Their bond began to form through messages exchanged both on Twitter and their cell phones, and it only grew stronger once they officially met upon arriving in Madison in June.
Now, to hear the six freshmen for the University of Wisconsin men’s basketball team tell it, they’re nearly inseparable.
“It’s really nice,” said Nigel Hayes, a forward from Toledo, Ohio. “We’re all hanging out. We go to the gym together, we do our homework together, we study together, we eat together, we do everything together. We’re like a big, six-freshman family.”
That link is particularly helpful these days as the Badgers get closer to the official start of the 2013-14 season. There’s a lot being thrown at the freshmen to get them up to speed with UW less than a week away from its Oct. 30 exhibition game against UW-Platteville and 15 days away from its Nov. 8 season opener against St. John’s in Sioux Falls, S.D., and sometimes it’s not easy to keep up.
But anytime Bronson Koenig finds himself confused by something UW coach Bo Ryan says, at least the talented guard from La Crosse Aquinas can be comforted by the knowledge that he’s probably not the only one feeling that way.
“They feel my pain,” Koenig said. “It’s nice having five other freshman to relate to.”
Or, as Aaron Moesch, a walk-on forward from Green Bay Southwest, put it, “If someone screws up, you’re usually not the only one screwing up.”
Still, Ryan raved earlier this month about how quickly the freshmen were picking things up, calling it “probably one of the brightest groups of freshmen, collectively, that we’ve had. Very astute, very perceptive, hungry, and they’re grasping a lot of things.”
The class represents an interesting group of players from different backgrounds. Hayes and Vitto Brown (Bowling Green) are from Ohio; Moesch and Koenig are from Wisconsin; guard Riley Dearring is from Minnetonka, Minn.; and guard Jordan Hill is from Pasadena, Calif., but played last season at an academically prestigious prep school in New Hampshire.
“We have a lot of things in common, but we’re so different in so many ways and I feel like that’s what makes us really connect with each other,” Dearring said. “It just allows us to just grow with each other a lot better.”
Dearring said UW’s upperclassmen have helped make the transition a relatively smooth one for the freshmen. The Badgers spent more time together during the offseason than usual because of a weeklong trip to Canada that included five exhibition games.
“They’ve done a really great job, and we’ve been trying to learn as much as we can,” Dearring said. “So far, we’ve been just trying to come in and compete every day and see where we fit in in the process.”
This class was billed as talented and athletic, and early returns from practice and the Canada trip suggest those reviews were on the mark.
Hayes, who packs 250 pounds on his 6-foot-7 frame, appears to be most ready to play among the group. For starters, he’s got the body of an upperclassman and has drawn positive reviews from the UW coaching staff for his ability to quickly pick up concepts, particularly on defense.
The 6-8, 237-pound Brown has also been impressive for his age and could be in play for minutes in a frontcourt depleted by the loss of three starters from a year ago.
The 6-3 Koenig, who can play either guard spot, has shown an ability to create by getting to the basket or drawing defenders and kicking the ball out to open shooters on the perimeter. But it remains to be seen how where he’ll fit in the pecking order in a deep backcourt.
Dearring and Hill have shown flashes but could benefit from a redshirt year if they choose to take that option. Moesch, the only walk-on in the group, certainly hasn’t looked out of place and could carve out a role down the road in his career.
One thing that has stood out to Koenig about the group is its collective drive.
“We’re really hard workers,” he said. “It’s definitely nice having other people around me with the same goals and vision as I do.”
And, yes, there’s already been some discussion among the freshmen about the type of legacy they’d like to leave at UW even though the freshmen have yet to play their first game as Badgers.
“We’ve talked about it to each other,” Hayes said. “We don’t want to make that a public thing. We just feel like if we stay humble, we do our hard work and we put in the time, we feel like we can as a group do things for the university that will be great.”