MADISON – Named Wisconsin’s Mr. Basketball earlier that morning, Kobe King was on top of the state’s prep basketball mountain. Later that night he had a crown to go with it.
A year after falling short in the state semifinals, King willed his team to its first state title since 1925, scoring 21 of his game-high 28 points in the second half to help La Crosse Central defeat Cedarburg, 55-53, in the WIAA Division 2 state final at the Kohl Center.
“We knew we wanted to be back down here and knew we didn’t finish the way we wanted to here last year,” King said, whose team won its last 14 games to complete a 26-2 season. “We wanted to go out the right way as a group. We’ve been working for this every day since fifth grade. We wanted to go out the right way, and we weren’t going to let anything stop us.”
The 6-4 senior guard, and Wisconsin commit, came out on fire in the second half after starting 3-for-10. He scored six points on the first three possessions by driving into the paint before executing a pair of mid-range jumpers on Central’s fourth and fifth possession for his own personal 10-0 run.
After fellow senior Bailey Kale (15 points) hit a jumper of his own, King nailed a 3-pointer and another jumper to make the score 38-28 with 12:33 remaining. In the first nine possessions of the second half, King had 13 points and one turnover – his only one of the game.
“What do you average this year, 28 (points a game)?” Kale asked his teammate during the postgame press conference. “If he wanted to, he could average 40 … He makes the right reads … After he hit three jumpers, I knew. I just passed it to him, cut through and was like, ‘Do what you gotta do.’”
The La Crosse Central student section loved every bit of it, chanting “you can’t guard him” to the Cedarburg students along with “feed the beast” and “his house.”
It brought a smile to King’s face during his sprint that put Central in the driver’s seat.
“The first half I really wasn’t hitting much, I kind of forced it a little bit,” King said of his first half. “Second half I got into a good rhythm. I wanted to go out the right way. I didn’t want to be the reason why we didn’t (win). I wanted to come out aggressive and maybe give these guys a boost.”
King finished his career with 2,060 points but one of his biggest plays might have been an offensive rebound in the closing seconds. After teammate Noah Parcher missed the front end of the bonus with six seconds left, his team clinging to a 54-53 lead, King used his length inside the grab the offensive board and helped milk more time off the clock.
King finished with nine rebounds in 35 minutes, six coming on the offensive glass.
“We had some key rebounds there,” Central coach Todd Fergot said, as Central had four offensive rebounds in the final 18.4 seconds to keep the ball away from Cedarburg. “We kind of look at them as loose balls in a sense. They are up in the air, we’ve got to find a way to get them. Those are plays that win games, win championships.”
King’s career has been marked with steady improvement, 86 wins and four conference championships.
After averaging 9.5 points as a reserve during his freshman year, King started flashing his athleticism during a sophomore year in which he averaged 15.8 points per game, earning all-conference honors in the process and the attention of then Wisconsin associate head coach Greg Gard.
Committing to the Badgers prior to the start of his junior year, King was the backbone of his team with 25.5 points per game. Leading the Red Raiders to its first state-tournament appearance since 1986, King suffered a wrist injury during the state semifinals, limiting him to only nine points on 3-for-15 shooting in a loss to eventual state-champion Kaukauna.
He didn’t miss his second chance this season. He averaged 26.5 points per game, scored a career-high 49 points in a 98-83 loss to Lakeville (MN) North and future teammates Nathan Reuvers and made the big plays when it mattered most.
“(Winning Mr. Basketball) is a testament to my coaches and teammates,” King said. “They put me in position to win that award. I wanted to do anything I could to get them a gold ball, because they deserve a ton of recognition, too.”