Five minutes into Saturday’s game at Nebraska, walk-on forward Alan Wisniewski got the ball on the offensive end and attempted to score his first career points.
The hope of collecting those points was initially put on hold as the Huskers’ 314-pound mammoth inside Andre Almeida rejected the shot for his second of three blocks on the night.
However, the 6-foot-9 junior stuck with it, grabbing the offensive rebound and using a sweet right hook to sink his first career bucket — a move he’s been waiting to put to good use for quite some time.
Wisniewski said the right hook has been his signature move in a drill the Lions’ forwards have done called “go-to’s and counters”, and he relished the chance to show it off.
“I’ve been part of this team for two-and-a-half years and I’ve kind of been waiting for my opportunity,” Wisniewski said. “I’ve been coming to practice every day and working hard [so when I got in the game] I realized I had to seize the day.”
And for the 230-pound junior, scoring that basket was just the beginning of what would become a career-night for him in every aspect of the stat sheet.
Wisniewski, who collected just six minutes of playing time in 2012-13 prior to Saturday, logged 17 minutes of time, including 15 of the first 20 minutes.
He also hit the glass hard and picked up eight rebounds coupled with a six-point showing.
After practicing with Penn State’s “blue team” — those who are in the game-time rotation — throughout the week leading up to Nebraska, Wisniewski said he knew he would eventually play, but finally getting in there was still surreal.
“It was really a dream come true to be honest. I kind of did expect [to play] because I was practicing with the ‘blue team’ all week so the coaches were preparing me for game situations. I was ready to go and glad to get the opportunity,” the forward said.
Assistant coach Brian Daly — the primary mentor for the Lions’ frontcourt — said the junior is a cerebral player, but was trying to feel his way through last season.
On the contrary, Daly noted that Wisniewski came in to preseason workouts and understood the offenses and defenses — something the coach said isn’t the easiest thing to do when you’re not playing all that often.
“When you’re juggling a million things and you don’t play that much it’s different than the full-time guys who play day in and day out. He may go two days without the chance of even getting into practice,” Daly said. “But, over the past two months I’ve been kind of championing his cause to everybody and I think everybody’s eyes became open.”
The eight rebounds in the box score stood out, but seeing how aggressive Wisniewski was in the paint was perhaps the most impressive part of his performance against Nebraska.
Using his frame to bang on the boards, the junior battled with guys like Almeida and 6-foot-10 forward Brandon Ubel for possession and also drew contact to earn seven looks at the free throw line. He finished 2-for-7 at the line, however.
While Wisniewski’s display was the first in-game showing of this intensity, Daly said it’s no surprise to the Lions’ players and coaching staff.
“When we practice, he’s not afraid to mix it up, put his face right in there, take a shot or an elbow or two and that’s what he showed in the game,” Daly said.
With Wisniewski’s showing in practice and Saturday considered, Lions head coach Patrick Chambers said those who perform well in practice will continue to garner opportunities to play.
If Wisniewski’s play is any indication, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Chambers keeps trying out new faces in the rotation.
“As long as they continue to bring it, I’m going to give guys chances,” Chambers said. “I gave Alan Wisniewski a chance and the kid made me look like a genius.”