By Sam Perley
Not too many players head north during the NBA All-Star Break, but instead, elect to spend the much-needed time off poolside or at the beach somewhere in warmer climates.
For Frank Kaminsky, there wasn't anywhere he wanted to be other than his collegiate stomping grounds at the University of Wisconsin last Thursday night. It was then that the Badger great had his #44 jersey retired at the Kohl Center in Madison, making him the second player in program history to ever receive this honor.
"It was amazing not only for me, but for my family, friends and all my old teammates," said Kaminsky after returning to Charlotte. "Just to see all the support from the people not just in my circle, but all the fans and everything. It was amazing. I feel like whenever I go back to Wisconsin, I feel that love and pride in me from all the fans and everything. It's a great place."
Although Kaminsky had an extraordinary college career that was highlighted individually by winning the Naismith Player of the Year Award and Big 10 Player of the Year in 2015, he had to grind and earn his minutes just like all the Badgers that had come before him.
"My first two years, I didn't play much. Wisconsin's been a tradition where upperclassmen go there and as a young guy, you work your way into the rotation," said Kaminsky, who was a three-star recruit coming out of high school. "For two years, I was sitting behind good basketball players and guys that were ready to play. I wasn't really ready. I just told myself the whole time that when it was my turn, I was going to do something special."
Kaminsky certainly did just that in helping the school make consecutive Final Four appearances his junior and senior seasons. Prior to his arrival on campus, Wisconsin had reached the National Semifinals just two times in its history (1941 and 2000).
"We had a special group of guys not only on the court, but off the court. Every day at that school was a joy and I loved it very much. That's why the event was so special to me."
Kaminsky's memorable night was capped off by watching his beloved Badgers pull out a 57-53 upset victory over then-sixth-ranked Purdue. Back in November while the Hornets were on a road trip, Kaminsky also had his #44 retired at his high school, Benet Academy, in Lisle, IL.
Teammate Kemba Walker has also experienced having his jersey number retired at his alma mater as well. During Connecticut's 2011 NCAA Championship celebration, the program waived the mandatory five-year waiting period and surprised Walker by hanging his #15 on the Gampel Pavilion wall.
"It was awesome. As soon as we got back to campus, they put my number in the Husky Hall of Fame. It was an unbelievable experience," recalled Walker. "To get your number retired in college, that's big-time. Big congrats to Frank and well-deserved. Not a lot of people can say their number is retired at their school. That's a huge honor."
When the plans for the ceremony were first announced back in December, Kaminsky said at the time he didn't have full perspective on it yet, particularly being just three years removed from college.
"I'm 24 years old. I don't really have an understanding of what that means for me personally yet in my life because I feel like the book's still in the first or second chapter," he stated. "I don't feel like it's getting towards the end and [having your jersey retired] is something you always think is going to be towards the end."
Kaminsky is coming off one of his finest performances of the season in Washington on Feb. 23, finishing with 23 points and a career-high six three-point field goals. He became just the fifth different player to connect six-or-more times from long range off the bench in a single game in franchise history.
Overall, the seven-footer is having another solid season for the Hornets with averages of 10.6 points, 3.7 rebounds and 1.6 assists, while registering career-high marks in field-goal (41.3 percent), three-point (35.1 percent) and free-throw percentage (77.0 percent).
However long Kaminsky's professional basketball career ends up being is still undetermined at this point. What's not undetermined is his legacy at the University of Wisconsin, which will now literally hang high atop the Kohl Center for years to come.