While Ryan Krawczeniuk is preparing to wrap up his college career as part of a history-making men’s basketball team at East Stroudsburg University, he can’t help but think about how he got started on this path.
“It all started in a little Hoop City gym in Throop when I was in fourth grade with coach (Mark) Rinaldi and coach (John) Bucci,” Krawczeniuk said in a telephone interview from Sioux Falls, S.D. where the National Collegiate Athletic Association Division II men’s basketball title will be decided this week. “To be here in Sioux Falls for my last games ever, it’s kind of hard to take in right now.”
The 6-foot-2 senior guard from Meyers and former JB Hoops AAU player is in Sioux Falls with the Warriors, who will make their first appearance in the Division II Elite Eight, beginning Tuesday.
Krawczeniuk scored 10 points and provided some clutch late game foul shooting March 13 when East Stroudsburg won the first Atlantic Region men’s basketball title in school history, 84-72, over Shippensburg University in Ettrick, Va.
Unlike Division I and its Final Four, Division II brings its final eight teams to one location.
East Stroudsburg, the sixth seed in the remaining field, takes a 27-5 record into Tuesday’s 9:30 game against third-seeded Northern State from South Dakota (34-3) in a game that can be viewed online at NCAA.com. The winner will meet either second-seeded Queens, N.C. (31-3) or Cal Baptist (28-5) in Thursday’s national semifinals on the CBS Sports Network.
Top-seeded Ferris State (35-1), Barry (23-8), West Texas A&M (31-3) and LeMoyne (27-6) make up the rest of the field.
The national title game is Saturday at 3 p.m. on CBS.
”I just want to give a big thank you to JB Hoops and everybody that works at Backcourt Hoops,” Kraczeniuk said. “There’s no doubt that they were probably the most integral part of my development as a player, but more important, coach Bucci, coach (Mike) Show, coach (Bill) Callahan and the late coach Rinaldi have all helped me become a better person and a better man.
“They’ve helped me grow off the court as well and that’s probably more important than what they’ve done for me on the court, so I just want to express my gratitude to the whole JB Hoops family and let them know that not only am I playing for the school, but I’m playing for them as well.”
East Stroudsburg outscored Shippensburg, 17-5, over the final 4:23 to break away from a tie game and reach the Elite Eight on a 13-game winning streak.
Krawczeniuk went 4-for-4 from the line and the Warriors were 6-for-6 total over the final two minutes. He also hit a 3-pointer during a 7-0 streak and 14-3 run to a 64-56 lead with eight minutes left.
Like most outstanding foul shooters, Krawczeniuk said he knows the feeling of being locked in at the line, hearing nothing and seeing nothing but the rim. He said that, however, was not the case on his first attempt.
“Behind the rim, you could see yourself on the Jumbotron, so I’m watching myself dribble and watching myself go into my shot and I thought the first one I was going to miss because I wasn’t really paying attention to the shot,” Krawczeniuk said. “Then, after I saw the first one go through, I knew I was going to make the rest of the them.
“I got myself into a little bit of a rhythm.”
Coming off the bench, Krawczeniuk finished as one of five Warriors to score in double figures.
“I know that even though I’m not a starter, I’m going to play starter minutes, so it’s never really been an issue getting myself ready to play,” Krawczeniuk said. “I know that at the end of the game in crucial moments, coach (Jeff) Wilson has enough trust in me to put me on the floor.
“So, coming off the bench, giving us that spark is actually something that I take pride in at this point.”
East Stroudsburg lost in its previous two regional final appearances, in 1990 and 2014.
The Warriors defeated Gannon, 78-69, and West Chester, 90-76, in earlier NCAA Tournament games. Krawczeniuk has 27 points in those 3 games.
East Stroudsburg has the second-most wins in school history, behind only the 2013-14 team that went 30-2. It is in the NCAA tournament for the fifth time in nine years.
The East Stroudsburg-Shippensburg game was the first all-Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference final in the Atlantic Region since the 2008 and 2009 tournaments.
Krawczeniuk, who played one year at Mansfield University before transferring to East Stroudsburg, helped the Warriors get there. He has played an average of 21.6 minutes per game while scoring 8.7 points, dishing out 2.7 steals, grabbing 2.3 rebounds and making 0.9 steals.
East Stroudsburg is trying to follow the 1978 Cheyney team, coached by John Chaney on his way to Temple University fame, to become just the second PSAC school to win the national title. It already claimed its third PSAC championship in the last seven years with the help of an offense that averages 92.6 points per game.
The steady scoring in the NCAA Tournament, where he has at least eight points in each game, and the clutch foul shooting are nothing new for Krawczeniuk.
Krawczeniuk leads the team in bench scoring for the second straight year with the help of being its third-leading 3-point shooter and top percentage foul shooter. He has 53 3-pointers this season and 121 in his East Stroudsburg career.
“I came off the bench my first two years,” said Krawczeniuk, who shoots 37.0 percent from the floor, 36.8 percent from 3-point range and 88.7 percent from the line. “When I came in this year, I thought I’d be getting a starting role, but coach Wilson approached me early in the year and told me that he needed me to come off the bench.
“At first it was a little bit of a shock and a little bit frustrating, but I saw why he needed me to do it and I saw the production I was able to provide and give to the team. So, now I’ve taken pride in being the sixth man and coming in and trying to get the team going. “
For the season, Krawczeniuk is third on the team assists and fifth in points and minutes played.
Krawczeniuk will be ready when the Warriors need a change of pace or need to quiet what figures to be a strong Northern State preference in the crowd. Bo, Stacey and Emma Krawczeniuk, Ryan’s parents and sister join both parents for at least two teammates in what, so far, figures to be a small gathering of East Stroudsburg fans.
“We’ll have about 10-12 fans in the stands while we’re playing Northern State, which is from South Dakota, and bringing up about four buses full of their students,” Krawczeniuk said. “It’s going to be a little hostile.”