November 24, 2014

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OSU basketball: Kaminski grows up on and off the court

It wasn’t just the 3-pointer that put Michigan State ahead in overtime of what was eventually a 72-68 overtime win over Ohio State.

It was a trey Kenny Kaminski, a 2012 Medina High graduate, believes will turn around what has been an interesting season so far.

AP FILE Medina native Kenny Kaminski, center, is back in Michigan State’s rotation after serving two suspensions this season. (AP FILE PHOTO)

Medina native Kenny Kaminski, center, is back in Michigan State’s rotation after serving two suspensions this season. (AP FILE PHOTO)

Kaminski’s 3-pointer came Tuesday for the fifth-ranked Spartans against the No. 3 Buckeyes at home to save what was once a 17-point lead by Michigan State.

In reality, the shot dripped with symbolism.

The 6-foot-9 Kaminski, a redshirt freshman, was in his fourth game back from his second suspension of the season and was hoping for the opportunity to prove exactly who he was.

Suspension No. 1 came at the start of the season when coach Tom Izzo sat Kaminski down for not fulfilling academic obligations. He missed two exhibition games and the season opener against McNeese State.

He wasn’t academically ineligible, but wasn’t exactly meeting Izzo’s ideals.

“He has always had high expectations of me personally on and off the court,” Kaminski said. “It was basically one of those deals where I wasn’t putting in the effort I should have.

“I wasn’t taking care of business. We have a championship-type team this year and I wasn’t giving a championship-level effort on and off the court, so I had to pay the price for it.”

Kaminski was back in the fold for seven games before his second suspension came prior to Michigan State’s Dec. 14 contest with Oakland. It was a big eye-opener because Izzo didn’t just hand down the sentence to Kaminski, he sent the former All-Gazette MVP home.

“It was terrible,” Kaminski said. “It was easily one of the hardest things I had to do. It was a good two weeks for Christmas break where I had no contact with the team. I couldn’t work out with them. I really couldn’t do anything.

“The thing that was so difficult was that I had to face people and face the reality of truly being suspended. I went out to Springside (Racquet Club and Fitness) in Fairlawn to work out with my dad and this guy in there was like, ‘I saw you play Texas today, why aren’t you out there?’ And I had to tell him, ‘I’m suspended for academic reasons.’

“It was one of the most embarrassing things I’ve ever had to do. I looked myself in the mirror and said, ‘Am I going down the right path? Is this what I want to be known for — the athlete that can’t get it done in school?’

“You hear about athletes that fail because of academic reasons. With me it’s not an eligibility issue. The media blew it up a bit even though it wasn’t. I was with my family all Christmas break. Basically I decided I was going to change every aspect of my life.”

Kaminski has and it has paid dividends. His reinstatement came with a warning from Izzo.

“Kenny has got to grow up,” the coach said at the time. “That growing up means that him and I are running out of chances. He’s going to do it my way or he’s going to hit the highway. He could help us. He’s a very good shooter. He’s just immature. That immaturity is hopefully going to change now. I think he’s got players on his side and yet on him.”

Since his time back, Kaminski has registered four points in seven minutes against New Orleans, six points in nine minutes against Penn State, three points in 11 minutes vs. Indiana and a season-high nine points in 16 minutes against Ohio State.

Every point has not only brought more confidence, it has put Kaminski, who is averaging 4.8 points, where he always intended to be with the Spartans.

“It was one of those deals where I knew this was an opportunity of a lifetime,” Kaminski said. “Not many people get the opportunity to go to college for free and potentially play a game for a living. I love basketball. I live, eat and breathe it.
“(Izzo) is a Hall of Fame coach. He has the track record to prove it. He’s got six Final Fours in the last 14 years. It’s one of those deals where I have to trust the system and trust him.”

Likewise the trust is back in Kaminski and that showed late against the Buckeyes when Kaminski took a pass from Keith Appling and drained the aforementioned 3-pointer to put Michigan State up 62-60 in front of a crazed Breslin Center.

That single shot summed up the next step for Kaminski.

“It was an opportunity not only to show Coach the kind of person I am, but the whole world,” Kaminski said. “We played Ohio State on ESPN at 9 p.m. People across the nation saw it. It was an opportunity for me to come out and show I’m this type of person. I’m Kenny Kaminski. This is who I am.

“I’ve taken thousands and thousands of shots in my life. The shot that I took just happened to have a lot of pressure on it. You’re playing the No. 3 team in the country on ESPN and you’re No. 5. That’s a dream come true.

“My first dream was to become a Division I basketball player. My second dream was to make a big shot like that to impact a game. No question that was the biggest shot in my life. If I miss that shot we’re still down with a minute left.

“It was the turning point in the game. It was one of those deals where I knocked it down and was like, ‘Wow, I just made that.’ It was like it was in slow motion. I knew I was open. When I shot it, I felt like the ball was in the air for so long. When it went in, I was overwhelmed with emotion. The Breslin Center went crazy. It was probably the loudest I’ve heard it. The thing is it didn’t just affect me, it affected the whole team.”

With a home game Saturday against Minnesota for the 14-1 Spartans, who are riding a seven-game winning streak, Kaminski is ready to take the next step.

“Making that shot put my confidence through the roof,” Kaminski said. “I’ve always made big shots. In high school I did. In AAU I did, but now this is college.

“Coach always says in AAU, the mindset is always there’s another game. In college I only have 120 games left. There are very few times where I’ll play in a No. 3 vs. No. 5 team in the country scenario.

“Now, if Coach puts me in a game where I’m in a situation like that, I’m not hesitating at all. I’m taking that shot.”

Contact Brad Bournival at sports@medina-gazette.com.