#19: Paul Kowalski
On the night of the most important basketball game of the year for Niagara, time was taken out to honor the sole senior of this year's Purple Eagles squad: Paul Kowalski. Minutes before the tip-off against cross-town rival Canisius, the 6'6 forward heard his name called as he stood beside his parents and coaches. He could hear nothing else the commentators had planned to say about his achievements on and off the court, because the reception he received from the fans was thunderous enough to drown everything else away.
I felt thrilled! Everyone says I'm a hometown guy, but I never felt that way. I don't get to play much, either, and to see people stand up and cheer like that was really exciting, says Kowalski, a Buffalo native.
The St. Joseph's Collegiate Institute grad started playing basketball in kindergarten and never looked back. I found out I was pretty good, and I was tall “ that helped. I got to hang out with my friends, too, he says.
Kowalski started for his high school team his senior year and was a part of its league championship squad in 2008. Upon graduation, he was accepted to Niagara University and was very interested in the education program.
The fact that NU was close to home helped, he says. The education department is fantastic, and I knew I would learn a lot. I didn't think I wanted to actually play basketball in college, but my friends encouraged me and I practiced all summer, tried out and made the team.
Many of you may know Kowalski's nickname, Birdman, which he says came from his coaches. Birdman is a nickname given to guys in the NBA who hustle and play hard. They noticed I would go after a guy or a ball even when everyone else had given up, so they started calling me birdman. The name stuck and now everybody on the team calls me that.