In years past, Wisconsin Badgers head coach Bo Ryan has always been hesitant playing freshman. That ended last season when Sam Dekker came on campus and it was hard for Ryan to not have him on the floor.
Fast forward a season later, and Ryan has that same “problem” again.
Freshmen Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig have provided quality playing time for Ryan and the Badgers. A few years ago you’d be lucky to talk about any freshman, let alone two, seeing quality minutes. But these two are special players and it’s hard not to put them out on the floor.
Hayes has done an exceptional job this season coming off the bench. There’s a reason why he was named the Big Ten’s Sixth Man of the Year. Whenever Frank Kaminsky needs a breather or finds himself in foul trouble, Hayes has no problem coming in and filling the void. Averaging 8.2 points and 2.8 rebounds a game, Nigel has grown as a freshman before our very own eyes.
It might not show up on the stat sheet, but Hayes has improved his game throughout the season. I knew Hayes would be good, I just didn’t think it would come this early. I have no problem being wrong on that assessment either. Everything from his footwork, to shot selection, rebounding, footwork and defense has improved. The one knock on Nigel is his free throw percentage (59%), but I see no reason why that went get better over time.
Koenig on the other hand plays a different role on this team. He may not see the type of minutes that Hayes does, but when his number gets called he makes sure Ryan can rely on him. Coming off the bench throughout games, Koenig takes care of the ball and plays decent defense. Two things Bo Ryan asks from his players on a nightly basis: don’t turn the ball over and play solid defense. And that’s exactly what Koenig comes in and does.
There is one common denominator with Koenig and Hayes and that is they have earned coach Ryan’s trust. They can be relied on to come in, whether it’s a pressure situation or not, and play within themselves. Both players do not force the situation, they let the game come to them and that’s another reason why they will both succeed at this program in the future.
It’s thrilling to know that the future of the Wisconsin Badgers men’s basketball team will be led by Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig. I’m hoping the rest of the Big Ten takes notice, because these young men will be tough to stop in the years to come.