Badgers men’s basketball: Nigel Hayes, Bronson Koenig busy preparing to take next step with NBA tryouts
Nigel Hayes is preparing for the NBA draft, yet he hasn’t touched a basketball in almost three weeks.
Even the former University of Wisconsin men’s basketball standout admits that sounds bizarre.
“It’s the absolutely longest I’ve ever gone in my entire life, that I can remember, without playing basketball,” Hayes said this week. “I catch myself dribbling in the air with nothing or doing some finger rolls at an invisible basket.”
The last time he touched a ball, Hayes says, was late in overtime of the Badgers’ season-ending loss to Florida on March 24 at Madison Square Garden in New York. Hayes made two free throws with 4.0 seconds remaining in the game, but Chris Chiozza answered with a 3-pointer at the buzzer to give the Gators an 84-83 win over the Badgers.
Just like that, Hayes’ UW career was over. Ditto for point guard Bronson Koenig, another NBA hopeful.
Since that devastating defeat, Hayes and Koenig have moved on to the next phase of their respective careers.
Both say they’re on track to graduate next month, Hayes with a degree in business finance and investment banking and Koenig with one in life sciences communication. Both worked with their professors to reschedule homework and exams so they could leave Madison to train for the draft. Hayes and Koenig are also finalizing deals with agents.
Hayes arrived in Santa Barbara, California, last week and has been training at Peak Performance Project. Koenig is playing this week in the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament in Virginia and will travel to Los Angeles next week to continue to work on getting his body and game ready for NBA tryouts.
Koenig took a week off to rest after UW’s loss to Florida. Since then, he’s been on a whirlwind tour of sorts. He traveled to the Phoenix area during the Final Four to receive the Most Courageous Award from the United States Basketball Writers Association. The following week, he was in the Denver area to serve as the keynote speaker at the All-West Native American Classic and to conduct clinics for youth attending the event.
When he arrives in California, Koenig will be working once again with personal trainer Corey Calliet to improve his conditioning. Koenig played a game-high 41 minutes in the Florida game, but he was overcome by cramping in his right hamstring near the end of the game.
The Gators clearly made it a priority to contain Koenig, who finished with 13 points on 4-of-13 shooting. They constantly pressured him as he brought the ball up the court and kept a man in his face as he searched for open looks on the perimeter.
“I’ve been pretty prone to cramping up throughout my whole career,” said Koenig, who also dealt with a calf injury as a senior that caused him to miss one game. “Ever since I was a little kid, I cramped up really, really bad, especially in the right hamstring.
“It was kind of bizarre because my body felt really good before the game. Obviously, getting pressured every single time up the floor probably contributed to that a little bit.”
Koenig also wants to improve his lateral quickness under the guidance of Calliet, who helped actor Michael B. Jordan prepare for his role in the movie “Creed.”
“The way Wisconsin plays defense, we don’t really get out and pressure anyone or extend at all. It’s kind of just pack-line defense, so I wasn’t able to show that much at all,” Koenig said. “That’s definitely something I’m going to be working on. I’m going to try to show that in Portsmouth, picking up full court and being able to pressure guys.”
Koenig also wants to continue to work to become a more consistent shooter. He shot 39.3 percent from beyond the arc en route to averaging a team-high 14.5 points per game this past season, setting single-season and career marks from 3-point range in the process, but Koenig knows he’ll have to prove he can shoot accurately from the NBA 3-point arc.
Shooting also is high on Hayes’ list of areas he admits he needs to improve. After shooting 39.6 percent from 3-point range as a sophomore, Hayes shot 29.3 and 31.4 percent from beyond the arc over his final two seasons with the Badgers.
Starting next week, Hayes will be working on his shot with Mike Penberthy, who played two years with the Los Angeles Lakers and has developed a reputation as a shot doctor in NBA circles.
“It wasn’t the most beautiful of numbers,” said Hayes, who went 22-for-70 from beyond the arc while averaging 14.0 points as a senior. “It’s something I can dedicate myself to full-time now. I’m around a great guy who’s going to help me do that. The results should come.”
This is a long process, to be sure. The NBA draft, which will take place on June 22, isn’t for another 10 weeks.
Hayes and Koenig aren’t concerned with projections at this point because they have plenty of time to impress NBA personnel. Hayes was projected to be selected late in the second round in the most recent mock draft on DraftExpress.com, while Koenig wasn’t among the 60 players listed.
“Really for me, it’s not that big of a deal,” Hayes said. “I just need one team that will believe in what I can do. I don’t need all 30 NBA teams to be salivating. I just need one that believes in me like I believe in myself and my work ethic and what I can contribute and go from there.”