By William Bowman
The Daily Item
LEWISBURG -- Mike Muscala, Bucknell's star center, famously committed to Bucknell the first day he stepped foot on campus. As a reward, he is heading home.
Dave Paulsen's Bison, preseason favorites in the Patriot League with four returning starters from last year's 25-win NCAA tournament team, open the season Friday and they will do so in Muscala's backyard. The Bison kick off a brutal non-conference schedule with a road trip to Minneapolis to take on Minnesota, a campus that is literally 10 minutes from Muscala's hometown of Roseville.
It is a common practice in the college basketball world for coaches to try to schedule a game as close as they can to home for a player who goes to school a long way from his hometown.
"If we can we will try to go, for our guys who are from out of town; we will try to get as close as we can to their home," said Paulsen, who is entering his fourth season in Lewisburg. "Last year we went to Marquette because it was couple of hour from Ben Brackney. We tried like crazy to get Vanderbilt on the schedule last year, which was close as we could get to G.W. Boon's hometown, we just couldn't get it done.
"If the guys coming from a long way away, we try to get there once in four years," said Paulsen.
Muscala, a 6-foot-11 center, averaged 24 points, 15 rebounds and four blocks a game as a senior at Roseville and was a finalist for Minnesota's Mr. Basketball honor. He returns home where he will get to play in front of friends and family, who have been trying to round up as many tickets as they can for Friday's 7 p.m. tip
Despite the distance, Muscala said his family gets to see him play between three to five times a season, so they are excited for the homecoming.
"They have definitely been looking forward to this game for months," he said. "I told them about a year ago, when we knew. I've got a lot of friends and family and old coaches that are coming, so it's going to be great. A lot of kids I went to school with go to Minnesota, so they are planning something crazy. I am really looking forward it."
The 2010-11 Patriot League Player of the Year, Muscala said he attended a handful of Gopher games growing up and he is familiar with most of their roster because he plays in a summer league with a lot of them when he returns home.
With up to 150 friends and family members in attendance on Friday night, Muscala said there is some added pressure to play well, not just to get the Bison off a good start with a trip Tuesday to No. 7 Vanderbilt looming, but simply because he would like to play well in front of the home crowd.
"Before the tip, I am sure I feel some butterflies; there is some added pressure going back there to play. But once the ball goes up, everything will be fine," he said.
Paulsen said Muscala has worked hard in the offseason after averaging 15 points and 7.5 rebounds a game as a sophomore. At practice this week, he took an elbow to the head and got a gash above his eye that required stitches, but Paulsen had to talk him out of returning to practice.
"Nobody works harder than Mike," Paulsen said. "He wants so badly to be great that he's just got to understand he's not going to be great on every play. People forget he is a junior and a young junior (he turned 20 in July). But his next step is to become a dominant rebounder and we've seen that so far in the preseason."