First day of class in the fall semester, I got to class with a few minutes until the professor would begin his lecture. As I sat down in the already crowded hall, I noticed I had even less legroom than I normally have.
Uncomfortable yet curious, I looked around to see why I was so squished into the seat. I immediately noticed a red Wisconsin backpack that is issued to student athletes on campus with the name tag “King #23” on it. I was sitting next to Kobe King, the six-foot-four-inch guard for the University of Wisconsin men’s basketball team.
As the professor loosened up the room by having us all talk to our peers around us, I quickly started to get to know King, asking him as many questions as he could answer. What I noticed right away about King was his basketball IQ. Personally, I would consider myself to be fairly knowledgeable in basketball — however, listening to King talk about the sport blew me away.
King’s overall enthusiasm for the upcoming season was next to none. He told me about how their new coaching staff was changing the way their fast-break offense would develop during games and how their offense would be so much better than last year’s.
As each lecture passed on, I noticed how quickly King would sprint out of the lecture hall and I never knew what he had to get to.
One day, he told me each day during our Tuesday/Thursday 2:30 p.m. lecture, King would miss a shootaround and team lift for the class, yet he still came just about every day. The days he would not come, he would reach out to me and ask for the notes so he could do the given assignments.
King works hard when it comes to school, and all the stories about him as an athlete prove he works even harder at his game.
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All King’s enthusiasm and excitement for the season ahead confused me greatly when I initially read the report that King announced he would be leaving the team to seek a transfer away from the school.
As it turned out, for almost the entire time King was on campus as a Badger, he had been feuding with the coaching staff and he had reached his breaking point. He felt as though Head Coach Greg Gard and staff only appreciated him for his basketball abilities and didn’t show him that same appreciation off the court.
Soft, quitter, coward. All of these words and plenty more were used to attack King regarding his decision to leave the team. As it was a surprise to all who follow the team, shock was the universal feeling regarding the decision, though some fans were brought to rage when they didn’t completely understand the situation.
King did not travel with the team or even meet at the Kohl Center with the coaching staff after his announcement. He felt he needed the time away from basketball to fully comprehend everything that was going on. After speaking with teammates, he arrived at his decision and officially left the team. The Kobe King era in Madison was over.
The men’s basketball team was faced with a big gap to fill, with one of their leading scorers departing via the transfer portal.
Feb. 1, the Badgers were faced with a steep task — beating a ranked Michigan State Spartans team. In a hard fought game in which Wisconsin took a massive first half lead, the Spartans proved to be just as tough as the scouting report, mounting a massive comeback and drawing the game close. Led by Nate Reuvers, the Badgers showed great resilience in what had been a brutal week for the program, holding on to beat the Spartans, 64–63.
This game meant a lot more for Gard and his staff than it seemed in the loud and sold-out Kohl Center. The win proved Gard hadn’t lost his locker room as initial reports had thought. It proved his team still wanted to fight for not only him and his staff, but also for each other.
Following the win, a flat-footed Badger team showed up to play the Minnesota Golden Gophers, not carrying any of the momentum they gained with their win over the Spartans. Losing handily to the Gophers, the Badgers looked to try and find their stride once again in another Big Ten battle against The Ohio State University.
In a 70–57 blowout victory over the Buckeyes, the Badgers showed their continued resilience following the loss of King. With only seven games remaining on their schedule, the Badgers must continue to play hard, Wisconsin brand basketball and win as many games as possible if they want to maintain their hopes of making the March Madness tournament.
Currently sitting at seventh place in the Big Ten, the Badgers play only one team that is currently ranked higher than them in the standings — Rutgers. If the Badgers can get hot and continue to learn how to play together following the loss of their star player, look for them to make a deep run in the Big Ten Tournament and hopefully secure a spot in the NCAA Tournament come March.
A lot can be taken away from the loss of King, but one thing remains certain — if Greg Gard is unable to make the NCAA Tournament this season, or even make a splash in the Big Ten Tournament, there may be a coaching controversy on the way.