They have played only a handful of high school varsity basketball games, but freshmen Bronson Koenig and Matt Thomas have already showed that they belong.
The 6-foot-1 Koenig, a point guard averaging 13.5 points per game, has already had a 22-point game for Aquinas, which is 2-2 and owns MVC victories over Central and Holmen.
Thomas, a 5-9 guard who averages 10.8 ppg, scored 18 points in an Onalaska victory over Holmen, 16 in a two-point loss to Eau Claire Memorial and is a big part of the Hilltoppers' 5-1 start.
Here's a look at what makes these two players major contributors in their first varsity seasons:
Aquinas' Bronson Koenig
Koenig's list of stops on his AAU schedule reads like a dream road trip. Indiana. Ohio. Las Vegas. And then there's Koenig personal favorite, Disney Wide World of Sports in Orlando, Fla.
Somehow, the thought of earning a spot in Aquinas' starting lineup as a 14-year-old and playing in front of 1,200 spectators at Central's Mark Sutton Memorial Gymnasium, as Koenig did earlier this month, doesn't seem so difficult, does it?
"This is the first year I've had a freshman up on varsity. It's because Bronson has played a lot of basketball," Aquinas coach Rick Schneider said. "He's confident in any situation."
Taking the lead role in Aquinas' 47-45 MVC win over Holmen on Dec. 14 - he scored 15 of his game-high 22 points in the second half - came easy for Koenig. The worst part for him always comes before the opening tip.
"I'm pretty nervous before a game," said Koenig, who estimates he's played more than 1,000 games since he was 5 years old. "But during warm-ups I get used to being (on the court) and then I calm down."
So what does it take to become a good passer? Koenig says he relies a lot on his instinct. Having good court vision is a must, as is simply knowing where his teammates are at all times.
Schneider has been impressed with Koenig's ability to anticipate what is about to happen. He knows the better Koenig and his teammates play together, they also will get a good feel for what he does.
"If one of Bronson's teammates is open, then he's got to be ready to catch the ball," Schneider said. "Otherwise it's going to hit him in the face."
Clutch at the line
It didn't matter that there were no prizes at stake. Koenig simply was having a good time.
Koenig made 109 consecutive free throws at Riverfest this past summer. He drained one of two foul shots with 5 seconds left in Aquinas' victory over Holmen. The thought of stepping to the foul line no matter what the situation doesn't faze Koenig in the least.
"I practice my free-throw shooting a lot," Koenig said. "I envision the ball going into the hoop."
Schneider is happy knowing Koenig is comfortable at the line.
"Bronson is our point guard, and he's going to have the ball in his hands a lot at the end of games," Schneider said. "We need him to knock down his free throws."
Onalaska's Matt Thomas
Thomas is a kid who started shooting from the outside as soon as he picked up a basketball. "I was shooting 3s up there right away," he said when talking about playing as a fifth- and sixth-grader.
His biggest game to date is a 16-point effort in a 59-57 loss at Eau Claire Memorial.
Thomas, who made three 3-pointers in a 42-38 victory over Central, fine-tuned his outside shooting touch through repetition, repetition and more repetition.
"You can see that he's a kid who puts a lot of time into his game," Central coach Todd Fergot said. "That's what you have to do to become a great shooter."
Thomas said his days in the offseason are filled with basketball, whether it's playing by himself or with others.
"I don't keep track (of the number of shots)," Thomas said, "but I try to get out there for one or two hours and get as many shots as I can."
Thomas is joining a team for which he doesn't have to be the
The Hilltoppers were one victory away from qualifying for the WIAA Division 2 state tournament last year and return just about everyone from that team.
Thomas has the chance to find his role instead of having it thrust upon him. Senior Tyler Adams is good at getting the ball in the right hands at the right time, and that will help, too.
He also has the benefit of having a teammate like 6-foot-8 sophomore Nick Arenz, who was the freshman buzz of the Coulee Region a year ago.
"He told me not to worry too much if I go through a tough time," Thomas said of Arenz. "The next game can always be better."
Expect Thomas to make his biggest impact this season as a shooter, but Onalaska coach Craig Kowal sees a complete player when he looks at his freshman.
"He plays pretty good defense, and he can get some rebounds," Kowal said. "Once he matures a little bit physically, he'll be able to get to the rim more and be more of a slashing threat in addition to being a good shooter."
Thomas led the Hilltoppers with five rebounds in a 33-32 victory over La Crescent, and he's done pretty well in Onalaska's man-to-man defense. He moves well without the ball, and adapts to situations well already.
Thomas also isn't rattled by big situations. He made a big 3-pointer that snapped a tie at the end of the third quarter in the Central game and made a key jump shot with a hand in his face during the fourth quarter of the La Crescent game.