The name Frank Stanley Kaminsky may conjure images of an Illinois state trooper, but make no mistake: Kaminsky, last year’s consensus college player of the year and a rising rookie with the Charlotte Hornets, is a self-proclaimed “Big Weirdo” to the umpteenth power. After all, how many of his teammates can boast of having linoleum-smooth dance moves, or picture themselves as a tree, or maintain an endearingly earnest blog, or delayed the start of their NBA career because college was just too gosh-darn fun? Oh, and did we mention he can dance?
But what really sets this rookie apart from the legions of basketball novelty acts (hello, Swaggy P) is that Kaminsky – an 84-inch conjunction of heady playmaking and staunch defense – may perhaps be the purest distillation of what it means to be a big man in the modern NBA. Unlike the delightful celebratory stylings of the Monmouth bench or that destructive performance art piece called Matt Barnes, Kaminsky has the potential to shift from sideshow to centerpiece, from meme to star, from Crying Jordan to Michael Jordan.
But for now, Kaminsky is still just a rookie, one weighted with the onus of living up to the sizeable expectations that accompany being a lottery pick and one of the best players in the University of Wisconsin’s lengthy history. Still, by all appearances, he is unfazed. Last week, he took time during a busy West Coast road trip (and an impromptu trip to Sundance) to talk about his adjustment to the NBA, Bo Ryan’s Big Weirdo bona-fides, his love of Chipotle and the importance of being himself.
You’re on your way to Sundance? What movies are you going to see?
Oh, I don’t know yet. We’re kind of winging it; we’re just going out there and then we’re going to figure it out from there.
Has it been difficult adjusting to the NBA’s travel schedule?
It can be difficult. For me, I have never been to most of these cities before, so I don’t really know what to expect. I don’t really know what’s there to eat, besides what I can look up on my phone and walk to. You just find people that you want to hang out with. Especially as a rookie, you find the older guys that show you the ropes, show you things to do and what they know. They kind of bring you along because being a rookie can be kind of a tough process, going to all these new places for the first time.
Who on the team would you say is your best friend?
Spencer [Hawes]. His vets passed down certain values to him, and he’s passed down those values to me. The biggest thing that I have learned so far is just to forget. There are so many games and so many things that can happen, so you can’t let things drag on throughout the season, or else you can bury yourself and bad things can happen.
I saw on Twitter that you refer to Kemba Walker as ‘Dad.’ Do you call him that to his face?
Yeah, I always call him “Dad.” One day in the locker room, someone joked, “You have to call Kemba ‘Dad’ from now on.” So I did. He says that I’m his favorite white guy now, so that’s a positive and I take great pride in that.
But now that you’ve started to play a bigger role on the team, isn’t it awkward to have to call your point guard ‘Dad’?
Not really. That’s my kind of personality though. You know, I’m weird and I’m going to stick with the weird things that I do. I’m not changing. Regardless of if I’m playing or if I’m not playing, I’m just going to be myself. I always try to be myself in every situation; I don’t try to be somebody or something that I am not. It’s worked so far, so I’m going to continue to do it.
You are an unabashedly goofy guy, but was it uncomfortable at first to be such an eccentric rookie?
I don’t have too much of a problem being myself. I think that it was a little different for some people at first, but now they just understand that I am just a big weirdo. It’s been easier and easier for everyone to understand me.
So were people surprised at first when you started dancing and cracking jokes?
Yeah! Specifically, with that dance thing in China. The veterans were trying to get all the rookies and the training camp guys to do something that they thought would be embarrassing for us, so they told us that we were going to have to do a dance routine. And, as you probably were able to tell, I was pumped. I think everybody was a little bit shocked about how excited I was to do it.
Both Bo Ryan and Steve Clifford have reputations for being disciplinarians. Was there ever any tension between you and either of them?
They are not always the same way off the court as they are on the court. On the court, both coaches are very strict. They have their demands and they have their things that they want you to do all the time, and if you don’t do them, you’re going to get an earful about it. But off the court, they are both great guys and I don’t have a problem being myself around them.
Would you say that Bo Ryan is also a Big Weirdo?
Um…he could be. He definitely has a sense of humor that I didn’t know he had, which came out as we went further and further in the tournament each year. So, you know, we called him “Pops” and he kind of embraced that role for us and he kind of reflected how goofy our team was in his media stuff and the things that he was doing, too. He made it a lot more fun.
What are the biggest adjustments that you have made to your game this year?
I think that I have proven here that my offensive game could translate to the NBA. I think that I’m starting to pick up things on the defensive end that I didn’t know before. I had to pretty much learn brand new things and really had to go out there on the court. It has been a long process so far, but I think that I’m doing well with it.
At Wisconsin, you were the team’s focal point. How has it been adapting to a smaller role in the NBA?
I expected this. I didn’t think that I was going to come in and make any major change to any team right away. I knew that it would take some time for me to learn the ropes and learn some things about the NBA. Obviously, we have some really great players on our team who have done a lot in their careers.
The Hornets have a very young core of players. Do you think that this team has the potential to be a contender – not just this year, but for many seasons to come?
Yeah, I think that there definitely is that possibility. Each year, guys can get better and better. We have a young team. We have guys that are willing to improve and you never know what can happen in terms of player development and how things go. It’ll be interesting to see how things work out in the future.
Growing up in Chicago, you were a big Michael Jordan fan. What is it like to play for him now?
It’s weird sometimes to walk in and see one of your favorite players – personally, my favorite player of all time – just sitting there in the training room or the locker room. It’s interesting. He definitely knows so much about the game and can pass on so much of his knowledge to us, but he also lets his staff and his people that he hired really do their jobs. He tries to just help us whenever he thinks we need help.
On a personal level, are you close with him? Like, are you friends with him on Facebook? Have you ever sent him a Snap?
Oh, no. It’s nothing like that. We have a pretty professional relationship.
You’re also a famously passionate Chipotle supporter. What is it exactly that you love so much about it?
I love how it’s quick, good, filling and not that expensive. I’m always going to support it. The E. coli thing is definitely not going to scare me. If I’m going to get E. coli from something that I really like eating, then it’s just something that is going to happen. If it makes me sick – so be it.