Kinziger trio leads De Pere boys’ basketball team
By Greg Bates
DE PERE – The basketball hoop in the backyard of Jeff and Krista Kinziger’s house in De Pere is battered.
With three boys – Jake, Johnny and Zach – games of one-on-one were commonplace growing up.
There’s also a hoop in the basement.
“We’ve had about every kind of hoop – hoops that hang on doors, freestanding hoops, etc.,” Jeff said. “The kids have destroyed them all over time.”
Jake, who played on the De Pere boys’ basketball team and graduated in 2020, learned the game from his dad.
Johnny – the middle child, now a junior – picked up lots from Jake.
Now, Zach, a freshman on this year’s varsity squad, has learned from Johnny.
The Kinzigers have a great basketball lineage and are a big reason De Pere enters the postseason as one of the teams to beat in the state in Division 1.
Jeff coached his boys starting with the De Pere Booster Club and in his second season as an assistant on the varsity squad.
Johnny, in his third year starting, leads the Redbirds in scoring at 20.8 points per game.
Zach is the first player off the bench this season and is fourth on the team in scoring at 8 points a night.
That scoring prowess by Johnny and Zach started with those aforementioned one-on-one matchups at home.
“They were always fun,” Johnny said. “If it was a mini hoop, if it was a high hoop, we always went full out, no matter what. We always wanted to beat each other and show we were the best brother.”
The matchups didn’t always end cordially.
“Someone always went into the house mad,” Johnny joked. “Then we’d go right back out and start playing again.”
Zach agreed with Johnny about the games.
“There have been lots of battles and angry nights,” he said. “It’s been fun. To translate that to this now, it’s cool.”
Was it always older brother Johnny who would win those one-on-one games?
“I got one or two wins under my belt,” Zach said. “Those stand out because it doesn’t happen much – right now, at least.”
Johnny, did Zach really pull off some wins?
“I’ll give him one or two, maybe,” Johnny joked. “Maybe … the wind was blowing pretty bad left to right, the ball got away a few times.”
Jeff said he and Krista have always enjoyed watching their boys play each other.
“It’s been some of the greatest pleasures my wife and I have had in our married life – being able to watch our kids enjoy the sport they love – not in the formal setting – in the backyard playing for the joy of the game,” Jeff said. “Watching them has been a blessing for us.”
These days, Johnny and Zach battle in practice.
Since Zach is on the Redbirds’ scout team, they take on the starters constantly.
Cutting through all the brotherly banter, there is endless support, on and off the court.
“Zach comes off the bench to start the game, and he sits next to me while he’s on the bench,” Jeff said. “When we start the game and Johnny does something on the court, I hear (Zach) cheering for him. He cheers for everybody, but I can tell there’s extra rooting because it’s his brother.”
Johnny said he also loves seeing his brother succeed.
“Whenever we go up against each other, it’s always competing until the end,” Johnny, who has scored 1,481 points thus far in his high school career, which is third on the school’s all-time scoring list, said. “We always want to get the better of each other, but when the games end, we always come back to brotherhood.”
Teaming up for success
Johnny and Zach have played on lots of teams together over the years, with Zach consistently playing up one or two levels.
Jeff coached the two boys on the same AAU team in third-fifth grade.
“They’ve been teammates for lots longer than this, but this is the first time it’s a formal environment,” Jeff said.
Johnny and Zach, who both play AAU basketball for Phenom University, said they love having the unique experience of playing together at the high school level.
“It’s cool,” Zach said. “We’re taking advantage of every moment because it’s not going to last much longer. John will be a senior next year, and it’s been lots of fun having him on the team.”
Johnny said it’s been a different feel than other seasons playing together.
“Now that it’s the big stage, we know there’s an end goal, and we have that connection on the court that can help us get there,” he said. “We both know our roles and know what we have to do for our teammates. I’m trying to help give Zach so he can go out there and do the same thing.”
A push to get to state
Growing up in Lena, Jeff helped his high school team make it to the state tournament when he was a senior in the 1991-92 season.
That success on the court has rubbed off on his boys and made all three closer.
“Since the boys started playing, I’ve been their primary coach at home,” Jeff, who played football at Lawrence University as the starting quarterback for three years, said. “It’s been all the individual workouts, coming to the gym separately by ourselves, working out or dribbling in the garage or basement. I’ve been able to spend extra time with them and have that father-son bond that comes from that.”
Johnny starred on the varsity team as a freshman when Jake was a senior.
“Now my dad’s come into the program, and now we have Zach, so it’s fun reliving some moments I had with Jake I’m now having with Zach and my dad,” Johnny said. “We have that special bond we take on the court.”
Zach also said he enjoys having Johnny and his dad close by.
“It’s fun having all three on the same side for practice and games,” he said. “We practice and we play the games and then go home and talk about it more.”
Jeff said having Johnny and Zach on the floor makes the team better as a whole.
“They know each other well and trust each other,” Jeff said. “We have an incredible group of kids this year. They’re not only great basketball players but great kids. They all bought into each other and trust each other. That brotherhood is across our whole team right now.”