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All-Tribune boys basketball: La Crosse Central's Kobe King named player of the year

Central senior Kobe King absorbs contact and makes a layup during the Red Raiders’ 55-53 WIAA Division 2 championship victory over Cedarburg at the Kohl Center in Madison.

The push to win a WIAA Division 2 state boys basketball championship consumed Kobe King during the winter months.

But it never showed, of course.

All anyone really ever saw from the Central High School senior star were smiles and a cool demeanor. They revealed nothing but enjoyment of the moments and the atmosphere that followed King each time he and the Red Raiders (26-2) played.

That bubbly personality was his calling card. Well, that and all of the dunks, rebounds, blocked shots and no-look passes that brought big crowds in every MVC building and sent them into a frenzy several times each game.

It endeared him to the kids who lined up to watch him and try to get a picture or autograph or word with him after games, and it earned the respect of adults who stood with them because anyone who wanted time with King got it.

“You have to have fun doing this,” King said while Central was involved with a WIAA playoff run that resulted in the program’s first state title in 92 years. “It’s basketball.”

The way he played his favorite game made three organizations decide he was the best player in Wisconsin. It also made him the Tribune’s player of the year for the second time.

“He handles every situation he is in very well,” Central coach Todd Fergot said of King, a 6-foot-4 guard who scored 2,060 points during his Central career and averaged 27 points and 8.9 rebounds as a senior. “We know how well he can play basketball, but he is great with all of the outside stuff that comes with the success he’s had, too.”

King just might have captured the attention of the community like no other player before him. The Coulee Region has been blessed to have players like Scott Christopherson, Bronson Koenig and Matt Thomas come through it over the past decade, but the feeling of watching Central games the last two seasons has been unmatched.

Christopherson (Iowa State), Koenig (Wisconsin) and Thomas (Iowa State) went on to enjoy fantastic college careers. Christopherson played overseas, and Koenig and Thomas are exploring their professional options over the next couple of months.

King is the next player to follow in their footsteps when he heads to Madison to join Greg Gard and the Badgers in about 60 days.

“(Future teammate) Brad Davison told me today that we go to Madison in 62 days,” King said Friday. “That’s crazy, but I’m very excited about it.”

King is excited about the next chapter because he is proud to be part of a recruiting class that includes the 6-3 guard Davison (Maple Grove, Minn.) and 6-10 forward Nate Reuvers (Lakeville North, Minn.).

King was AP Player of the Year and Mr. Basketball, and Davison and Reuvers were both AP All-State first-teamers and finalists in the choice for Mr. Basketball in Minnesota.

Davison scored 39 points in a Maple Grove win over Milwaukee Riverside in the Midwest Players Classic at the La Crosse Center in 2016. King had 49 points and 11 rebounds and Reuvers 33 points and eight boards when Lakeville North beat Central 98-83 in January.

Those three players will try to make as much of an impact as the senior group that is exiting the program after qualifying for four Sweet 16s, two Final Fours and one national championship game.

The landscape in Madison has changed even from what that trio expected over the last couple of weeks. Associate head coach Lamont Paris was hired the first week of April to lead Tennessee-Chattanooga, and senior guard Jordan Hill announced last week that he wouldn’t return to the team.

King said he expected Paris to get a chance to coach his own team at some point and that Hill could have provided leadership to what will be a very young team, but that life goes on.

“It’s another open spot,” King said of Hill’s departure. “I don’t know him like I do some of the other players like Brevin (Pritzl) and D’Mitrik (Trice), but I was looking forward to playing with him.”

King will become more of a pure guard when he becomes a Badger, too. His athleticism allowed him to play much bigger in high school, but that will change when joining the rugged Big Ten Conference.

He prepared for that by working on his jump shot, which rarely failed him, especially as a senior. The fact that he shot 61.8 percent overall can mostly be attributed to King’s ability in the paint, but he also shot 45.3 percent (39-for-86) from the 3-point line and was consistent with shots taken from mid-range.

“I’ve always been a guard, so those are the kinds of things I can bring to the team,” said King, who played in one all-star game last weekend in Illinois and will play in another at the Kohl Center in June. “But I was able to play bigger at Central, and I should be able to use that and go to my post moves when I’m matched up with a smaller player.”

That is King’s future.

His present is still spreading the positive word of what he and his teammates accomplished in March around La Crosse. King has visited elementary and middle schools — sometimes with teammates, sometimes alone — to talk not just about basketball, but building desirable lives.

King was one of those kids not too long ago, and he said making the right choices wasn’t always so easy.

“I talk about things I’ve done wrong and things I’ve done right,” he said. “They mostly know me through basketball, but it’s a chance to talk about what to do and what not to do in situations they face.”

One thing he showed all of them last week was selecting Central’s adapted sports league to receive the $1,000 grant he was awarded for being named the state’s player of the year by Gatorade. The league offers athletic opportunities to students with physical disabilities or visual impairments.

The conversations at schools give King a chance to relive his past a bit, too, and that’s why he was the last one to leave the gym after many of the games he played as a junior and senior. Anyone who wanted a moment with him got a moment with him. He remembers being one of those kids and looking up to the players to who were local stars at that time.

“I loved the Central teams and watching Louis McGuire and Sawyer (Smith), but I really liked watching Matt (Thomas), especially his junior and senior years,” King said. “What I liked about Matt and Bronson, too, was that they were really good, but they were also quiet.

“They just played. They never let anything affect them. They just competed hard and won a lot of games because of that, and that’s what I’ve tried to do at Central.”

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