'We got a steal:' Thunder center Mike Muscala returns to Bucknell for jersey retirement
The final minutes of the 2013 Patriot League championship game were ticking away, and No. 1 seed Bucknell had yet to build a comfortable lead against No. 2 seed Lafayette.
“And then Mike hits two or three shots in a row,” former Bucknell coach Dave Paulsen remembers.
Lafayette called a 30-second timeout. Paulsen, who now coaches at George Mason, turned to every player in the Bucknell huddle. His message was straightforward.
“Hey,” Paulsen shouted, “nobody shoots until the big kid misses.”
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The big kid was 6-foot-10 center Mike Muscala.
“I looked at each guy and pointed in their face,” Paulsen said. “Nobody shoots until the big kid misses. I go through four guys and get to Mike and he goes, ‘It’s gonna be a while, coach.’ Just with his deadpan. I’m like, ‘All right, we got this one. This one’s under control.’”
Bucknell beat Lafayette 64-56, and the Bison advanced to the NCAA Tournament. Muscala tallied 20 points and 11 rebounds.
Muscala, a seven-year NBA veteran in his first season with the Thunder, will have his No. 31 jersey retired Saturday afternoon when Bucknell hosts American University. He’ll become just the third men’s basketball player in school history to be honored that way.
Muscala, who has played in 37 games for the Thunder, is Bucknell’s lone NBA representative.
“It was a fun four years there,” Muscala said. “It’ll be fun to be back with those guys, relive some memories and be back on campus.”
Muscala graduated in 2013 as Bucknell’s all-time leading scorer. He ranks second in school history in rebounds and blocks. He’s the only player in Patriot League history to record at least 2,000 points and 1,000 rebounds.
Muscala was a three-star prospect coming out of Roseville High School in Minnesota. In addition to Bucknell, his reported scholarship offers were from Cal Poly, Santa Clara, North Dakota and South Dakota.
“I remember going to see him in his state tournament after he had signed,” Paulsen said. “I’m sitting there with my assistant pinching myself like, ‘Oh my God, we got a steal.’ And that proved to be quite true.”