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Frank Kaminsky photo

Frank Kaminsky was the consensus national player of the year as a senior in 2014-15, when he led the Badgers the NCAA title game.


Frank Kaminsky thought he was in trouble.

Why else would the former University of Wisconsin men’s basketball standout be receiving a phone call from UW senior associate athletic director Justin Doherty?

“I was like, ‘Did I do something wrong?’ ” Kaminsky said.

Just the opposite, actually. Doherty told Kaminsky he was joined on speaker phone by UW athletic director Barry Alvarez, who wanted to share the news that the department was going to honor Kaminsky by hanging his No. 44 jersey from the rafters at the Kohl Center.

That ceremony will take place at halftime Thursday night when the Badgers (11-16, 4-10 Big Ten Conference) host No. 6 Purdue (23-4, 12-2). Tipoff is at 6 p.m., but fans are encouraged to arrive in their seats by 5:40 for a pregame 3D court projection.

“I honestly didn’t know what to say,” Kaminsky said. “It was like a shock. I kind of expected and hoped that it would happen one day, but I’m 24 and I graduated 2½ years ago, so it’s kind of happened fast.”

It was Doherty who approached Alvarez last fall with the idea of honoring Kaminsky. The only other men’s basketball number honored by UW is the No. 8 worn by the late Albert “Ab” Nicholas, a two-time first-team All-Big Ten pick in the 1950s who became a prominent booster.

Kaminsky was the star on back-to-back Final Four teams. He was the consensus national player of the year as a senior in 2014-15, collecting the Wooden Award, Naismith Trophy and Oscar Robertson Trophy while helping lead the Badgers within one victory of a national title.

“No pun intended,” Doherty said, “he’s a slam dunk.”

Alvarez thought so, too, calling the decision to honor Kaminsky “a no-brainer.” Ultimately, it’s Alvarez’s call on such matters.

“We have talked about it as a policy. We’ve thrown it around. We have some things written,” Alvarez said. “But I just think, I didn’t want to make this more than what it was. He’s more than deserving. He was the player of the year in the country. And I just felt like I could make that call.”

To be clear, the No. 44 is not being retired. The six retired numbers in the football program — No. 33 (Ron Dayne), No. 35 (Alan Ameche), No. 40 (Elroy Hirsch), No. 80 (Dave Schreiner), No. 83 (Allen Shafer) and No. 88 (Pat Richter) — all have been taken out of circulation.

But that’s not the case with the men’s basketball program. If a prospect wants to wear No. 44 with the Badgers, he’ll be allowed to do so.

“It better be a damn good player,” Kaminsky said, tongue planted firmly in cheek, “that’s all I’ve got to say.”

Alvarez understands this will stir debate about whether it’s time to honor other great athletes, in men’s basketball and other sports.

“Some other names have been moved forward to me and at the right time we’ll take a look at those,” Alvarez said. “But right now, we’re going to do the one.

“Every once in a while, someone will bring a name forward. I’m open to it. I don’t want to sit here and start wholesale retiring jerseys.”

The decision to honor Kaminsky was an easy one, Alvarez said, so it was just a matter of working out the logistics. Thursday worked because Kaminsky, in his third season with the Charlotte Hornets, is off for the NBA All-Star break.

Alvarez said he could hear in Kaminsky’s voice back when they talked in the fall that he was fired up about being honored by his alma mater.

“It’s a great story,” Alvarez said. “It’s classic of a lot of our athletes, where they came in and they weren’t five stars, they weren’t the highest recruited, and they turned into five stars, they turned into All-Americans through hard work.

“And then the accomplishments of the team. I think that all goes together. Frank’s not the player of the year unless they had the type of year that they had.”