Men's basketball

For Kobe King, trip to Ann Arbor touches a piece of family history

Freshman guard Kobe King is treating this weekend's trip to Michigan as a spiritual homecoming of sorts.

Image By: Cameron Lane-Flehinger

When Kobe King played at Central High School in La Crosse, Wis., his coach Todd Fergot would offer some late-game advice to his players.

“Don’t pull a Chris Webber,” he’d say.

That advice referred to Webber’s costly — and infamous — timeout call for Michigan in the 1993 NCAA tournament final. Trailing North Carolina by two with just 19 seconds left, the Wolverines did not have any timeouts left, yet Webber called one anyway and sent the Tar Heels to the line for technical free throws that iced the game.

When Fergot would say this to Kobe, he was not merely coaching up the future Badger, but also rehashing one of the biggest moments in King family history.

King’s cousin once removed is Jimmy King, who was on the court for Webber’s error and a member of Michigan’s famous “Fab Five.” The two are connected through Kobe’s father, Chris, who played at Wake Forest before embarking on a pro career that included stops with the NBA’s SuperSonics and Grizzlies.

When King’s sixth grade classmates confused him by asking if the former Wolverine was his father, he asked his actual dad about him and starting delving into all things Fab Five.

Through “countless projects” in schools and documentary viewings, King came to learn about the team that earned consecutive trips to the national finals with their abrasive style of play and baggy shorts.

“They just had swag,” King said at practice Monday. “And they played fearless. That was my biggest thing from them. I was always kinda shy growing up and like… when I played on the court I tried to be like them.”

King didn’t spend much time — if any — with his cousin Jimmy as a child, but the connection between the two is clear once you watch the youngest King play.

Kobe, a freshman once again after receiving a medical hardship waiver, has shot 41.9 percent from deep this season in a reserve role for the Badgers. He’s a long way from being drafted like his father and cousin, but his raw talent clearly comes from somewhere.

“It just kinda shows where the bloodline is, the genetics, and just natural gifts for the game that you can’t really explain,” he said. “It’s just a natural feel. That’s kinda where that comes from, basketball’s in the King family obviously.”

With the No. 19 Badgers strolling into Ann Arbor this weekend, Fergot’s old advice to King is reflected in the team’s recent play.

Wisconsin is figuring it out at the end of games.

The Badgers shot seven of nine from the free throw line to ice the game against then-undefeated Michigan on January 19, and beat No. 21 Maryland with a 15-6 run in the game’s final five minutes last weekend.

Turnovers and shoddy late-game execution doomed the team earlier in the season in losses against Marquette and Purdue, but the team has cleaned up its act greatly during a five-game winning streak.

Still, King won’t be the only player with the Fab Five on his mind before the game.

“Definitely, I’ve used that as a -- I’ve seen it on a lot of ‘30 for 30’s” and things like that about the Fab Five, and the run that they had,” sophomore guard D’Mitrik Trice said about the timeout incident. “But yeah, you can always use opportunities like that to learn from it, especially as a point guard and someone who’s supposed to know the situations and know the fouls, know the timeout situation and things like that.”

On Saturday, the Badgers will be hoping not to make the same mistakes as Wolverines past, and earn a win in an arena where no visitor has this season.

For King, though, the game will also be something of a family reunion.

“Maybe I’ll text my dad and [tell him], ‘You have to watch the game.’ Cousin Jimmy played on the court.”

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