The night belonged to Frank Kaminsky.
Well, right up until the University of Wisconsin men's basketball team hijacked it, that is.
But if you think Kaminsky was put off because the current Badgers stole the spotlight on the night his name and jersey number were hoisted to the Kohl Center rafters, then you weren't paying attention. Not during Frank the Tank's four glorious seasons at UW, when he went from afterthought recruit to national celebrity. And not during the 4 lonely minutes he spent with a microphone at midcourt Thursday night, forced to talk about himself to 17,000 adoring fans.
We know Kaminsky wasn't perturbed because the guy who led UW to back-to-back NCAA Final Fours and became the consensus national player of the year was and is the most selfless star in Badgers history. Indeed, an hour after his jersey was raised during a halftime ceremony, there was Kaminsky, a smile on his face, hugging players, coaches and fans as they celebrated on the court following UW's stunning, 57-53 upset of sixth-ranked Purdue Thursday night.
He's been called goofy, quirky, playful, funny and all kinds of other things, but Kaminsky, now in his third NBA season, hit all the right notes when addressing the crowd, most of whom spent the night waving towels bearing his No. 44. He credited everyone from his family to his high school buddies to his UW teammates and coaches for his success. Everyone but himself.
There wasn't a single mention of all those hours he spent developing his game, grooving his 3-point shot and perfecting his footwork to the point where he became one of the most versatile 7-footers ever to play college basketball. But that's Kaminsky. More than anything, his selflessness defined a team that went places where UW teams simply weren't supposed to go.
"I won the individual awards, but that was never what I was after," Kaminsky said prior to the game. "I guess I don't truly understand why all the good things happen to me because we had such a great team. There were so many different pieces that allowed me to be the person and the player that I was at this school. Obviously, my number's the one that's going up in those rafters, but there was so much more behind it."
While Kaminsky tried hard to make sure the night wasn't all about him, there is no argument when it comes to the role he played in the greatest two-year run in UW history. From the school-record 43-point game that kicked off his junior season to the final agonizing loss to Duke in the NCAA championship game the following season, the Badgers went 66-12 and had blast every step of the way.
Their hilarious press conferences at NCAA tournament sites amused the basketball world time and again. And they employed a pleasing, team-oriented style that allowed them to take down one college basketball giant after another.
They say a team takes on the personality of its best player and, for better or for worse, the Badgers followed Kaminsky's lead. Along the way, they developed a camaraderie that served them well on and off the court.
"I think it was because no one had an ego," Kaminsky said. "No one came in and tried to dominate the locker room and be like, 'I'm the guy here, this is my thing, this is what I'm doing.' I think in college basketball today there's so many big players and guys that get recruited so highly that when they come into college, they think it's just their steppingstone to get to the next level. They're only going to be here for a certain amount of time and then they're going to be gone. I don't think we had anybody like that.
"We knew we were going to be together for a long time and we just became best friends. I don't know if it was the fact that we were all so close and our personalities meshed so well or it was just the amount of time we spent together. But from the first moment I got on campus, I could just feel that this was a culture and a tradition of people who were very close and people who were going to become lifelong friends. ... I don't see today a lot of college programs that have players that can say that."
For proof, all you had to do was look along the baseline during Kaminsky's halftime speech. College basketball players tend to scatter to the wind once they leave school, but there were Josh Gasser, Sam Dekker, Nigel Hayes, Bronson Koenig, Duje Dukan, Zak Showalter and a handful of others on hand for Kaminsky's big night (Vitto Brown had travel problems and couldn't make it).
Their presence made it almost a sad occasion for a player who loved and embraced every aspect of college life at UW.
"There were so many different elements of what made my time here so special," Kaminsky said. "It's tough to come back here and not think about that time and feel sad or sentimental and wish I had more time here. I can honestly say I have no regrets about my time here. I left everything I had here. I gave it my all from the second I stepped on campus and I left here doing something that I didn't even think I could accomplish."
On a fun night at the Kohl Center, the current Badgers also did something no one thought they could accomplish. True to his nature, Kaminsky was probably thrilled the spotlight was shining on someone else.