As the only senior starter on a young and talented Pitt-Johnstown men’s basketball team, Josh Wise embraces the role of a vocal and sometimes fiery leader.
Of course, Wise’s knack for making the big play at clutch moments certainly helps.
The latest example of Wise’s leadership skills was evident on Saturday night at the Sports Center. The Washington High School product tallied 23 points in a 98-73 victory over Edinboro University.
There also were his six rebounds and five steals. Two assists. Two 3-pointers. The numbers tell part of the story.
His demeanor on the court and ability to motivate his teammates are Wise intangibles that have helped the Mountain Cats build a 19-5 record overall with a 13-4 mark in the PSAC Western Division.
“He’s really been a great leader,” Pitt-Johnstown coach Bob Rukavina said. “For five years, he goes at it hard in practice. He talks more than anyone that we have. He’s always getting guys going.”
Even when he’s not at his best, Wise has managed to impress Rukavina, who earlier this year earned his 500th win as coach of the Mountain Cats after Wise made a go-ahead 3-pointer and then deflected an inbound pass to prevent a potential game-winning shot by Slippery Rock Univeristy.
“Josh had a little lull. He played two or three games where defensively he just wasn’t focused,” Rukavina said. “We called him in and showed him clips. Since those couple games he’s just really taken over and made big shots. He’s a senior and we’re trying to make the tournament.
“We talk every day about playing hard at practice. We have (five) games left and we cannot have a down game because it could cost us a bid.”
Wise had made six 3-pointers and had 26 points and 11 rebounds in a 103-94 victory at California (Pa.) University on Wednesday. UPJ erased an 11-point deficit in the high-scoring win.
“We just need to finish strong,” said Wise, who has 1,447 career points. “That’s the mind-set. Finish every game. Every game is a playoff game essentially.
“The goal is higher than just getting into the PSAC Tournament. Every game is that much more important than the previous one. We’re just trying to stay focused game-by-game and not look too far ahead.”
Wise and teammates such as sophomore standouts John Paul Kromka, Fred Mulbah, Joe Batt, Caiden Landis and redshirt sophomore Drew Magestro want a shot at the NCAA Division II Tournament.
“I think the sky’s the limit for this team,” Wise said. “A lot of people say that, but I really think that this team could be one of the best teams not just in this league but in this region and the country.
“I’ve seen the teams that we’ve played against and how well we’ve played at times defensively and offensively, and how well we’ve played together. We can be a very dangerous team in the NCAA Tournament. That’s our goal. I’m not lowering the standard. That’s what we should be held to.”
So, how does Wise like the responsibilities that accompany this leadership role? He said his teammates make the job go smoothly.
“Being the older guy, you see a lot more,” Wise said. “We have so many intelligent guys. They learn everything fast. Anything you tell them they pick up immediately. If you talk, they talk. They’re really going to look to you. I feel like it does make a difference.
“When you have guys like that, you become one and the same. It’s that much easier to play and it’s that much more fun.”