Kwiatkowski sets the bar for future NIttany Lions

Andy Kwiatkowski pulls up for a jump shot.
Andy Kwiatkowski pulls up for a jump shot.

Hazleton, Pa. - History will judge just how special a basketball player Andy Kwiatkowski is in the anils of Penn State Hazleton Athletics. In the meantime, we'll have to settle for "one of the greats" following Kwiatkowski's landmark achievement on December 4, 2021, when he became the 11th basketball player in campus history to eclipse the career 1,000 point milestone.

After one season with the Centennial Conference's McDaniel College, Kwiatkowski found some success at the NCAA Division III level. During the 2017-18 season with the Green Terror, Andy made nine starts as a freshman, racking up double-figures in the scoring column in his first year, but he was hungry for more. Thus, a search began that would allow him to fully develop and display his talents on the basketball court. In the summer of 2018, Kwiatkowski made the decision to leave McDaniel College for the campus of Penn State Hazleton, roughly 177 miles from his hometown of Gaithersburg, Md.

Upon his arrival at Hazleton, Andy made an immediate impression on the program. To say he was a gym rat is an understatement and that hard work paid dividends come game time. Andy came off the bench to start his Hazleton career, but it soon became evident that he would be tough to keep out of the lineup. Kwiatkowski went on to make 13 starts during his first year at Hazleton and shot over 44 percent from beyond the arc to help the Lions to an eight-win season in the Penn State University Athletic Conference and a post-season berth. He tallied 20 or more points on nine occasions, totaling 417 points and earning him a first-team selection to the PSUAC's Eastern Division All-Conference Team.

After playing in all 24 of the Nittany Lions games in 2018-19 Kwiatkowski would face some adversity during his second season with Hazleton. Injuries slowed down the junior's pace midway through the 2019-20 season, causing Kwiatkowski to miss a total of six games that year, but when healthy Andy was electric on the court. An early season, buzzer-beating three-pointer set the junior up for a spectacular season where Andy led the entire conference in scoring at 22.1 points per game. Kwiatkowski notched 30 or more points on four occurrences and trailed the total points leader in the PSUAC by just 68 points despite playing in six fewer games. Along the way, Andy topped his sophomore season record of 59 triples made with 66 makes from beyond the arc in 158 attempts, propelling the Nittany Lions to a second straight playoff appearance and earning Andy the honor of being named PSUAC Eastern Division Player of the Year.

With two seasons in the books at Hazleton, Andy found himself just 164 points shy of the 1,000-point milestone heading into his fourth year of intercollegiate athletics, but shortly after completing the 2019-20 season, everything would be put on pause. The pandemic wreaked havoc on the sporting world and college sports in particular, as Andy and tens of thousands of athletes around the country wrestled with the fallout of Covid-19. Hope came in the summer of 2020 with cases declining around the country but as the fall rolled around, the conference elected to cancel the 2020-21 basketball season leaving Andy and many others with tough decisions to make.

In the end, it was Andy's passion for the game that would help steer his course. After attending Penn State Hazleton in the fall of 2020, Andy put his academics on hold knowing that a semester off in the spring of 2021 would allow him to compete one last season while finishing up his Business degree at the campus. With that plan in mind, Andy waited for the college sports climate to improve and in the summer of 2021, the University announced the return of the full slate of intercollegiate athletics.

On November 4 of 2021, Andy and the Nittany Lions took the court for their first game in nearly 20 months. After shaking off some rust in the team's first three non-conference games of the year, Andy clearly hasn't lost his knack for putting the ball in the hoop. As Hazleton entered conference play, the senior put up three straight games of 20 or more points, inching closer towards the career achievement. And on December 4 of2021, the squad made their trip to western Pennsylvania for a matchup with Penn State Greater Allegheny with Kwiatkowski just 11 points shy of 1,000.

Knowing your close to a milestone can sometimes affect a competitors' play but in Andy's case, it was business as usual. Midway through the conference battle at Greater Allegheny, Andy struck for three straight triples, surging past the 1,000-point mark in the process. Fittingly, Andy's achievement came from where he's most comfortable on the court, behind the three-point line (and sometimes way behind the line). Regardless of the accolades, Andy didn't flinch after the achievement. Hazleton needed the win to keep in the playoff hunt and the senior continued to do whatever he could to make that a reality. Kwiatkowski finished the game with a 31-point effort on 10-of-19 shooting from the field, adding five triples and going 6-for-6 from the free throw line, carrying the Lions to a 71-68 win, their fourth conference victory of the season at that time.

With the milestone achieved, we can now look back at how impressive Andy's play has been over the past two and a half seasons. Head Coach Jeff Rush has spent nearly 16 years with the program as a player and coach and can't recall a player with the tenacity that Kwiatkowski brings to the table. "I have never had a teammate or a coached a player who puts in as much work as Andy", stated Rush. "It doesn't matter if it's a team drill or getting individual reps, Andy always gives 100 percent and does everything at game speed. At times, I actually ask him to jog through some drills because I have no idea how his body can hold up so well."

Coach Rush went on to reminisce about just how impressive and efficient Andy has been during his tenure at Hazleton. "Andy is definitely the focal point of our offense, so he doesn't get a whole lot of easy shots off", said Rush. "Opponents are always game-planning to shut him down, but he continues to shoot a high percentage despite the majority of his attempts coming from the perimeter. He has been an absolute pleasure to coach and truly deserving of every award and accomplishment that he has earned along the long the way."

Andy's efficiency on the basketball court has been outstanding throughout his two and a half seasons. To date, the senior has shot over 41 percent from beyond the arc and just over 46 percent from the field during his career. Combined with an 80 percent conversion rate from the free throw line, Kwiatkowski has created the perfect recipe for success. While Andy is playing in his third season for the Nittany Lions, it took Andy just 52 games to reach the 1,000-point milestone, a feat only matched by one other player in the Penn State Hazleton history. Prior to Hazleton becoming a four-year institution, Chris Bigger reached the 1,000-point mark during the 1989-90 season, simultaneously becoming the first player ever to achieve the feat and over thirty years later, remains the fastest player to ever do so.

Kwiatkowski is now the second fastest player ever to score 1,000 points and the quickest to do so in the four-year era, an achievement Andy is certainly proud of. "I'm so appreciative to have had teammates that have confidence in me and a coaching staff that was willing to give me a chance," said Kwiatkowski. "When hours upon hours of hard work and preparation meet opportunity, great things can happen to anyone."