LOS ANGELES — Bronson Koenig and Sam Dekker will recognize a familiar face donning Carolina blue when the Wisconsin men’s basketball team takes on North Carolina in a at the Staples Center.
UNC junior forward J.P. Tokoto, a Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin native, played AAU ball with Dekker and Koenig on Wisconsin Swish.
The players’ families became close after playing on the same team, Dekker said.
“J.P’s a good friend of mine. I played AAU with him for four years, so we built a pretty good relationship,” Dekker said.
Tokoto said he’s always kept in touch with Dekker.
“We’ve stayed in touch throughout college. Never lost touch,” Tokoto said. “Bronson, I lost a little more with him, but Sam and I never lost touch. It’s been fun thinking back on the old days.”
Koenig had a more business-like approach to the matchup.
“No trash talking,” he said. “We never really talk too much. I know we are family friends with our mothers. It’s going to be battle. It’s going to be fun.”
Tokoto has played in all of the Tar Heels’ 37 games this season, starting 33. He’s the team’s third leading rebounder (5.6 per game) and adds 8.4 points a game, while averaging 29 minutes a night.
“It’s exciting to go up against him and be on the same court as him again,” Dekker said. “Obviously, he’s one of the best athletes I’ve ever played with.
“We’ve talked a little this week. We’re excited to play, and I’m sure we’ll be talking a little bit on the court and just some good banter. But, yeah, it’s going to be fun to be out there with him again, but it will be different because we’re opposing sides.”
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Former Wisconsin women’s basketball player Morgan Paige will be on both the winning and losing sides after the game, regardless of Thursday night’s outcome.
The former Badger shooting guard, who graduated in 2014, will have to comfort either her brother (junior starting point guard Marcus on UNC) or her Wisconsin friends.
“As a Badger I have a ‘Repeat Final Four. Finish what you started.’ attitude for this season,” Paige wrote in an e-mail to the Wisconsin State Journal. “But on the other side? A team that has not met its full potential, led in full force by my only sibling who I love dearly.”
But in March, family comes first, Paige wrote.
“So the line is drawn. I’m an honorary Tar Heel for March. But either way the game goes, my heart will hurt for my guys.”
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