‘The last go around’ for senior sharpshooter Justin Jaworski, who looks to lead men’s basketball to a deep playoff run in March

Senior co-captain Justin Jaworski has had an impressive athletic and academic career at Lafayette—and he is not finished just yet. Despite sustaining a serious knee injury in his critical junior season and training under new regulations this season due to the pandemic, Jaworski still has a winning vision for both the team and himself.

The 2020-2021 season has been an unpredictable one. The men’s basketball team has experienced multiple postponements and cancellations of games, and have been changing how they practice and compete in response to rules imposed by the school and the Patriot League.

The uncertainty in the schedule has been intimidating, but it hasn’t stopped Jaworski from averaging more than 20 points per game this season.

“It hasn’t been ideal not knowing who we’re playing, sometimes all the way up until the day before the game,” he said. “But at the end of the day, most college athletes got their seasons canceled, so we’re just happy that we get the opportunity to play. We have a bunch of guys that just love basketball on our team, so we’ll go out and play against whoever.”

Jaworski is Lafayette’s leading scorer this season, but as a high schooler he had trouble getting attention from colleges. As a dual-sport athlete at Perkiomen Valley High School in southeastern Pennsylvania, he played three years of varsity football, and was a starting captain and made All-League honors for three of his four years of basketball. In his senior year of high school, he averaged 22.2 points and helped lead his team to a league championship. 

“I was really under-recruited,” Jaworski said. “Most people are committing at a Division I school around their junior year summer, but I didn’t have an offer until March of my senior year.”

“It was kind of risky on my part, because I had about 20 to 30 football offers, but I turned them all down. I lost all those offers just hoping that I would get one for basketball,” he added. “When Lafayette came in, I took the visit, I got to play with the guys and practice with them a little bit, and the fit was perfect, so I kind of knew right away.”

Jaworski had a standout rookie season, starting in 13 games and averaging 10.8 points per game. Additionally, he received a Patriot League Rookie of the Week nod. 

Being part of the basketball team was something that helped him break out of his shell when he got to college, he said.

“Coming onto campus as a freshman, I was pretty nervous,” Jaworski said. “I’m more of an introverted kind of guy. I’m not a very outgoing person, so just having a built-in friend group with a lot of great people that I met on the team has just been really cool for me. It helped me kind of branch out to meet other people on campus.” 

In his sophomore season, he finished second in the nation and third in the Patriot League in three-point shooting with a percentage of 48.8, and finished second in the league in free-throw shooting with a mark of 87.8 percent. He also led the team in scoring with 14.4 points per game, all while being named to the Patriot League Academic Honor Roll.

Jaworski is an economics major, and is in the Athletes of Color program alongside many of his teammates, a group that works to amplify the voices of athletes of color at Lafayette and educate students on topics such as race, diversity and inclusion. 

In his 2019-2020 season, Jaworski was named Patriot League Scholar Athlete of the Year, leading the team with a perfect 4.0 GPA in the spring semester. 

Also last year, he missed the final seven games of the season due to a knee injury, but nonetheless was named to the 2019-20 National Association of Basketball Coaches Honors Court. 

“The ACL surgery was just a crazy setback for me because there’s a lot of doubt involved in it,” he said. “I think that’s been the most difficult part for me, but I’m just happy that I’m healthy enough to play.” 

After college, Jaworski said his plan is to keep playing.

“I’ve been in contact with a pretty good amount of pro scouts and agents,” he said. “Hopefully, if all goes well, and COVID calms down a little bit, I’ll be able to work out in front of some NBA teams this summer, and then I’ll declare for the draft. Whether I get drafted or not is kind of up in the air, and then hopefully I’ll just keep playing whether it’s here or abroad.”

In the meantime, however, Jaworski has other plans.

“Our goal is to win our league tournament and get to the NCAA [tournament]. But right now, our main focus is trying to stay healthy and make sure we’re eligible for that,” he said. “Obviously I want to win the championship—that was the first thing I said when I committed here. This is kind of like our last go around to do it and we have the talent to do it. I think that’s definitely attainable for us, and then everything else I think will take care of itself.”

The team is currently 6-4 on the season and averaging around 77 points per game. Jaworski is leads the team in points with 212 so far this season, or 21.2 per game.  

In this past weekend’s games against Loyola, the team proved yet again their ability to bounce back from a loss. After dropping a 75-62 decision against the Greyhounds on Sunday, the Leopards answered with an 80-76 win the following day.

Keep an eye out for Jaworski for the rest of the season, as the Leopards gear up to meet Loyola Maryland once again this weekend in another home-and-home series, before the playoffs begin in March.

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