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Kinziger has breakout freshman season at Illinois State

Former De Pere High School star Johnny Kinziger had a breakout season for the Illinois State University men’s basketball team. The freshman Kinziger had a season-high 31 points in one game and also recorded a game-winning bucket as time expired in another. Dennis Banks photos

By Rich Palzewic

Sports Contributor

NORMAL, ILL. – Former De Pere Redbirds boys’ basketball standout Johnny Kinziger had quite the collegiate season playing for the Illinois State University (ISU) men’s basketball team this year.

After helping lead De Pere to an undefeated (30-0) WIAA Division 1 basketball state championship in 2023, Kinziger headed to Normal, Illinois, to play for Division I ISU – also known as the Redbirds.

Kinziger, who scored 2,314 career points at De Pere, averaged 24.7 minutes and 8.7 points per game — third most among ISU players — during his freshman season in Normal.

“There were some ups and downs, but it was a good season for me overall,” Kinziger said. “It’s what I expected coming in and knew it would be an increase in physicality, smarts and skills. I knew I had to work hard to crack the rotation and stay in there. We had a decent season (15-17 overall, 9-11 Missouri Valley Conference), but I wish we had won a few more games. My first season taught me a lot, especially how hard it is to win in college. You can’t take the wins for granted.”

Going from winning 30 games his senior season at De Pere to winning half that many in college, Kinziger said it was an adjustment.

During a five-game stretch early in the season, Kinziger averaged 20 points per game, helping his team go 4-1 during that span. Dennis Banks photos

“During the season, we went on a six-game losing streak,” he said. “It was the mental part of that – learning from the losses and moving on. We have great teammates and a great coaching staff who helped us with that.”

During a five-game stretch later in the season, Kinziger averaged 20 points per game, helping the Redbirds to a 4-1 record during that span.

“I got put into the starting lineup, and the opportunity was there and I took advantage of it,” Kinziger said. “It was huge that my coaches and teammates believed in me going out there as a freshman. I learned a lot during that stretch and how to be a leader on the court.”

Included in that strong five-game stretch, Kinziger went off for 31 points on Feb. 13 against Indiana State in an 80-67 win.

Kinziger hit 10 of 12 shots from the field and went 9 of 11 from the free-throw line.

Indiana State, which finished 17-3 in MVC play, ended the season 32-7 overall and advanced to the championship game of the National Invitation Tournament (NIT), losing to Seton Hall, 79-77, after blowing a late lead.

In another game later in the season on Feb. 28, Kinziger hit a buzzer-beating shot to help the Redbirds beat Missouri State, 75-74.

“That was a fun moment,” Kinziger laughed. “It was my mom’s birthday, too, so that made it even better. Our team was battling, and coach drew up one of our out-of-bounds plays we work on daily. A few teammates set some great screens, and it’s one of my go-to shots — a mid-range shot and it was executed perfectly. We were building momentum at that point and we wanted to keep that going.”

Kinziger said he has several things to work on this offseason.

“For starters, I have to get my shot off quicker,” he said. “I shot threes pretty well this past season from a percentage standpoint (40 of 102 – 39.2%), but my coaches want me to get more threes off next season – that means getting my shots off quicker. I’m also working on extending my range, working on my own pace and putting on some (muscle) weight. I’ve been working hard on that.”

As for next season, Kinziger said nothing is guaranteed.

“I’m working hard to hopefully play a lot (of minutes) like I did toward the end of this past season,” he said. “We have a lot of good pieces coming back and got some nice pieces via the transfer portal. I’m excited for next year. I’m hoping we can turn the program around and make the (NCAA) tournament – that’s always the goal. With the pieces we have and coach’s plan, I think we can improve a lot.”

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