Freshmen starters vital to improvement
February 1, 2007
After going 5-11 in the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (WIAC) and 6-19 overall in the 2005-06 season, the men’s basketball team has made a remarkable turnaround in just one year. As of Jan. 24 they are 4-7 in the WIAC and 9-11 overall, and in contention for a playoff spot.
This turnaround is due in large part to the play of two freshmen starters, guard Jontae Koonkaew and forward Nate Robertson.
Robertson said he grew up with basketball and has been playing competitively since he was in fifth grade. In coming to UW-River Falls, he didnít know whether he would be starting or not, but knew he would have a chance at contributing immediately. He feels the transition to college ball is going well and is very comfortable, but said the game is a lot more physical and everyone is bigger and quicker.
Robertson has made the best of his chance to start and is leading the team in rebounds with 132, blocked shots with 32 and in scoring average with 14.4 points per game. He is also second in points scored with 273. He said his strengths are posting back to the basket and being able to score on anyone.
“Nate has been our presence inside, both as a scorer and rebounder,” Head Coach Jeff Berkhof said. “He’s also held his own defensively, banging against the big bodies in our league.”
Koonkaew said he has been playing competitively since he was 6 years old. On moving up to the college level, he said that the game is much quicker.
On the court, Koonkaew is leading the team in steals with 23, free throws made with 80, points with 274 and is second in assists with 61.
“He is able to push the ball up the court with his speed and quickness and does a very good job finishing around the basket or making a great pass to an open teammate,” Berkhof said of Koonkaew.
With only five games left to play in the regular season, both players have seen improvement in the team over the course of the season and feel good about the Falcons’ playoff chances. Robertson mentioned the losses to Bethel College and Macalester early in the season.
“If we played them now we’d annihilate them,” he said.
The Falcons are currently in 6th place in the WIAC, but are only a half game behind UW-Whitewater and one and a half games behind UW-Platteville. If the team can move past those teams into 4th place they will secure a home playoff spot.
Berkof said he has high hopes for the two young athletes and the future of the team.
“If they continue to work hard and commit themselves, they will both have great careers as Falcons,” he said.
While excelling in major roles, neither player considers themselves to be a leader. Robertson said that he prefers to lead by example and that juniors Ryan Thompson and Tim Pearson are the real vocal leaders on the court.
They are, however extremely complimentary of each other.
“[He is] one of the most dominant post players I’ve ever played with,” Koonkaew said of Robertson.
Robertson also has a great deal of respect for his teammate.
“Jontae has the ability to break down a defense,” he said. “He’s the fastest I’ve ever played with.”