Moose from Bison to Hawk

Barbara Bell, Sports Editor

In honor of his first career start, which cements his place in the University program’s basketball history, “The Bucknellian” interviewed Mike Muscala ’13 to get a unique perspective on life in the NBA as a Bison alumnus because, as any other recent University graduate knows, the real world outside Lewisburg can be a bit daunting.

Feature part:

Former men’s basketball star Muscala has a decorated history and unsurpassed legacy among Bison basketball and the University community alike. Currently playing point guard for the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks, the Minnesota native garnered his first start in a Hawks home game on Jan. 31. 

In the University community, Muscala is pretty much a household name. Most students and basketball aficionados alike can’t spell out men’s basketball without mentioning him. The Class of 2013 graduate holds an abundance of basketball awards and championships, including recognition as an all-time leading scorer, four-time All Patriot League selection, and two-time Patriot League Player of the Year. His personal records include first place in program history for scoring (2,036), second place in rebounding (1,093), and second place in blocked shots (271).

Muscala’s journey from collegiate basketball to the NBA was colored by more than just raw talent. In fact, Associate Head Coach Dane Fischer, who played a major role in Muscala’s recruitment process and also calls him a close personal friend and mentee, says it was actually Muscala’s work ethic and competitiveness that first caught his attention.

Fischer, also from Minnesota, came to Bucknell under Head Coach Dave Paulsen’s staff in May 2008, right before Mike’s senior year of high school. Together with Paulsen, they began a recruiting process, one that correspondingly focused on the Midwest. “I thought the Midwest would be a good secondary recruiting area because not only are there good students and good players, but there’s a lot of intrigue for kids in that area to come out to the East Coast in pursuit of good academics and good basketball,” Fischer said.

He first saw Muscala play that July. From a physical standpoint, Muscala was probably 6’9’’, close to 6’10’’ and “skinny as you could possibly be,” Fischer said. “He had floppy hair, braces, and just looked very young, but he was very skilled, could move really well, and played so hard. We jumped on him from the first time we saw him.”

So began Muscala’s legacy. The Muscala family came for an unofficial visit that August; Muscala verbally committed that same day. It was a relatively painless and easy process as far as recruitment goes.

“Bucknell was everything he was looking for and certainly everything we were looking for,” Fischer said.

When Muscala enrolled his freshman year, he had all the physical tools, minus the strength. “He needed to get stronger,” Fischer said. “He [still] had the build of a kid who was just coming into his own.”

That being said, it was clear Muscala’s talents wouldn’t go unnoticed. His work ethic was off the charts.

“You could see that immediately. Mike wanted to be coached.  He competed, he wanted to win every drill … he was really into doing the things he needed to do to become an elite level player,” Fischer said.

Muscala didn’t start his first game in Orange and Blue uniform until mid-way through his freshman year. And in that first game, he only scooped up a handful of fouls and a basket or two. It wasn’t until about 10 games into his first season that he had his breakthrough game in a home match against Cornell.

During Mike’s junior year, after a phenomenal sophomore season that culminated in a Patriot League Championship, the buzz about his NBA hopes began.

“I think after the NCAA tournament his sophomore year, people began to see him fitting in on the national stage,” Fischer said about Muscala’s NBA-reaching performance. “It’s not like we played in a bunch of games (the Bison lost to UCONN in the first round of playoffs), but everyone could see him having that potential, especially because he was only a sophomore.” NBA scouts, and even general managers of teams, started coming to games to watch him, and by the time he hit senior year, there were “legitimate discussions” about him playing in the NBA.

By April of Muscala’s senior year, potential agents were coming to campus to sit down and make presentations. Part of that process, Fischer said, was talking seriously to Muscala about what the professional leagues meant, and what things would be like from there on out.

The Dallas Mavericks drafted Muscala as a second-round pick during the NBA draft on June 27, 2013. Even though the Dallas team initially picked him up, there was already a trade in place for Muscala to go to the Atlanta Hawks. Muscala watched back home with family and friends in Minnesota, including coaches Paulsen and Fischer, as his NBA future was decided.

Post-draft, Muscala attended NBA training camp for the summer of 2013, and from training camp, the Hawks sent him to Spain to play in their summer league. He was scheduled to remain overseas for the year, but the Hawks got hit with injuries and because he played so well, the team brought him back to finish his rookie season in Atlanta, where he made the playoff roster.

“I think that Mike was obviously terrific for Bucknell because of everything he brought to the program; he’s played in the NBA and that gives us some great name recognition,” Fischer said. But he also believes, “Bucknell was equally great for Mike.” The University fit what he was looking for. Muscala really valued his education, he valued the tight-knit campus community, and he valued the opportunity to play early and often, which made him a star.

Q and A part:

Q: What has travel been like with your NBA schedule, and how have you accustomed yourself to it?

A: It’s a grind! There are 82 games a season and that’s just the regular season, so it’s a lot of travel. But we travel well. We have a great coaching staff and great trainers, and there’s always good food options available. They help us take care of our bodies. So it’s definitely different for me but I’m getting used to it.

Q: What has been the most exciting moment in your NBA career so far?

A: The win streak we had was really awesome. To go undefeated for 19 games in that month was great. But every game this season has been fun to be a part of. We’re playing really great basketball right now.

Q: What was it like going through that winning streak?

A: We just had to take one game at a time, and I think that’s the big reason why we were able to have the win streak. That’s why we’ve been successful. Going forward, that’s going to be important for us to keep doing, both offensively and defensively.

Q: How did it feel getting your first career start against the 76ers?

A: I was ready. Even when I don’t play, I’m working out with the coaching staff and trainers, and I still work really hard. That first career start was good for me because I was ready and I’m ready now for whatever opportunities might be out there in the future.

Q: What was your favorite moment on the Bucknell team?

A: I’d say the two times we won the PL tournament definitely stand out to me. It was really fun. I think looking back, that’s what I remember most, the atmosphere in the gym those two nights and the fact that we were able to get the win.

Q: What do you value most from your Bucknell experience?

A: A lot of things at Bucknell helped me and are still helping me now. I thank the coaching staff I had, Coach Paulsen, Coach Fischer, Coach Kelly and all the coaches, staff and teammates I had. Every season, and especially every off-season, helped me improve and add new things to my game. The playing time and the playing experience I got at Bucknell helped me a lot because I learned a lot on the court.

Q: What advice do you have for other collegiate basketball players with NBA hopes?

A: Stay positive. Do what’s gotten you to where you are so far in your collegiate career and don’t think that NBA scouts and whoever’s watching you won’t pick up on the little things that you may do well or even the things you may not do well. Make good habits and be positive and keep doing good work.

(Visited 243 times, 1 visits today)