University of Wisconsin-River Falls
Falcon Sports

Falcon Spotlight

Jontae Koonkaew

By Shawna Carpentier
UWRF Sports Information

Jontae Koonkaew may be in his first season with the Falcons, but the freshman guard plays nothing like a novice. Koonkaew has proven to be an experienced contributor while earning himself a starting spot on the men's basketball team.

"As a freshman, he's had some good and bad moments. But, the sky's the limit for Jontae and I look forward to him having a great career as a Falcon basketball player," says Head Coach Jeff Berkhof.

A successful basketball player from Apple Valley High School, the two-year letter winner set three single season records his senior year. Koonkaew shot his way to season scoring, free throws made and free throw percentage records as an Eagle captain. Receiving all-conference first team and All-State honorable mention honors, Koonkaew tributes his senior year as the year he became a successful basketball player.  

"It built me overall and got me ready for college sports," says Koonkaew who never doubted college basketball was in his future.

"When he committed to us last spring I knew we were going to have someone who could really push the ball up the floor with speed," says Berkhof of Koonkaew's enrollment to River Falls.

His decision to come to River Falls was swayed by one desire. "It gives me more time to play basketball, do something I love," shares Koonkaew, "going to school would be different [if I didn't play]."

Koonkaew hopes his focus will help him to lead the Falcons to a national championship in the near future. Identifying the mental aspect of basketball as the challenging part of the sport, Koonkaew says it's not about how hard he plays but how he plays that makes a difference in his ability to perform. "You can always play your hardest, but if you're not focused it's a lost cause," he says.

Taking his goals day by day, Koonkaew helps himself to get focused for games with a Full Throttle Energy Drink and three songs. "I have to listen to Love Music by Soulchild, How Do I Breathe by Mario and Set It Off by Young Gunz," explains Koonkaew.

"He seems to be a crowd favorite with his ability to finish around the basket," suggests Berkhof. Berkhof credits Koonkaew's explosiveness and exceptional passing skills as his appealing athletic ability. "Jontae brings a lot of energy and excitement to our team," says Berkhof.

To Koonkaew basketball is about more than just putting a ball into a basket. The opportunity to be creative and have fun attracts Koonkaew to the sport, but he underlines that basketball is more about learning than anything else. "You can learn something different every practice and every single game," says Koonkaew.

Despite his wish to add inches to his height in a dream to play in the NBA, Koonkaew wants young inspiring basketball players to give what they can. "[It's about] what you think you can give to basketball, not what basketball can give to you."

Giving what he can, Koonkaew's ambitions are nothing less than doing the best he can. "You always have to work for everything you want, it's not given to you."

To Koonkaew the ideal athlete exudes coordination and mobility. However, he emphasizes that the way a person presents himself defines their character. Koonkaew's patience and strong work ethic are characteristics he displays as a student-athlete.  

Balancing his responsibilities with the priority to raise his GPA, Koonkaew knows how much time he is willing to put into his books studying is the difference between being a successful athlete and a successful student-athlete.

Working toward his health & human performance degree, Koonkaew plans to become a teacher. To concentrate on health education and to coach at the junior high-level are among Koonkaew's other aspirations. According to Koonkaew, junior high is an important time for young athletes. "Kids learn what they want to do and you can install skills," says Koonkaew.  

In his preparation for his future leadership role Koonkaew trusts that basketball will have taught him everything he needs to know.

"There is no perfection in basketball," says Koonkaew, "you have to have the tolerance for it."  

Koonkaew's other interests include hanging out with friends, playing video games and watching basketball.

He is the son of John Barnes and Kanjai Koonkaew and brother to Chontae, Deja and JonCarria.
Jontae Koonkaew

Jontae Koonkaew

Hometown: Apple Valley, Minn.

High School: Apple Valley

Year: Freshman

Height: 5-8

Weight: 165

Major: Health & Human Performance


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