Former Plum star settles in at Pitt-Johnstown
You might need a map to follow the twisting, turning basketball career of Drew Cressler. The athletic swingman has been to three different schools since he graduated from Plum in 2009.
But Cressler thinks it's safe to turn off the GPS. He's finally found his happy place.
After spending a year at Fork Union Military School (Va.) and two more at Seton Hill in Greensburg, Cressler has settled at Pitt-Johnstown, where he's become a starting guard/forward for the Mountain Cats (5-2, 2-2 West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference).
“This has been a great place for me,” Cressler said. “We're winning in basketball, and school is better here. We have a group of guys who are all on the same page in terms of what we want to accomplish.”
Cressler, 22, will reunite with his old teammates and coaches twice this season. He may have changed schools, but he remains in the WVIAC — so does Seton Hill.
He said he left Seton Hill for personal reasons.
“Things didn't work out there,” he said. “It wasn't the right fit for me.”
Pitt-Johnstown accepted Cressler with open arms.
Known for his athleticism and leaping ability — those who saw his acrobatic dunks in the Cager Classic know — Cressler has seen time at shooting guard and small forward at UPJ.
“I had interest in Drew when he was coming out of high school,” said UPJ coach Bob Rukavina, who lives in Lower Burrell. “He contacted us about transferring, and we were looking to sign a guard for this upcoming season. We felt that we couldn't get a guard coming out of high school better than Drew, so we signed him.”
Cressler said he considered Gannon, Bloomsburg and Indiana (Pa.) when he knew he was leaving Seton Hill.
He's averaging 9.9 points and 5.9 rebounds and 2.3 blocks in 27.9 minutes. Last season at Seton Hill, Cressler averaged 11.1 points and four rebounds as a starter. He scored 30 against Fairmont State and 28 against Gannon in double overtime.
“His main strength is his work ethic. He is constantly in the gym trying to make himself a better player,” Rukavina said. “And he is a very coachable player. He wants to learn and get better, and he wants to win more than anything.”
Cressler loves UPJ's up-and-down style.
“Coach Rukavina is a player's coach,” he said. “He let's us — I don't want to say play free — but our offense is meant to create for yourself and others.”
Cressler received minimal Division I attention coming out of Plum, where he's the third all-time leading scorer. He had strong interest from Army and Elon (N.C.) but chose the prep school route.
When more Division I offers, from higher-tier programs, didn't come after the post-grad year, Cressler decided the Division II level would be best.
“People don't realize how good some Division II conferences are,” he said. “There are teams in the PAC or WVIAC that could beat some NEC teams. It's still a high level of basketball.”
All told, winning always has been a major selling point for Cressler (6-foot-4, 195 pounds).
“There were a few (larger) schools recruiting me, but they weren't winning programs,” he said. “It sucks to lose.”
Rukavina said college recruiting can be more about the right fit than hype, and Cressler is a prime example.
“There are a lot of guys at the Division II level that could play at the Division 1 level,” Rukavina said. “When I am recruiting, I tell the prospects to go where you are going to be comfortable, where you are wanted the most and where you can have a successful career.
“Today, kids get too hung up on what level they are going to play at. Most kids today have no idea how competitive it is at any level of college basketball.”
Rukavina has recruited heavily in the WPIAL. His roster also includes Franklin Regional's Nick Novak, Butler's Noah Hartung, Hampton's Bill Luther and Norwin's Matt Palo.
In between classes and games, Cressler finds time to follow his brother's budding college career. Nolan Cressler, Plum's all-time leading scorer, is a starting freshman at Cornell.
Drew and family members are traveling to see Cornell play Dec. 19 at Duke.
“I can't say I am impressed with what my brother's doing,” Drew said. “I knew he could do this. He deserves it more than anybody. I guarantee you he works harder than anyone in the offseason.”
The Cressler brothers have had their share of heated pick-up games over the years, some that even came to blows, but basketball has strengthened their bond.
They have played on the same summer-league teams, from the Hill District, to Sto-Rox to Penn Hills.
“We'll always be on the same team when it comes to life,” Drew said.
Bill Beckner Jr. is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-224-2696 or firstname.lastname@example.org.