Tag Archives: Wisconsin

Bronson Koenig’s Uphill Climb

25 Jun

Originally published on Seth’s Draft House (ran by @SethDavisHoops)

Even Bronson Koenig calls himself “underrated.”

That might seem like a bit of an exaggeration for a guy who won a pair of Wisconsin state championships in high school, was a McDonald’s All-American nominee and four-star recruit, and presided over a Wisconsin Badgers team that reached two Final Fours and never bowed out of the NCAA Tournament before the Sweet Sixteen.

But the NBA Draft can be a cruel mistress for a player like Koenig, as combine measurements and subjective evaluations often matter more than college win-loss records. Neither last year’s No. 1 pick (Ben Simmons) nor this year’s expected top pick (Markelle Fultz) played on teams that even made the NCAA Tournament in their lone college seasons.

“The draft is about potential and all that stuff,” Koenig said in a phone interview while heading to Los Angeles International Airport on Monday night for his final workout of the pre-draft process, one with the Golden State Warriors. “But I know I’m a basketball player and a gamer. I win games and I have a high basketball IQ.”

No one who watched Koenig at Wisconsin would doubt those assertions. He missed just one game his entire college career and was a vital part of the Badgers’ back-to-back Final Four trips in the 2013–14 and 2014–15 seasons.

He blossomed individually as a junior and senior, even as his team came back to the pack in the Big Ten and went through the sudden resignation of longtime coach Bo Ryan. Koenig, along with fellow recently graduated seniors Nigel Hayes and Zak Showalter, was able to help the Badgers stay afloat in an improving Big Ten after losing Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker from the team that nearly won a national championship.

But like many other high-performing college point guards, such as Villanova’s Kris Jenkins, Koenig hasn’t been lighting up mock drafts. For what it’s worth, he says he’s never even looked at one. And being overlooked is nothing new for the La Crosse, Wisconsin native.

“My whole life, I’ve been underestimated and not ranked as high as I should have been,” Koenig said. “It doesn’t even affect me anymore.”

Koenig’s profile grew while he was in college for reasons beyond his performance on the court. As a member of the Ho-Chunk Nation of Native Americans, Koenig has been vocal in his disapproval of the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline, a cause he joined in protest at the end of 2016. When your livelihood is threatened, a slight in draft prognostications doesn’t seem so bad.

Whether it’s due to concerns with age (Koenig is 22 while projected top pick Markelle Fultz is just 19) or simply worries about a lack of athleticism, Koenig is not expected to be selected with one of the draft’s 60 picks. Draft Express only has him as the 43rd-best prospect in the Big Ten alone, on a list with current underclassmen who might be years away from being selected.

Still, NBA teams have shown a lot of interest in Koenig, who spent last summer in Los Angeles working out with celebrity trainer Corey Calliat, who helped devise actor Michael B. Jordan’s workout regimen for his role in Creed. Koenig attributes his decision to mostly work out by himself, as opposed to with other players, for the strides he made as a senior.

“Before last summer, I never worked out with a trainer in my whole life,” Koenig said. “Spending time on your own helps you a lot. From last summer to this season, I thought I made big strides…A lot of these guys work out in the big basketball factories and don’t get enough individual instruction. That’s kind of why I like to work with my own guy.”

Koenig is still recovering from a calf injury suffered in a workout with the Rockets that forced him to skip a meeting with the Lakers. But nothing was going to stop him from working out for Golden State, a team he says has a playing style that fits well with his own.

The 22-year-old got hurt in both the Portsmouth Invitational (“Second game there, I dunked and hurt my ankle on the landing”) and his first NBA workout, one with the Bucks (“75 percent through, I rolled my ankle on a guy’s leg”) which he says limited his availability to work out for other teams.

The Warriors do not currently own a pick in the draft, but, if Tuesday’s deals are any indication, trades will be abound in the next couple of days. Still, it would be a definite surprise if Koenig hears his name called on Thursday. He’ll be watching the draft in Chicago with his agency, Edge Sports, which also represents Yogi Ferrell who, like Koenig, was a productive Big Ten point guard. Ferrell went undrafted, played with the Nets in Summer League and, after impressing in the D-League, got called up to Brooklyn. A month and a half later, the Mavericks came calling and eventually signed him to a multi-year deal.

If Koenig is to stick around in the NBA, he’ll likely follow a similar path to that of his former college opponent. But, right now, the D-League isn’t on Koenig’s mind, neither is the possibility of playing overseas. He thinks he’s good enough for the NBA.

“All I need is that one chance,” he said.