With the Boston College men’s basketball season well underway, you may have seen a familiar face taking the floor.
After four years as a pitcher for the BC men’s baseball team — including a senior year stint as team captain— Dorchester’s own Chris Kowalski has brought his unique athleticism and attitude to the Eagles basketball squad.
The 22 year-old Melville Park native stands at 6-foot-6 and weighs 240 pounds. But his size is not the only reason his immense presence is felt. Despite limited playing time so far this season, Kowalski knows his role on the team and knows what he has to bring each and every day.
“I bring the team a certain intensity and work ethic,” Kowalski told the Reporter this week. “Guys have been good, but with me coming in and giving that extra edge, guys go harder in practice. Everyone reaches their full potential because coach Donahue is an intense guy, and I’m kind of there to help keep the focus, keep good reps in practice, and keep everything flowing off the court as well.”
Kowalski grew up playing youth sports in Dorchester from Cedar Grove Baseball to the All Dorchester Sports League.
“It was always fun playing with the guys from the neighborhood, guys like Eddie Guerard, the Hayes brothers, Dennis Moran and a bunch of others. It was a blast to play all sports with them because they were always competitive and fun to be around,” said Kowalski.
He was a standout baseball and basketball player at Roxbury Latin, where he was a four-year letterman and captain of both teams.
After four seasons of baseball for the Eagles, Kowalski entertained the idea of joining the basketball team last June, knowing the squad was looking for new players after former coach Al Skinner was let go last spring. One of Kowalski’s friends on the team recommended that he approach the new coach— Steve Donahue— about walking on for the upcoming season.
Donahue was very “open and honest,” Kowalski says, letting him know he wasn’t sure about a spot on the team. The coach said he could start by working out with the guys over the summer, but “there’s no guarantees.”
When Chris first told his father, Jack, about his interest in trying to make the squad, the older Kowalski was both thrilled and surprised. He also gave his son some advice, saying, “Just enjoy yourself and give it your best shot.”
Chris took the opportunity and ran with it. He hit the gym with the basketball team for the first time last summer. The last time he played organized basketball was his senior year of high school at the Roxbury Latin School. He was lightly recruited for basketball coming out of high school, but chose to play baseball instead. He had to get back into basketball shape and find his game again.
The summer sessions really worked for him. He practiced with his soon to be teammates twice a day to rebuild the basketball skill he’d almost lost. They pushed each other hard getting better as the months went by. Kowalski grew to love the hard work and competition and was hoping for the best as recruits were coming in and out.
Then in August, just before school was about to start, Coach Donahue asked Kowalski to see him in his office. Donahue told Kowalski he wanted him on the team, he’d earned his place. Kowalski remembers how he felt when he heard the news.
“Wow, this is crazy, this is great, I was thrilled,” Kowalski said.
Having a good relationship with the basketball players prior to joining the team, including his current roommates, senior forward, Joe Trapani, and former forward, Tyler Roche, made it pretty easy to fit in. Donahue wanted to bring in guys that could help the team win but could also help them grow together, and with Kowalski he knew he was getting exactly what he needed. Donahue also knew the attitude and leadership that the Dorchester product would bring to the group.
Trapani has known Kowalski since the senior starter transferred from Vermont to B.C. and they have become even closer now that they live together. When Trapani first heard Chris was trying out for the team he was all for it.
“I knew that since he was a captain and successful in baseball that he would help make this team work harder and get better,” Trapani said. “He worked out with me everyday this summer and helped guys get better while also improving himself.”
After his roommate made the team, Trapani said, “I was thrilled. He brings energy and work ethic to our team and helps us focus every single day. He balances the line of having fun and joking around with being serious and knowing when we have to work hard. He’s a great kid and I love him being on the team and he has helped us in a big way.”
Chris embraces this leadership role as he did a year ago as a captain of the baseball team and his teammates respect that.
The first game he played in as a member of the basketball team was against St. Francis (NY). He got about 8 minutes of playing time but immediately found out the difference between basketball and baseball. Kowalski was so used to warming up, coming out of the bullpen, and walking to the mound.
Not in basketball, he laughed.
“It was so weird, you just get thrown right into it.”
Chris has helped the Eagles basketball team to a 14-7 overall record with a 4-3 record in the Atlantic Coast Conference. With nine conference games remaining Kowalski hopes to help boost the team to the top as they head into the conference tournament.
On top of all of Chris’ success at Boston College, the Seattle Mariners reached out to him a few weeks after the professional baseball draft last June. At that time Chris had his mind set on graduate school and now has added a new chapter to his life with an advanced degree and a new team.
He still has a dream of playing baseball professionally, but for now that’s not on his mind. Kowalski is focused on his graduate studies at the Heights and helping his basketball team win, all while keeping an eye on where he came from and how hard he had to work to get where he’s at now.