If there was a time for Kobe King to suffer a knee injury, this was it.

The University of Wisconsin freshman said his left knee had been bothering him for weeks until he heard a pop while attempting a layup during a Dec. 8 practice.

AMBER ARNOLD, Wisconsin State Journal
Wisconsin Badgers guard Kobe King (23) prepares to move around Milwaukee Panthers guard Carson Warren-Newsome in a game at the Kohl Center in Madison on Nov. 24. King, who averaged 5.2 points and 1.4 rebounds in 10 games before a knee injury, had knee surgery on Monday.

Just like that, a nagging injury became a serious one for the Central High School graduate who led his team to a WIAA Division 2 state championship last March.

King’s season was over with what team medical staff is officially calling a “patellar injury.”

But the timing couldn’t have been better.

“If I had played one minute against Marquette the next day, I wouldn’t have been eligible for a (medical) redshirt,” King said during a telephone interview on Friday. “If it had to happen, this was a good time.”

While he is certainly eligible for the chance at getting a medical redshirt appear good, King cannot apply for one until the season concludes. He will find out if he gets one sometime in March or April.

For now, he will focus on rehabilitation with the hope of joining the team for practices in March.

“I don’t know if that will be possible or if they will just want me to sit out the rest of the season,” King said. “I’d like to get back on the court with the scout team or something, but I can’t say that will happen.”

King averaged 19 minutes per game as a true freshman, but his role was evolving before the injury. The 6-foot-4 guard averaged nearly 28 minutes over his last three games and said his comfort level was growing by the day.

“I was getting more comfortable,” he said. “Especially defensively, which is something I’ve worked hard at. It was good to get the experience I did get.”

King averaged 5.2 points and 1.4 rebounds while shooting 45.7 percent from the field (21-for-46) and 33.3 percent from the 3-point line (7-for-21). He averaged 6.7 points and 2.7 rebounds in his last three games.

But before the Badgers faced off with Marquette on Dec. 9, the experience was over.

“We had a game that (Friday) night,” Central coach Todd Fergot said. “His mom, Julie, was there and came down to tell us there was a little problem, and he heard a pop (in his knee) while practicing.

“It was disappointing because he was getting more minutes, and I know how hard it is for him not to be on the court.”

King will move as quickly — yet cautiously — as he can to get back there.

He spent one night in the hospital while undergoing a one-hour surgery to repair the knee Monday and walks now with a brace. King will resume upper body workouts soon if he hasn’t already on some level.

King hasn’t been sidelined often in his career. He injured his wrist badly during the Division 2 state tournament his junior season at Central and encountered trouble when returning too soon to accommodate his AAU schedule.

With the redshirt season already secured, King has nothing to rush back for this time. If he is able to practice at the end of the season, it will be a bonus.

He will concentrate on rehabilitation and staying connected with his teammates. King thinks the connection among those on such a young team — nine players on the roster are freshmen and sophomores — is essential for future success, so he’ll spend as much time as possible with it.

Before he’s able to return to the Badgers’ bench, King watches games on television and learns from a new perspective. He watched part of a blowout loss from his hospital room before catching the end of the game at the Kohl Center. He cheered from his dorm room when the team came back to beat Western Kentucky four days later.

“It’s difficult to watch, but there a lot of things that are easier to pick out by watching instead of playing,” King said. “I can see a lot of the things coach (Greg) Gard is talking about like getting over screens and things like that.

“It’s definitely a different look at the game.”

In addition to some of the nuances, King has watched the continued progress of players from his recruiting class. He formed a tight bond with Brad Davison (Maple Grove, Minn.) and Nate Reuvers (Lakeville, Minn.) while be courted by the Badgers, and all three entered the program with high hopes of playing time as freshmen.

Davison moved into the starting lineup for the fifth game of the season and has remained there. Reuvers appeared headed to a redshirt season before that plan changed a couple of games after Davison became a starter.

Davison is averaging 11.3 points, 1.9 rebounds, 1.9 assists and 1.8 steals per game and has established himself as a leader despite his status as a freshman. Reuvers is averaging 4.3 points and 3.3 rebounds.

“It’s fun to watch and see how they grow,” King said. “Nate has grown a lot in practice, and Brad is out there taking charges all the time.

“Brad is a natural-born leader, and I think some of it is from being a(n) (All-State) quarterback in high school. He brings that to the court, and the guys on the team respect it.”

King was earning his share of respect, too, before the injury. Those close to him don’t think it will take him long to get back on the path to success.

Fergot believes King will come back better than ever, and King agrees.

“There are different ways to approach rehab,” said former Central teammate and current Kirkwood Community College (Iowa) guard Bailey Kale. “Some guys attack it, and I think he’ll be one of those guys.”


Photos: Kobe King at La Crosse Central High School

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