Four years ago, Rick Schneider handed over the ball — and control of his La Crosse Aquinas boys basketball team — to a 14-year-old freshman named Bronson Koenig.
The decision has worked out pretty well for both of them.
Koenig and Schneider went on to win two state titles, the second of which came with a 53-48 victory over Lodi in the WIAA Division 3 championship game Saturday at the Kohl Center — a team accomplishment that has been followed by some impressive individual accolades.
Koenig was named Wisconsin’s Associated Press boys basketball player of the year, while Schneider was named the coach of the year, as voted by a panel of statewide media members.
Koenig was selected over Whitefish Bay Dominican’s Duane Wilson and Germantown’s Luke Fischer.
They were joined on the AP All-State first team by Onalaska senior Matt Thomas and Milwaukee Hamilton junior Kevon Looney.
“For four years, he’s had the ball in his hand,” Schneider said of Koenig, who signed with the University of Wisconsin in November. “He came in as a freshman, his first game, we played against St. Paul Johnson who went 26- or 27-0 and won a state championship, and he had to bring the ball up the court against a pretty darn good basketball team. That was his first game, and I don’t know if he turned the ball over one time.
“That’s where he started. Where he’s at today, it’s remarkable. It’s not a surprise, but it’s remarkable.”
Koenig won his first state title as a sophomore, leading the Blugolds to a 27-1 record and a victory over Racine St. Catherine’s in the state championship game. He was named first-team All-State following that season, and Aquinas seemed poised for a repeat run.
But Koenig missed most of his junior year with a thumb injury, making going out on top as a senior even more special.
“I definitely wanted to win a state championship my senior year just like anyone else,” Koenig said after beating Lodi. “In the offseason, I did what I always do to try to prepare for the season. I was motivated by other teams coming here, and seeing other teams win state. I just really wanted to get back here and win.”
Koenig averaged 16.9 points and 4.4 assists per game during the regular season and shot 45.5 percent on 3-pointers (40-for-88). In the state championship game, Koenig had 16 points and five assists, making two key free throws in the final 30 seconds to ice the victory and help Aquinas win its fourth WIAA state title.
What set apart Koenig from everyone else, Schneider said, was his versatility.
“He is asked to do so much,” Schneider said. “People see his passing. People see his shooting. Then you throw in his defense. Defending the best player, most of the time. Leading the team. Settling everybody down. He has a lot of responsibility. He does it all.
“Every aspect of his game is dynamite. He doesn’t specialize in one thing. He does it all.”
Sun Prairie senior Nick Fuller, a Nebraska recruit, was named to second-team All-State. Marshall junior Cam Ward was selected to the third team, while the fourth team included Lodi’s Jordan Shea and East Troy’s Brett Prahl, a UW-Milwaukee recruit.
Schneider was selected as coach of the year over a crowded field that included Pulaski’s David Shaw, Germantown’s Steve Showalter, Mukwonago’s Jim Haasser and Randolph’s Bob Haffele.
“We thought all year long, we had a team that could win a state championship,” Schneider said. “That was the goal as soon as the season started.”