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Wisconsin takes low-key approach to NCAA

Teddy Greenstein
Chicago Tribune

Madison, Wis. — The joyous Wisconsin players strolled through the "Grateful Red" student section at the Kohl Center, offering selfies and high-fives. Then they climbed on a stage, with a few dancing to the Calvin Harris dance-pop hit "Summer."

Frank Kaminsky hoisted the Big Ten trophy, the culmination of a superb regular season and March 1 Senior Day victory over Michigan State. Secure enough in himself to look like a tourist, Kaminsky strapped a Go Pro camera to his chest, saying the footage would be "something for the archives."

Only he pronounced it "ARCH-iv-ayz" — just to be a goofball.

Coach Bo Ryan could not resist tweaking Kaminksy, who has surged from bench-warmer to Big Ten player of the year in three seasons.

"Frank could have gone late in the second round last year," Ryan announced to the packed gym, "but he decided to stay because he loves college and he wanted to get a Big Ten championship."

That second-round line drew some chuckles, but Kaminsky didn't mind.

When it was his turn to speak, he said: "This team is like a family to me," and the crowd collectively responded: "Awwwwwww."

"They are," Kaminsky said. "They're really like brothers to me ... they treat me terrible sometimes."

And so it went for a guy who enters the NCAA Tournament as the top player on the Big Ten's best hope for the Final Four. Wisconsin, the No. 1 seed in the West, begins the journey tonight against Coastal Carolina.

Kaminsky's teammates love to bust on him, with senior guard Josh Gasser joking: "He deserves it. That's the way it goes."

But then Gasser added: "We're family, best friends, all of the above. That's what makes a good team."

Nigel Hayes, the team's third-leading scorer, has developed his own lexicon for Kaminsky. He called him "Poy" for player of the year — Kaminsky and Duke freshman Jahlil Okafor are the favorites for the award — and "Double A."

"Double A is All-American," Hayes said. "Frank is always the last one to leave the court after practice, so guys say: If Double A is doing this, we probably should be too."

Kaminsky has added more diversity to his game throughout the season. He had a season-high seven assists in a March 5 victory at Minnesota. He grabbed 12 rebounds in a Big Ten tournament triumph over Michigan and had 19 points, five rebounds and four assists in Wisconsin's overtime victory against Michigan State in the tourney title game.

That Senior Day victory over the Spartans featured several odd, off-balance shots.

"He did some things I had not seen," Ryan said. "Josh (Gasser) said: 'Yeah, after I threw the ball to him, I found myself standing there watching him.' "

Wisconsin has lost just three games — a thorough beatdown against Duke at home, a shocker at Rutgers with Kaminsky out with concussion-like symptoms and a six-pointer at Maryland in which the Badgers missed 16-of-22 3-pointers.

Sophomore Bronson Koenig has been excellent since relieving point guard Traevon Jackson, who broke a bone in his right foot in the Jan. 11 loss to Rutgers. Koenig hit 9-of-17 on 3-pointers in the Big Ten tournament with three turnovers in 116 minutes.

Jackson did return practice Tuesday, telling the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel he's "50-50" to play tonight, adding: "I feel stronger, (but) I'm not going to rush back."

Michigan State coach Tom Izzo called the Badgers a "Final Four team" — especially if Jackson can contribute.

"Their depth is a little suspect," Izzo said. "I hope they get Jackson back because I love him. Some teams it can screw up (to have a starter return late in the season), but I don't think Bo will let that happen. In certain games against certain teams, they need one more sub."