Gateway grad John Paul Kromka makes immediate impact for UPJ men’s basketball
In his first college basketball game Nov. 9, John Paul Kromka found himself in a pressure situation with all the eyes in the arena fixated on him.
The 6-foot-7 Gateway graduate and freshman on the Pitt Johnstown men’s basketball team went the foul line with one second left and the season opener with nationally-ranked Virginia State tied at 58.
He made one of the two free throws to lift the Mountain Cats to the victory.
“It was a little nerve wracking, but my teammates did a good job of calming me down,” Kromka said. “It was a free throw. I had been doing this my whole life.”
Kromka has not looked back since that first game and has taken on a prominent starting role with the UPJ squad, which features a young lineup. He and several other freshmen are making their marks as the Mountain Cats posted an 11-5 overall record and a 6-3 mark in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference after a 95-72 triumph over Cal (Pa.) on Jan. 16.
“I felt that if coach called my number, I would be able to step in and play well,” Kromka said. “I was prepared to do whatever I needed to do to help the team or get to the point where I could be productive right away. It just worked out that he relied on me this early.”
Kromka scored 12 points and pulled down 10 rebounds — his third double-double of the season — to help UPJ top the Vulcans. He is second on the team in scoring average at 14.6 points per game, and he leads the team in rebounds at 7.8 a contest.
The scoring average rises to 15.9 and the rebounds to 8.2 in conference play.
“John Paul just knows the game of basketball so well,” Mountain Cats coach Bob Rukavina said. “There are a lot of guys who are talented but just don’t know the game. He’s so coachable, and he’s always on such an even keel. He doesn’t get too up or too down. That’s so important because if you get down on one play, it’s easy to miss the next play. He plays through the bad and good all the same.”
Kromka also leads the team in field goal percentage (.630) and blocks (41) and is second in free-throw percentage (83.1, 59 of 71).
“Our leading scorer and rebounder last year were both inside guys, and they were seniors,” Rukavina said. “We knew a couple of the freshmen like John Paul would have a chance to come in and play right away. Just from watching him play, I knew he would be able to step in and do well. He was ready and much better than I anticipated.”
Kromka has been named PSAC Freshman of the Week twice and joins three other UPJ freshman who have received the honor this season.
Kromka said he and his youthful teammates have embraced the opportunity and are excited the team sits where it does heading into the final days of January.
“There are times where we might have four or five freshmen on the court,” Kromka said. “People ask what it is like to be so young out there and be in such significant roles. I really don’t think about it because we’ve been playing basketball our entire lives, so we just go out and play and try to do our best. We have the feeling that someone is going to step up each game. We don’t worry about being young or anything like that. But being young really bodes well for the future.”
UPJ has won two in a row after a mini two-game slide. The Mountain Cats also defeated Edinboro, 100-88, on Jan. 12.
PSAC contests at Mercyhurst on Saturday and at Slippery Rock on Wednesday were to be contested past the deadline for this week’s edition.
UPJ is back in action at 3 p.m. Saturday at home against Seton Hill. The regular season continues until Feb. 27 and leads up to the PSAC Tournament March 4-10.
“The outlook is that we can definitely make some noise in the PSAC and beyond,” Kromka said. “We’re just going to see how far we can go.”
Michael Love is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Michael at email@example.com or via Twitter @MLove_Trib.
Michael Love is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Michael at 412-856-7400 x8632, firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter .