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IUP BASKETBALL: Former baseball player gets second chance on court

by on January 17, 2014 10:40 AM

When Jesse Bosnik hung up his spikes, he figured that was it.

The games were over. It was time to stop being a big kid and grow into a man.

Bosnik played three years of pro baseball in the Los Angeles Dodgers organization. When it became apparent he wasn’t going to make it to the major leagues, he decided it was time to retire from the game and get on with his life.

“To make a long, long, long story short,” he said, “I guess I just saw the writing on the wall and didn’t think I was going to play in the big leagues as a Dodger and thought it was time to move on. Life is a bunch of decisions, and I thought it was time to grow up and have a big-boy job, and here I am still trying to be a kid.”

Bosnik lived his dream. It didn’t turn out the way he wanted, but it wasn’t quite time to become a big boy, either.

Now 25, he was offered a chance to pursue his first love, basketball, and he jumped at the opportunity to spend one season at IUP. A graduate student pursuing a master’s degree, he is a key contributor for the 14-1 Crimson Hawks.

“I really didn’t have any intentions of doing this once I retired from baseball,” Bosnik, who was drafted in 2010 by the Dodgers in the 13th round out of St. Bonavenure, said.

“Coach called me up and gave me the opportunity, and to me it was a no-brainer, a chance to do something I enjoy doing and get an MBA. I took him up on it, and I’m very fortunate.”

Most people get to be a kid only once. Bosnik is getting a second chance.

The opportunity arose when IUP coach Joe Lombardi was in Florida to watch an AAU tournament.

He met an old friend, and during the course of their conversation, Bosnik’s name came up.

Lombardi was more than familiar with Bosnik because he recruited him when he was in high school, and he ran into him on occasion when he visited his daughter at St. Bonaventure.

When Lombardi found out Bosnik had recently retired from baseball, “the wheels started turning,” he said. “I knew he was a good player, and knew he could have helped us six years prior. I knew if he never made a bucket he’d add something to the program and help us win with his maturity and approach. We ask all our guys to be all the way in and focus daily on the team, and Jesse is one of those guys that does that.”

As a high school player at Elk County Catholic, Bosnik was a scorer. Indiana County fans, those from Blairsville in particular, might remember the night in 2006 when Bosnik scored 39 points and helped usher the Bobcats out of the state semifinals. A few days later Bosnik led his team to the state championship.

“That’s probably my favorite game ever,” he said. “The state championship should be, but the state championship is such a blur because there’s so much going on. But that game to go to the state championship and the way I played, scoring 39 or whatever … I lit it up and we moved on and won the state title, the only one in Elk County history. That’s just something I won’t ever forget. It’s pretty neat.”

When Bosnik showed up at IUP he’d hardly touched a basketball in six years while he was playing baseball at St. Bonaventure for three years and in the minors for three more.

“The hardest thing for me was that I hadn’t picked up a ball in six years, getting into shape and being able to compete,” Bosnik said. “I didn’t want to come in and embarrass myself. But it really was an easy decision.”

Bosnik isn’t expected to light up the scoreboard anymore. His role is move the ball, make the occasional shot and play solid defense. He averages 2.7 points in 16 minutes per game and has taken only 37 shots.

“They don’t really need me to score,” he said. “They need me to play good defense, do whatever I have to do to help the team win: take a charge, dive on a loose ball, be like a glue guy and make the open shot when the opportunity presents itself.”

Lombardi hopes Bosnik’s attitude, work ethic and mature approach to the sport and life rubs off on the team.

“One of the things he told the players early in the year was how special it was to be part of a team because after being in the pro ranks for three years, everybody is self-centered and self-focused,” Lombardi said. “This, for him, is a cool opportunity for guys to pull for each other and not be so self-centered. That’s the type of leadership he has, and hopefully he sets an example for a lot of guys. And he’s just dependable. I can count on him to show up every day with the right attitude and work ethic, and he has a great sense of humor that makes him enjoyable to be around.

“Another attribute he brings to the team is maturity. As a coach, you want your 20- and 21-year-old players to act like they’re 25, and Jesse has an easy time acting like he’s 25.”

Bosnik will obtain his master’s in December. Then he plans to return to his hometown of St. Marys, where he owns a home, and join the work force. He might help coach the Elk County baseball team, as he did last spring, and the basketball team, and he had planned to do this winter.

“I’ve been trying to be a kid as long as I can,” he said. “I’ll probably go home and start doing what normal guys do, working 8 to 4 or 9 to 5, whatever it is, and find my niche in that environment. An MBA should give me some opportunities to be successful. I need to find something I’m passionate about, and I don’t know what that is yet. Time will tell.”

He also plans to continue to pursue his true love: the outdoors. An avid outdoorsman, he was the only IUP player to take advantage of a day off from practice to go deer hunting on the first day of buck season.

“I just enjoy the peace of it all,” he said. “There’s no cell service, no TV. You’ve got a radio and a fireplace and cards. In this day and age it’s tough to sit down with a group of 10 people and not have half of them on their phones.

“That’s my plan, but who knows? Life hasn’t gone 100 percent according to plan so far, so we’ll see what happens.”

IUP plays host to California on Saturday evening. The Crimson Hawks, ranked fifth in NCAA Division II entering the week, are coming off their only loss of the season.

“I’m extremely blessed and fortunate is all I can say,” Bosnik said. “That’s why the decision was so easy. I knew IUP was good, but I didn’t know I’d be walking into this situation. Again, I’m very fortunate. It’s always fun to win. This is a great program and they do a lot of things the right way, and I’m just trying to soak it all in every single day because I know I don’t have many more left, and it’s been a great experience so far.”

Tony Coccagna is a sports writer for The Indiana Gazette.
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