CLEVELAND — Kenny Kaminski knows better than most that nothing is guaranteed in the world of Division I college basketball.
A former top 100 recruit, Kaminski signed with Michigan State out of high school. What followed were two-plus years of dealing with injury, surgery, living in a fishbowl and clashing with a legendary head coach.
He was labeled as a problem, told was he dismissed from the program after he already quit the Spartans, and had his character questioned by coaches, fans and journalists.
Yeah, he was cynical.
And yet, three years later he was grinning and blushing like a freshman after his first big game. It wasn’t redemption, that came long before and away from the bright lights and a breathless calls of action on the basketball floor, but it still felt good.
Kenny Kaminski knows no one ‘deserves’ a March moment, but god damn if he wasn’t going to enjoy it when it happened.
Kaminski hit the game-winner for Ohio, with a hair less than eight seconds left, as the Bobcats’ survived Toledo — 67-66 — in a 2017 MAC Tournament quarterfinal in the Q on Thursday night.
He’d been told for years to ‘Trust the process’ even when the process felt wrong. Now Kaminski is a believer.
In Athens — with the Bobcats, with Saul Phillips, with a new best friend and a marriage in the works — Kaminski found his love of the game again. And it shone like a beacon thanks to a mid-range jumper to kept Ohio’s season alive for one more day at least.
“It’s always been preached to me to trust the process. For a long time there I didn’t really believe in myself, at one point in my career, and when I came to Ohio everything changed for me,” Kaminski said on the podium, after he hit the biggest shot of his Bobcat career.
“I’ve got a big passion for the game again, and everything for me has really taken off,” he added. “It’s pretty cool to be able to be able to be put in a situation like that and get the outcome that we did.
“It’s really just trust the process and just truly believe in myself.”
Before he believed in himself, Kaminski believed in Jaaron Simmons. He didn’t trust the process, but he trusted his old AAU teammate.
When Kaminski left Michigan State, Simmons was on his phone immediately. He sold Kaminski on being a Bobcat more than anyone else in the program.
Kaminski didn’t meet then newly minted head coach Saul Phillips. He didn’t visit the campus. He didn’t tour the Convo.
He trusted his friend, came to Athens and never looked back.
“Jaaron recruited Kenny, I didn’t,” Phillips said earlier this season. “I mean that in a positive way. Kenny’s here because of Jaaron.”
Kaminski has since found a million other reasons why the decision was the right one for him. But that initial instict came to the forefront again on Thursday.
With the Bobcats’ season on the line — they trailed by one with seconds remaining — Kaminski asked Simmons to trust him when the time came.
Kaminski did it earlier this season at Buffalo, where he hit another game-winner. He delivered again on a bigger stage.
“Kenny told me coming out of the timeout, he said ‘If you give me the ball, I’ll hit this shot,’” Simmons explained. “And he told me that once before at Buffalo, and he obviously didn’t lie to me.”
Kaminski believes in truth-telling now, to himself, to and from others. He made a promise three years ago, and he aims to keep it — just like he did with Simmons on Thursday.
Phillips knows his team in short-handed because of injuries. But trust? The Bobcats have that in spades, and sometimes that’s enough.
“Jaaron and I came in three years ago with a dream. We had promised each other that we’re going to do everything we possibly can to get this group of guys in the NCAA Tournament,” Kaminski said.
Later, in the same hallway where he and Simmons were holding court, Kaminski reflected on that promise again. Ohio may or may not win a spot in the Dance, but he’s glad to find out with the guys in his locker room.
“I’ve learned a lot. This team has learned a lot this year,” he said. “You trust your guys. You trust the process.
“Believe in your leadership.”
Jaaron Simmons has 199 assists on the season. With one more, he’ll become just the second player in Bobcat history to have 200 or more assists in multiple seasons. The other is D.J. Cooper. …Ohio is 41-29 all-time in the MAC Tournament, and will playing in the semifinals for the fifth time in the last six years. The Bobcats are 2-2 in the last four semifinal appearances, but have dropped each of their last two semifinal games (Buffalo in 2016, Akron in 2014). …With Thursday’s win, the Bobcats improved to 6-1 all-time against Toledo in the MAC Tournament. …Ohio will play Kent State for the fifth time in the semifinal round on Friday night. KSU is 3-1 in the four previous meetings. Ohio’s only win against KSU in the semifinal round came in 1985. …Ohio has reached the 20-win mark for the second year in a row and the eight time since 2004-05.