AP NEWS

A student and a teacher

March 22, 2019

La PORTE — Before practice on Thursday afternoon, Loyola-Chicago commit and La Lumiere wing Paxson Wojcik could be found watching the NCAA Tournament first-round matchup between Bradley and Michigan State on his iPhone with Lakers coach Pat Holmes in the baseline bleachers.

“Stay down,” Wojcik said during a Spartan defensive possession. “Play good D and make your free throws.”

Wojcik’s invested interest in Michigan State’s tournament run is that his father, Doug, is a former assistant coach on the Spartans bench and is currently the recruiting coordinator for coach Tom Izzo. Along with two stops in East Lansing, the elder Wojcik has made seven other stops in his lengthy college coaching career, including as an assistant at Notre Dame and North Carolina.

You could probably tell by Paxson’s late-game situation thoughts on the Spartans though.

“That’s probably been the biggest blessing in my life,” Wojcik said on his father’s influence. “Just being able to have the father that I have and the parents that I have ... there’s not many more people that have the experience that my father has. Having him in my corner and having someone I can go for advice or just to chat is great. Whether it was a part of the recruiting process or something in my game, like, ‘Hey, can you help me out’, he’s always been there.”

Wojcik’s knowledge carries over from the hardwood, as he noted that much of the team sees him as “a little bit of a nerd”, but those led to some opportunities in the recruiting process before deciding on Loyola. The shifty left-hander has been instrumental in the Lakers being ranked No. 1 in the nation with a 28-0 mark before the GEICO Nationals on April 4 in New York in more ways than one.

“He’s just as important as Keion (Brooks Jr.) and Isaiah (Stewart),” Holmes said of Wojcik. “He’s not gonna get the individual accolades that those guys get and he’s fully bought into winning and being a good teammate. He’s an extension of our coaching staff on the floor. He’s always gonna talk. He’s never going to mess up his rotations. He’s always going to make the plays that don’t show up in a box score that helps a team be successful.”

Much of the Ivy League’s schools recruited Wojcik, including Harvard and Yale, along with the likes of Notre Dame and Stanford.

“I work hard on and off the court,” Wojcik said. “I take pride in that. Having the opportunities to potentially play for some of the best schools in the world, it’s really cool. It was really humbling during the process. You have to take the recruiting process step by step and find the best for you personally. Basketball’s my first love and at the end of the day, I wanted that balance and that’s why I felt Loyola was best for me.”

Before you think it, yes, Wojcik has a selfie with Sister Jean on his phone and yes, he came away thoroughly impressed with the nun who stole the show during last year’s NCAA Tournament in the Ramblers’ run to the Final Four as an 11-seed.

“I already got one on my official visit,” Wojcik said with a big smile. “She’s a really sharp lady. She knew way more about basketball than I ever expected. She’s definitely a huge fan and an awesome person to be around.”

With a bright future ahead in Chicago coming, Wojcik has reflected back on what’s been a special period in his life. He’s the only member from the LaLu team that won the national title in 2017, led by Brian Bowen and current Memphis Grizzlies forward Jaren Jackson Jr., and this year, his younger brother Denham joined him at the school.

“This year’s his first year as a sophomore just like me,” Wojcik said of his little brother. “The community’s been great to both of us. I remember when I transferred in, my teammates and classmates were all great. Sometimes, when I might be feeling a little homesick, someone would invite me over to their house or something to hang out. It’s been great here and now this year with him transferring in, it’s been pretty special. Growing up, he’d always play up and we’d always play on the same teams together, whether it was football, baseball or basketball. To think that this could be our last year playing on the same together on the same team with the way it’s gone, it could be one for the history books.”

Reach Michael Whitlow at mwhitlow@thenewsdispatch.com or (219) 214-4169. Follow him on Twitter @couldbelikemike.