The Wisconsin Badgers sophomore guard Bronson Koenig, Ho-Chunk Nation, played a big role in the team’s historic run for the NCAA championship against Duke on Monday night. The Badgers lost 68-64, but Koenig ended the season on a high note, scoring 10 points, including a big 3-point shot to start the second half; to give Indian country a taste of what the future holds for Badger fans.
Koenig was just the second Native American to play in the title game since Dee Ketchum (Delaware Tribe) played in the championship for the Kansas Jayhawks, and fans across Indian country left messages on social media and elsewhere congratulating Koenig on his performance in the semifinals and in the championship game.
In her post on the Ho-Chunk Nation Facebook page following Wisconsin’s 71-64 victory over Kentucky, Amy Sparck Dobmeier said, “WHAAAADAAAAP! So Proud of Bronson! President Greendeer, you have no better Ambassador for Health and Wellness and Native Pride than Ho-Chunk Native Bronson Koenig!” Fan Lexi Triana Lee Dixon said, “Great job Bronson! You are something I can be proud of, and I wish my son can be as great as you.”
ICTMN caught up with some of Indian country’s greatest athletes to hear what they are saying about Koenig's NCAA championship run.
Billy Mills, Olympic gold medalist
Tribe: Oglala Lakota
“I saw the Wisconsin-Kentucky game and it was exciting to watch,” Mills told ICTMN. “Any time you have someone that is recognized as being Native American at this level is nothing but positive. It gives a perspective to a younger ballplayer coming up on the reservation that it is possible to play college ball or make it to the NBA. They will also learn the tremendous amount of discipline and effort he put into getting where he is today. To that extent, he’s another catalyst in teaching our young people what is available, not only in the world of sports, but in getting a college degree.”
Notah Begay III, four-time winner on the PGA Tour/Golf Channel, NBC analyst
Tribe: Navajo/San Felipe/Isleta
“American Indian children are in desperate need of hope and positive role models,” said Begay, who was a three-time All-American at Stanford and played on the 1994 NCAA National Championship team. “Crippled with low graduation rates, high incidence of childhood obesity and the highest teen suicide rates in the country, it’s difficult for our children to ‘dream big’. Bronson Koenig represents the kind of inspiration that could propel a child to stay in school or dare to achieve at the highest level. Winning a national title and graduating from college were two of the greatest achievements of my life.”
Ron Rousseau, two-year starter for the Haskell Indian Nations University men’s basketball team
Tribe: Cheyenne River Sioux
“I don’t know much about him other than what I see on TV,” said Rousseau, who earned his business degree at Haskell, and is now studying law at the University of Idaho. “You look on Facebook, Shoni Schimmel is still the Michael Jordan of Indian country. A lot of that is because of what she does for the Native communities off the court. But there’s a lot of really good male basketball players you don’t see because they don’t follow through with it. So to see somebody work hard and get to this level really helps.”
Jim E. Warne, Arizona State University
Tribe: Oglala Lakota
ICTMN caught up with Warne on Monday, the day of the championship game. Here’s what he had to say:
“When I played in the Rose Bowl in 1987, I was surprised with the amount of mail I got from people in Indian country saying they had watched the game to support me,” said Warne, who was inducted into the American Indian Athletic Hall of Fame in 2004. “I actually picked Wisconsin in my NCAA bracket because of Bronson Koenig, so I’m sitting pretty. It’s nice to see the Seventh Generation making strides, and I’ll be watching tonight and supporting someone from Indian country. There’s not enough long hairs in college basketball. Who knows? Maybe he’ll be the first Native in the NBA.”
ICTMN Archive Photo
John Tiger, Kansas University (1961-63) American Indian Athletic Hall of Fame inductee
Tribe: Seminole Tribe of Oklahoma
“I think Koenig playing in the NCAA championship game is a real big deal,” said Tiger, who blocked for Gayle Sayers during his college career. “He’s a good athlete, and I’ve watched him play quite a bit. I saw some qualities that I was impressed with. It’s important that kids understand there’s a lot of things they can be successful [at] through hard work whether it be tribal leaders, sports or whatever they chose. I was able to get my degree at Kansas, and it was important to me. So with Koenig, he’s not only showing kids about basketball, he’s also showing them about going to school and getting his college degree.”
John Levi Jr.
“I think what Koenig is doing is awesome,” said Levi, whose father John Levi Sr. was once called “The greatest athlete I’ve ever seen” by Jim Thorpe. “It’s good for Indian Country to be able to see a young man working hard to achieve his dreams. It gives our young people someone to look up to, and see what hard work can do. It’s important for the Ho-Chunk and the other nations. The more exposure to the Native communities, the better.”