Tonawanda News —
Former Tonawanda basketball star Jesse Lalka knew this summer was going to be a challenge. After suffering a fractured left tibia playing baseball in May, the two-time Tonawanda News basketball player of the year had to start preparing for college hoops.
Lalka is now a Daemen Wilcat, and the NAIA school transitioning to NCAA Division 2 boasts a competitive and talented basketball team. Freshmen are forced to adjust to the speed of the game, while adding muscle and undertaking a greater workout schedule.
Lalka had to make the best out of a bad situation.
"The first month was the toughest," Lalka said. "I was trying to push myself and even just doing little things in the hard cast was painful, and I had to learn that sometimes the best thing was to rest. After I got the walking boot off I got more comfortable shooting around."
Lalka, Tonawanda's all-time leading scorer and -point shooter, was forced to watch while the rest of his Daemen teammates participated in arguably the area's premier summer league hosted by the college. He immediately noticed the speed and strength of the college talent pool playing at Daemen. Guards fly by their defenders with ease and perimeter players must knock down open shots.
Lalka's been spending a lot of time on his jump shot, especially during the months he was limited. He said it's important to have the utmost confidence in the jump shot once he starts seeing game action.
Daemen associate head coach Mike Miranto said it's been tough for Lalka because of the steep learning curve freshmen shoulder at Daemen. Despite the injury, Miranto said Lalka was at every summer game watching, studying, and learning from the sidelines.
"This is a really big summer for him and it was kind of taken away from him with this injury," Miranto said. "Our guys are in the gym five days a week doing individual workouts, and it's been tough for him not being able to do that."
Daemen won 20 games last season and played in the NAIA Division 2 National Tournament for the first time since 2006. Miranto said that despite the team's success, it struggled at times from beyond the three-point arc.
Lalka and Aaron Davis, former North Tonawanda standout who redshirted last season, will surely help the Wildcats on the perimeter. Miranto said Lalka has a lot of work to do once he gets cleared to play next week, but his shooting ability will help Daemen this season.
Daemen wasn't always where Lalka envisioned himself continuing his basketball career. It wasn't until he toured the campus and experienced the Wildcats' game day experience that he decided on the Amherst college.
Lalka said that Davis has really taken him under his wing and that was strange at first. In Lalka's sophomore season, North Tonawanda beat Tonawanda by roughly 30 points, he recalls. That always left him with a sour feeling toward Davis.
But now they're both shooting on the same basket. Lalka hopes the pair can make the Twin Cities proud this season.
"Tonawanda is such a small community so everybody knows what you do," Lalka said. "It was awesome to get two division championships in high school. I want to make everybody proud again."contact Tonawanda News sports editor Matt Parrino at 693-1000 ext. 4117