MADISON, Wis. — Everything changed for Bronson Koenig this summer.
Wisconsin’s senior guard from from La Crosse, Wis., found his voice and used it to speak out against the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline, both on social media and in person during a trip to North Dakota. He supported protesters and held a children’s basketball clinic.
All while managing to reinvent himself physically, by the way.
Koenig — who has been named to the Bob Cousy Award watch list for the nation’s top point guard — put himself through, as he called them, “the toughest workouts of my life” with celebrity trainer Corey Calliet in Los Angeles. He’s the fastest and strongest he has ever been, according to his teammates.
At Wisconsin’s basketball media day Monday, Koenig fielded questions from reporters about everything from social activism to extra activity in the gym leading into his final season with the Badgers:
Q. Coach (Greg) Gard said to trust the process to you players when he took over at head coach. You’re probably the ultimate (example) of “trust the process” after starting three years ago and now you’re in your fourth year.
Koenig: Yeah, that saying still holds true today and we’re just taking it day by day. Last year was a year full of adversity with the coaching change and all that kind of stuff. Like you said, we trust the process and we improved throughout the season and I think we’re doing that right now.
Q. Did it take you guys a long time to get over how last season ended? Because if you talk to coach Gard, you can still hear it in his voice that it still bugs him on a certain level.
Koenig: Yeah, just the way we lost that Notre Dame game (in the NCAA Tournament Sweet 16) kind of hurt knowing that we should have at least made it to the Elite Eight even in a down year or whatever you want to call it. Yeah, just kind of the way we lost that game. There’s a lot more emphasis on taking care of the ball and just the details. I mean, it’s Wisconsin basketball so it’s always going to be about details, just that emphasis.
Q. The coaches talked about how you changed your body, basically took all phases of this seriously the past couple months. Is that what it’s been like this offseason?
Koenig: Yeah, definitely, especially after the Notre Dame loss. The loss kind of cut deep a little bit and motivated me to just, like you said, hit every phase on and off the court. Just trying to get ready for my senior season. Just trying to get ready for the next level.
Q. What does it do to your game?
Koenig: Yeah, I mean after the first phase I was in L.A., I came back here and noticed right when I ripped baseline, I knew I was a lot quicker than everybody. I had like five, six guys come up to me after the first practice telling me how much quicker, stronger and better I look.
Q. Coach (Gard) also talked about how you and Nigel (Hayes) have become comfortable using your voice for things other than just basketball. When did you become comfortable and when did you realize in your college career the impact you could have speaking out on other issues?
Koenig: I’d say sometime after my freshman year when I really started getting into the whole role modeling for Native Americans and stuff like that. I don’t know, it’s been pretty recently that I’ve been more confident about speaking up for what I believe in. So I encourage everyone to do the same.
Q. What have you gotten out of that?
Koenig: Hopefully, I’ve touched a lot of people’s lives and given them memories they’ll remember forever. And obviously (I’m) hoping to bring awareness to big issues.
Q. Is there increased dialogue in your locker room about issues? Zak (Showalter) was kind of saying that him and Nigel go back and forth with direct messages on articles and that type of thing. Has it increased conversations?
Koenig: Yeah, kind of the same thing you just said, sending articles back and forth. Just talking about different things and opinions and that kind of stuff.
Q. You’ve been generally kind of a quiet guy since you’ve been here, but I’m wondering if your ability to speak out on that issue off the court, do you think that will translate to your ability to lead on the court?
Koenig: Hopefully. I’m hoping so. I think I’ve been more vocal in practices and just more into it this year. I mean, my whole mindset has changed from the past three years to this year. One-hundred percent.
Q. How much pride do you have knowing that you are this vocal and you are inspiring kids in younger generations. How much pride do you have?
Koenig: I take great pride in that. My mother has always pushed me to be the best role model I can be. She’s always said I’m a role model whether I like it or not, so I just try to use my platform and my voice in a positive manner, and I think I’ve done that.