January 8, 2014 at 12:59 pm

Terry Foster

Michigan State freshman Kenny Kaminski trying to grow up

East Lansing — Michigan State freshman forward Kenny Kaminski took four shots during Michigan State’s nearly blown overtime victory over Ohio State on Tuesday night.

He made three of them, including a 3-pointer in overtime, helping the Spartans prevail as the Buckeyes nearly rallied from 17 points down to win.

For Kaminski it is all about opportunity. He scored nine points in the victory with two strikes dangling over his head.

Spartans coach Tom Izzo has all but a zero-tolerance policy for Kaminski, who has already been suspended twice this season for not meeting academic requirements. Izzo said Kaminski must grow up. Kaminski agrees.

“During my suspension it was one of the hardest things I had to go through,” Kaminski said. “Facing people saying, ‘I thought you were supposed to be in Texas,’ (for the game against the Longhorns). Answering that question, it was not easy for me at all. So I came up with the mindset that I am going to change who I am as a person and do what I have to do and everything to the best of my ability.”

Here is what Kaminski must understand: There is an opportunity for him to have a big role with this team if he can get inside of Izzo’s circle of trust. Kaminski is getting closer but is not quite there yet.

Not afraid to take big shots

The No. 5 Spartans (14-1 overall, 3-0 in the Big Ten) can be a terrific team. But there are two problems. The team cannot stay healthy and there are periods in games where the Spartans get out of sync and some guys appear afraid to take shots when the walls are crumbling around them.

Kaminski is not one of those guys. He is a deadeye shooter who loves to take shots at big moments.

Spartans point guard Keith Appling knows this. That is why he had no problem looking for Kaminski when the walls were crumbling against the Buckeyes.

“He has ice in his veins,” teammate Gary Harris said. “He doesn’t see anything. He just sees the ball going through the net. That’s a good trait to have if you are a shooter like him.”

Kenny Ice hit a big 3-point shot in overtime that gave the Spartans a 62-60 lead with 2:40 remaining. It came at a time when the Spartans appeared flustered and frustrated.

“As soon as I took the shot I knew it was going to go in,” Kaminski said. “I knew I was going to make it because I have always told myself if I am put in that situation, I’ve made thousands, millions of shots my whole life. To me that is just a routine shot.”

For others it is a shot they don’t want to take. There are terrific basketball players who can make jump shots. They can’t do it during crunch time. Kaminski has a long time to go before we can call him Mr. Big Shot after Pistons guard Chauncey Billups. But Kaminski has the mentality at least.

Turning the tide

“Kenny is a great shooter, and when he grows up he is going to be a hell of a player,” Izzo said. “He can knock down shots. I thought that was a big turning point of the game.”

The hope should be that this game was the turning point of his career. Yes, he did some nice things to help rally MSU against Penn State. But this game was on the big stage against a big-time opponent. Kaminski must use this as a spring board for the rest of his career.

He must also trust the ranting coach who gets in his face and screams unmentionable things. Izzo can be harsh at times, but those who stay and believe normally find success.

Everybody gets the tongue-lashing. Denzel Valentine and Branden Dawson both got it against Ohio State. Kaminski did not. Instead he earned praise and a little more trust.

“Keith made a choice to go baseline and give the ball to a freshman,” Kaminski said. “This is the first big game of my life, and that says a lot about him. Keith is not a selfish ballplayer. He has made tremendous strides from previous years to this one.

“We have so many weapons. If I just play basketball and stay in the flow of the game, it will come to me eventually.”

Kaminski kept saying he is a new man. I asked him who this new man was. He looked up from his dressing stall and said: “Kenny Kaminski.”

Who is Kenny Kaminski?

“You saw him tonight,” he said.

The Spartans need to see a lot more of Kenny Ice.

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Ohio State's Aaron Craft, left, passes around Michigan State's Kenny Kaminski during the second half Tuesday at the Breslin Center. Michigan State won, 72-68, in overtime. / Gregory Shamus / Getty Images
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