Gators rely on tall middle man
Highly touted in football, Land O' Lakes center Caz Piurowski is making his mark on the basketball court.
By BOB PUTNAM
Published January 28, 2005
LAND O'LAKES - Caz Piurowski stations himself under the basket, his elbows instinctively deployed, his shoulders square to the hoop, his eyes on the ball.
He is ready to battle for offensive position.
With knees slightly bent and his long arms outstretched, the 6-foot-8 Land O'Lakes center stakes out his spot, pushing and pressing until his opponent is out of the paint.
It is hard labor for the defender who drew the short straw and is assigned to guard Piurowski.
The county's most irresistible force, as well as its most immoveable object, Piurowski treats overmatched defenders the way a wrecking ball treats a window pane. He bulls his way through opponents for prime post-up position, then turns and drops the ball in the net as casually as if he were placing a book on a shelf.
And, believe it or not, Piurowski is only a junior and basketball is his third-favorite sport.
"I could only imagine what Caz could do if he devoted himself fulltime to basketball," coach Dave Puhalski said. "He would dominate like no one else."
Piurowski's best sports are football and baseball.
A three-year starter at tight end, Piurowski catches passes like a wideout and blocks like a tight end. He already has the body and skills of a college tight end, and leaves a lasting impression on would-be tacklers.
He also has recruiters drooling. Next month, Piurowski will go to Miami to participate in an elite camp sponsored by Nike.
Soon after, he will get ready for his third season as the Gators' first baseman. With his size, Piurowski is one big target with a glove and hits well enough to bat cleanup.
"I like playing all three sports," Piurowski said. "It keeps me active, and it's better than sitting at home trying to think of something to do."
Piurowski became a three-sport athlete in middle school. Football and baseball came first. Basketball was added as something fun to do when he wasn't playing the other two.
"I never intended to pursue basketball fulltime," Piurowski said. "I never went to camps or played on AAU teams. It was just something that was fun. It helped keep in shape."
Still, with his raw ability, Piurowski is an imposing threat who can lay waste to any unfortunate opponent who wanders into his path.
To compensate for his inexperience, he often resorts to his football skills to thrive in the paint. Playing within a confined space that becomes all the more crowded because of his size, Piurowski's strength, nimble-footed quickness and soft hands make it extremely difficult for even the best defenders to prevent him from getting the ball down low.
Another situation that can become troublesome for rivals is when Piurowski tries to reestablish his space. This occurs when he receives the entry pass, tosses it back out, then moves closer to the hoop for the second entry pass. He does this as if he's wearing shoulder pads.
"I bring a football mentality to the court," Piurowski said. "There are a lot of similarities playing tight end and center. You have to play both with a low center of gravity and you're always trying to work between two defenders to get the ball."
Piurowski stands front and center among the county's big men.
In fact, the number of traditional back-to-the basket pivotmen is dwindling as more county teams turn to glorified power forwards to man the middle.
He often has his way with centers who lack either the height, bulk or quickness to offer much resistance.
Piurowski's effectiveness is sometimes overlooked. While acrobatic slashers such as Wesley Chapel's Chase Bussey and Pasco's Deran Burns seem to create a new move every time they take the ball to the basket, there is a repetitiveness to Piurowski's dominance that is almost numbing.
Amid the aerial spectacle presented each night by the county's top stars, it's easy to forget that dumping the ball inside to Piurowski is as sure a way of scoring as there is in the county.
Overpowering opponents for easy buckets and rebounds, Piurowski was the Gators' second-leading scorer (11.2 points per game) and the county's second-leading rebounder (9.5) last season.
"I'm impressed with Caz," Gulf coach Steve Feldman said earlier this season. "He's made great strides over the past year."
Puhalski knew the loss of Drew Weatherford to graduation would create a void in the paint and that Land O'Lakes would have to muster some inside toughness. But to compensate for Weatherford's absence, the Gators relied on their point guards to feed the ball down low to Piurowski.
They guards have done their job, and Piurowski has responded, averaging a team-high 14 points and seven rebounds. He turned in his best performance last week with 29 points and 17 rebounds in a double-overtime loss.
"Caz is the biggest body in the county and a huge presence for us inside," Puhalski said. "His shot is not always there and his free throws are a lot like Shaq's. But he gives us what we need, even though I'd always like more. It's just a big bonus to have someone like that.
"And that's not bad for a part-time player."
[Last modified January 28, 2005, 00:21:17]
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