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October 25, 2013Follow @miller_zack
MADISON, Wis. - In 2011, the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association (WIAA) boys basketball state championships at the Kohl Center served as then-sophomore Bronson Koenig's coming out party. The La Crosse, Wis., native led Aquinas High School with 15 points in the title game to capture his first state championship. Two years later, after missing a majority of the 2012 season due to injury, Koenig was back in the Kohl Center - this time with a motion W shaved into the back of his head - as he again led his team to a state championship, scoring 16 points.
This year, the Kohl Center and the Wisconsin faithful will be blessed with Koenig's presence for an entire season, not just a week in March.
The 2013 AP Wisconsin Player of the Year averaged 17.0 points and 4.4 assists per game while shooting 45 percent from 3-point range (40/88). It should come as no surprise that Koenig saw his fair share of offers from tradition-rich basketball programs.
Duke, North Carolina, and Virginia, among many others, all had offers on the table for the 73rd ranked prospect and 14th ranked point guard in the Rivals100, but after narrowing it down to North Carolina and Wisconsin he decided to stay home in the Badger State.
"[University of North Carolina head basketball coach] [db]Roy Williams[/db] was good to him and North Carolina has had a lot of success in the past," Aquinas High School head basketball coach Rick Schneider said in a phone interview. "I think [Bronson] ultimately chose Wisconsin because it was in state and he was going to a school where the fans knew who he was and they were going to rally behind him if he stayed in state."
For Koenig, growing up a Badger fan and having Madison listed as one of his favorite cities was reason enough. "I've loved the Badgers my whole life," he said.
After committing, Koenig set his goals and vision for what he and the university could accomplish together.
"Once he made up his mind it was time to get down to business," Schneider said. "He's got a goal of consistently being a threat to win a national championship. I know that's something he talked about with me and he thought it would be awesome him for him to help the university that represents his home state get to that level."
Teams that have national championship aspirations need to take care of the ball, play defense, and score points; three things Koenig excels at.
The first day Koenig put on the Aquinas jersey, coach Schneider knew that he had himself a special talent.
"His first game was his freshman year and he was starting at point guard," Schneider explained. "We were playing a really good team from Minneapolis that ended up going undefeated and winning the state tournament that year and they were giving us all of these different looks defensively whether it was a half-court press, full-court press, zone, man, you name it. Bronson didn't turn the ball over once. As a freshman. In his first game."
"He was able to manage the game and take care of the ball, even if he body wasn't as physically mature as the other guys, because his skill level allowed him to do so," Schneider added.
From that moment on, teams were hesitant to show any kind of pressure against Koenig and Aquinas because they knew that if they left one man open, Bronson would find him for an easy score. As a coach, Schneider found that Koenig's presence on the court allowed for him to call set plays where the 6-foot-2 guard would be given the option of whether to shoot or pass.
"We put him in positions on the court where the defense would have to make a decision," Schneider said. "Because of his passing ability, if they defend it one way then Bronson will score; if they defend it another way then Bronson is going to make sure his teammate gets a layup. He's just so good at passing that if he wants a teammate to score 20 points, then that teammate will score 20 points."
Of course, Division 1 college basketball is a little bit more of a challenge than Division 3 high school basketball, but Koenig is determined to come in and make a splash right away - even if playing time is hard to come by at first.
"As a player you always have to be confident that you'll get in," Koenig said. "We're a team and we're going to help to make each other better because that elevates the level of competition." A big smile came across Koenig's face at just the thought of competition - one of Koenig's favorite hobbies.
A competitive and crowded backcourt for the Badgers this year (nine of the 17 players on the rosters are listed as guards) will pose a different kind of challenge.
Starting every game of his high school career when healthy, Koenig is not used to a bench role and while it remains to be seen to what extent Wisconsin head coach Bo Ryan uses him, there is a high probability that Koenig will be on the bench to start games. His mentality, however, is not one of a complacent, relaxed 18-year old.
Schneider has been coaching Koenig since he was 14 years old and he is confident that he knows how Koenig will react in such a situation.
"He is going to try and prove every single day that he's better than the guy in front of him," Schneider said. "In doing so, however, he will always act with respect and class and always have an understanding if he's not getting the minutes that he wants."
Watching from the bench due to his injury the second half of junior year, Schneider believes, has prepared Koenig for this situation. Once he's out there, there is no denying he can play - especially in the Wisconsin system.
"I think I fit the system here very well," Koenig said. "Passing, hitting an open shot, getting in gaps and kicking it to the open man are all strengths of mine and I feel like coach Ryan's system plays to that."
For a player who has, as Schneider described, sucked the air out of the Kohl Center with jaw-dropping passes and shots a few times in his high school career, one can expect some spectacular plays from Koenig over the next few seasons. And if all goes according to Koenig's plan, there could be a national championship banner in the Kohl Center before it's all said and done.
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