victory over Charlotte at the Gildan Charleston Classic.

  4. West Virginia shows signs of progress in Puerto Rico Tipoff win over No. 17 UConn

    Nov 23, 2014, 9:57 PM EST

    Bob Huggins Bob Huggins

    West Virginia has better depth and toughness than they had a season ago, and those improvements paid off in Puerto Rico this weekend.

  5. #POSTERIZED: Texas A&M-Corpus Christi’s John Jordan takes flight (VIDEO)

    Nov 23, 2014, 8:55 PM EST

    John Jordan, Miles Reynolds John Jordan, Miles Reynolds

    The 5-foot-10 guard has a standing vertical of 38 inches. That’s pretty good.

  6. Rutgers’ Kadeem Jack scores 13 points in first action of the season

    Nov 23, 2014, 8:10 PM EST

    Kadeem Jack, Chris Hooper, Antonio Jenifer AP

    Kadeem Jack missed the first two games of the season with a thumb injury.

  7. New Mexico guard breaks bone in his hand during loss to Texas A&M

    Nov 23, 2014, 6:55 PM EST

    Peyton Allen, Arthur Edwards Peyton Allen, Arthur Edwards

    With Cullen Neal already dealing with an ankle injury, Arthur Edwards is the latest Lobo dealing with a health issue.

  8. Reserve big man one of four UConn players suspended for violation of team rules

    Nov 23, 2014, 5:34 PM EST

    Hunter Ware, Ryan Boatright Hunter Ware, Ryan Boatright

    Rakim Lubin was averaging five minutes per contest in UConn’s first three games.

  9. Danuel House’s Texas A&M debut a successful one in Puerto Rico

    Nov 23, 2014, 5:16 PM EST

    Danuel House, Nick Russell, Nic Moore AP

    House scored 18 points, shooting 7-for-11 from the field, in Texas A&M’s 64-51 win over New Mexico.

  10. Yale forward Matt Townsend named a Rhodes Scholar

    Nov 23, 2014, 3:55 PM EST

    (Yale athletics/dspics.com) (Yale athletics/dspics.com)

    Yale forward Matt Townsend was named a Rhodes Scholar this weekend, a rare honor only give to 32 American students each year.

  11. POSTERIZED: Welcome to the 2014-15 season, Danuel House (VIDEO)

    Nov 23, 2014, 2:41 PM EST

    Danuel House AP

    Danuel House made his presence felt immediately for Texas A&M.

  12. Assigned Reading: Oakland’s Tommy McCune has overcome a lot while showing flashes of great play

    Nov 23, 2014, 2:10 PM EST

    tommy mccune Getty Images

    Oakland forward Tommy McCune had to overcome the loss of his mother after she lost her battle with cancer, but he’s shown flashes of great play early this season as he moves forward.

  13. Four-star 2015 big man cuts his list to three then visits SEC powerhouse

    Nov 23, 2014, 12:00 PM EST

    (Nike) (Nike)

    One of the best unsigned players in the 2015 class is down to three schools but then visited another school on Friday night.

  14. POSTERIZED: Wyoming’s Larry Nance Jr. throws down an alley-oop in traffic

    Nov 23, 2014, 11:00 AM EST

    Larry Nance (AP Photo) AP

    Looks like Larry Nance Jr. is fully recovered from last season’s ACL injury.

  15. Division III school makes buzzer-beating three-pointer against same opponent in back-to-back years (VIDEOS)

    Nov 23, 2014, 10:00 AM EST

    NCAA Men's Final Four - Practice Getty Images

    This is one of the wildest buzzer-beaters I’ve ever seen and the back story makes it that much more incredible.

  16. Pregame Shootaround: Tip-Off Tournaments and some ranked teams headline Sunday

    Nov 23, 2014, 9:10 AM EST

    AP AP

    Tournament action resumes on a busy Sunday of college hoops.

  17. Quinn Cook is thriving as an off-guard, and No. 4 Duke will reap the benefits

    Nov 23, 2014, 3:56 AM EST

    Getty Images Getty Images

    Concerns about Cook moving off the ball seem foolish through five games.