The moments Rick Schneider said he’ll remember most about Bronson Koenig aren’t during games.
They aren’t specifically from the state title run in 2011, or this year’s dash to the WIAA state tournament.
What the Aquinas High School boys basketball coach said he’ll remember most about his star player — maybe the best ever to come out of the school — and share with future classes is what Koenig did when he thought nobody was watching.
“There’s times that you’re in a gym, and you get done with a practice, or you get done with a workout, he might be the only one in the gym,” said Schneider, whose team plays Little Chute in a WIAA Division 3 state semifinal at 9:05 a.m. Friday at the Kohl Center in Madison. “And you’re watching him methodically go through his workout. You can see what he’s working on and how he’s working on it. You see him stop for a minute. You see him concentrate. Then you see him get back to work.
“I’ve really enjoyed that.”
That part of Koenig, Schneider said, has never changed. It didn’t change after Koenig’s freshman season, when the scrawny 14-year-old started his very first game on varsity. It didn’t change after Koenig won a state championship as a sophomore. It didn’t change after Koenig missed most of his junior season with an injury. It didn’t change after Koenig committed to or signed with the University of Wisconsin.
And it didn’t change after the beginning of this season, when Koenig was suspended for the first two weeks of the season and sat out two games.
“I just tried to prepare the best I can like I always do in practice and be an every day guy,” Koenig said. “Never take a day off. Try to work as hard as I can, for this season and the seasons to come at Wisconsin.”
So it should come as no surprise that it won’t change at all as Koenig and his Aquinas teammates look to win a second state title in three years. And Koenig, the only Badgers signee at the state tournament this weekend, isn’t putting any pressure on himself to please the Kohl Center faithful.
“I think the fans will be there to watch me and support me,” said Koenig, who averages 16.9 points and 4.4 assists per game for the fourth-ranked Blugolds (22-4). “I don’t feel much pressure. I’ve never not been confident in my skills and my point-guard ability.
“I feel I’ll be just fine.”
What to expect
There are only a handful of people who know what Koenig is going through.
One of them is Tim Jarmusz, a former Badgers starter who won back-to-back state titles in high school at Oshkosh West in 2006-07. He hadn’t yet committed to — or was offered a scholarship by — Wisconsin for the first state championship, but was signed for the second one his senior year.
“One of the biggest things you realize is that it’s one of the first times that the whole state can see you live on TV and on the Kohl Center floor,” said Jarmusz, who played in 122 games in his Badgers career, starting 48 times and averaging 2.8 ppg and 2.1 rpg. “It’s the first time they see what you can do when they know you’re a Badger recruit. You do think about it a little bit.”
The second time around, Jarmusz struggled. In quarterfinal and semifinal victories he was a combined 5-for-20 from the floor, missed all 10 3-point attempts and scored 15 points.
“You could blame that on a number of things,” Jarmusz said. “But once the state championship rolls around, you can’t hold anything back. You can’t be scared. You need to stay aggressive.”
In the championship game against Milwaukee Vincent, Jarmusz was 6-for-10 from the floor, made all four of his 3-point attempts and scored 25 points to lead Oshkosh West to a 50-43 victory.
“I know Bronson will do anything he can to lead his team to the title,” said Jarmusz, who played professionally for a year in Germany and won a league title before returning to a job in Oshkosh. “He’s that type of player.”
A unique relationship
Another good source of advice for Koenig comes from his girlfriend, former Eau Claire Regis star and current Vanderbilt University freshman Heather Bowe.
Koenig and Bowe met during the Bishop’s Cup Classic — a doubleheader featuring the Regis and Aquinas boys and girls basketball teams. At that time, Bowe had given a verbal commitment to then-coach Lisa Stone and Wisconsin.
“She was committed to Wisconsin before I even knew who she was,” Koenig said. “I remember hearing about her.
“And she was pretty good looking.”
The two began a long-distance relationship and stayed together after Bowe’s scholarship was pulled by new Wisconsin coach Bobbie Kelsey in the summer of 2011, even though Bowe led the Ramblers to the 2011 Division 4 state title with a dominating performance at the Kohl Center.
Bowe signed with Vanderbilt, choosing the SEC school over Marquette, and has averaged 6.4 points and 4.5 rebounds for the Commodores (19-10). This week, she was named to the All-SEC Freshman Team.
But Bowe and her Regis teammates missed out on a chance to repeat as state champions. Despite scoring 32 points and making a 3 at the buzzer to send the game into overtime, Regis lost to Oshkosh Lourdes 70-63 in a semifinal.
“She told me to never take anything for granted,” said Koenig, who talks with Bowe every day even though they are 13 hours apart and haven’t seen each other in 2½ months. “Have no regrets. Stay focused.”
And don’t think Koenig won’t hold it over his girlfriend’s head if he wins a second state title and she only has one.
“We’re very competitive,” Koenig said. “Everything we do is competitive. I like that.”
If there was a time for Koenig to put pressure on himself, it was early this season.
A suspension cost him his first game, and a violation of team rules cost him a second.
Without their senior point guard, the Blugolds lost to what turned out to be a very good Wisconsin Dells team that spent most of the season ranked No. 1 in Division 3 and narrowly beat Wisconsin Rapids on the road.
But when Koenig came back, he stepped right back into his leadership role and didn’t try to do anything that was out of the ordinary.
His teammates followed.
“He’s been a very good leader this year,” said senior wing Michael Conway, who knows a thing or two about leadership as the quarterback of the Aquinas football team and a preferred walk-on football recruit at the University of Minnesota. “And not just during games, but in practice, making sure everyone goes hard. He leads by example. When he’s out there, busting his butt, the least we can do is bust ours.”
Junior center Parker Weber said that Koenig has always stayed cool under pressure, and that resonates with the rest of the team.
“When we get our head in a different place, he’s been able to get us to focus on our goal,” Weber said.
Schneider hinted that perhaps Koenig missing half of last season with an injury helped his focus. There’s a sense of urgency about him this season, but there’s a sense of urgency for all seniors.
“Missing last year because of injury, there becomes a sense of appreciation,” Schneider said. “You begin to realize that you can get injured, and your days are numbered.
“He’s trying to take every day for what it is and enjoy it.”
Koenig’s days are indeed numbered. His last game in an Aquinas uniform will either be Friday against Little Chute or Saturday in the state championship game against Lodi or East Troy.
But what will his legacy be? If he does lead Aquinas to a second state title, he will be the only Blugold to play a major role on two WIAA state championship teams.
Considering the caliber of player Aquinas has produced in recent years, that’s pretty lofty territory.
“That would be pretty special to me,” Koenig said. “Considering all the good teams that have played here, it’s cool to think about.”
To Schneider, it will say a lot about the type of player — and person — Koenig has become.
“When you get into state games like this, it comes down to possessions,” Schneider said. “Who’s going to make the best decisions on both ends of the floor? I tell you what, I’ll take that kid any day of the week.
“He’s trying to do the right thing all the time. He’s turned into a great leader.”