Koenig poised to step into bigger role for No. 17 Wisconsin
MADISON, Wis. (AP) Growing up, Bronson Koenig and his father would watch videos of some of the NBA's best point guards, like Pete Maravich and Jason Kidd.
Those film sessions must have rubbed off on the floor general for No. 17 Wisconsin.
A proven ball-handler who has played key roles on teams that went to consecutive Final Fours, Koenig is poised to take an expanded role when the Badgers open the season on Friday night against Western Illinois.
With headliners Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker gone, along with trusted seniors Josh Gasser, Traevon Jackson and Duje Dukan, Koenig will join forward Nigel Hayes as the new leaders of the Badgers.
''Stepping into that leader role,'' teammate Zak Showalter said when asked how Koenig has improved since last season. ''He was one of the best players on the court without having to be a leader. He's the best player on the court as a leader.''
Koenig is part flash and dash, part reliable veteran.
He was a key reserve as a freshman, averaging 15 minutes over 37 games. Last season, the junior handled the pressure of taking over the starting point guard job for the final 24 games after Jackson got hurt. Koenig averaged 11.5 points as a starter and shot 40 percent from 3-point range overall.
''He's ready for it,'' coach Bo Ryan said. ''We're just looking for him to stay healthy and keep working in that leadership role. That goes by the way he plays and the way he talks - because he doesn't talk much.''
Koenig made his statements more with his play his first two seasons. There was no need to speak up much with so many older veterans.
''I've pretty much always been able to pass the ball of instincts, just a natural playmaker,'' Koenig said. With his father, he would watch the way Maravich and Kidd would dish no-look passes.
With top scoring options Kaminsky and Dekker gone, Koenig and Hayes will get the ball more as the team's most proven scorers.
''He'll have opportunities to score more this year ... and I've never seen a guy that didn't welcome that,'' Ryan said. ''The ball is going to be in his hands.''
Ideally, Koenig would probably play about 30 to 35 minutes a game, after going about 28 minutes a game last season.
''He's smart. If he's tired he gets himself'' out, assistant coach Gary Close said. ''He's used to playing a lot of minutes. I don't think it'll be a big adjustment.''
Unlike last year, there is no proven backup, which is the role that Koenig had until Jackson got hurt.
The backup job might go to sophomore Jordan Hill, who redshirted last season; or Riley Dearring. It seems that they both have some more work to do.
''He and Riley have really struggled in the strength department. They need to get a little more rugged, tougher to knock off their balance,'' Ryan said after practice Thursday evening.
Showalter, a junior who came off the bench last year, is slated to start at shooting guard, but appears to be the top option for now to run the point if Koenig needs a breather.
It's a role similar to the one Gasser had last season.
''He's a tough one to replace,'' Showalter said of Gasser. ''If I could do some of the things that he did, I would be pretty happy with myself.''
AP freelance writer Dennis Semrau contributed to this story.
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