Tonawanda News — For many high school athletes, basketball is a passion. For North Tonawanda guard Joe Piotrowski, it’s a way of life.
He picked up the game from his father, Daryle Piotrowski, who played at McKinley and then for a few years at Niagara County Community College. The junior is averaging 8.3 points, 2.8 assists and 1.5 steals per game this season and has recently elevated his game to an even higher level for the Lumberjacks (9-7, 8-4 NFL).
Piotrowski said his work ethic comes from his dad.
“He’s the one that got me into basketball. He pushed me all summer, and he’s the one that if I didn’t feel like getting up he made sure I was going to the park or telling me to get out in the driveway because I had to shoot — because other (players) are working hard (too),” Piotrwoski said.
On Tuesday night, NT won its eighth NFL game against Niagara-Wheatfield in a close contest that came down to the final minutes. Piotrowski led the Jacks to victory with 10 points in the fourth quarter on a pair of 3-pointers and a perfect 4 of 4 from the free throw line.
NT coach Ryan Mountain said Piotrowski, who suffered a broken nose after a preseason scrimmage, has been getting better every week this season.
He hasn’t missed a single game.
“Early in the season I think Joe put a lot of pressure on himself — that he had to come in and be the main scorer. With Ian (Gilhousen) being down we could see he was kind of pushing a bit, but throughout the season he’s added a little bit to his game in terms of balance. Now he’s starting to see the game in slower motion, which was evident in the fourth quarter against Nia.-Wheatfield.”
Piotrowski is a leader on and off the court for the Jacks. He played most of his sophomore season on the varsity team and was able to learn from players like Corey Mis and Joe Curry, and attributes his ability to lead to the seniors from last year’s team.
In a disappointing loss against Lockport on Feb. 1, Piotrowski had made an error with the ball and committed a turnover that led to a fastbreak basket for the Lions. Mountain quickly removed Piotrowski from the game, and he was noticeably frustrated with himself.
But before he went off the floor he made sure to slap hands with his replacement and share some encouragement. He said he’s always conscious of what he’s doing because he always tries to be a good example.
“You have to keep your emotions in tact and always be the guy that’s working hard so that people see that and then they start working hard and not slacking off,” Piotrowski said. “That (gives them) confidence — even if we’re down and facing adversity you still have to have confidence that we can win if we work together.”
Mountain said he’s been tough on Piotrowski ever since he was elevated to the varsity team. He saw the commitment from Piotrowski and knew he was mentally tough enough to be coached and develop his game.
Piotrowski has widened his vision on the court, Mountain said, and is now seeing everything because the game has slowed down. His preparation and drive to improve has helped the Jacks overcome their youth this season.
“What I love about Joe is that he loves the game of basketball. You can have passion during the season but passion is temporary. Joe lives it all year long,” Mountain said. “He’s going to games at UB, studying the game, he’s a huge Celtics fan and he loves watching and playing the game. Anything new he can add he constantly thrives for more. When you get a few players that love the game, you’re going to have a good team.”
The Jacks host Lew-Port tonight at 7 p.m. for Senior Night. If the game has to be cancelled because of expected foul weather, Mountain is hoping to have the game rescheduled for Monday.Contact sports editor Matt Parrino at 693-1000 ext. 4117 and find Tonawanda News sports on Twitter @tonanewssports.