When Nick Muszynski was getting ready for his junior season at St. Charles, one of coach Jacob Daniel's assistants predicted they were about to see a big step forward from a player whom Daniel previously had considered "soft."

"To see what this guy's become, it's kind of a funny anecdote," Daniel said. "Our assistant was saying Nick's going to be good the summer between his sophomore and junior year, and I didn't even know if he was going to make the team. But he started every game as a junior, we won the (CCL) championship and Nick just amazed me."

That significantly higher caliber of play has continued for Muszynski, who grew to about 6-foot-11 by his senior year and helped the Cardinals win league titles during each of his final two prep seasons.

A Pickerington native and 2017 St. Charles graduate, Muszynski recently finished his redshirt sophomore season as a center for Belmont.

He helped the Bruins qualify for the NCAA tournament for the second consecutive season before the postseason was canceled because of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

"Everybody was going in the right way and I was pretty confident we were in a great place and had great things to come," Muszynski said. "Obviously circumstances changed that."

After spending his sophomore season at St. Charles on junior varsity, Muszynski averaged 11.5 points and seven rebounds as a junior as the Cardinals went 22-2.

He then developed into one of the Central District's top players as a senior, averaging 16 points, 11.3 rebounds and 2.5 blocks as St. Charles went 24-3 in 2016-17.

After making first-team all-league and second-team all-district as a senior, Muszynski was redshirted for his first collegiate season but proved more than ready when called on to fill a key role the next year.

He scored 18 points in each of his first two college games and averaged 14.7 points and 5.8 rebounds that season as Belmont went 27-6.

The Bruins lost to Murray State 77-65 in the Ohio Valley Conference championship game but earned an at-large berth to the NCAA tournament and beat Temple 81-70 in a First Four game in Dayton. They then lost to Maryland 79-77 in the next round.

Muszynski, who did not play in the 2019 OVC championship game because of a foot injury but returned for the NCAA tournament, increased his averages to 15.3 points and 6.4 rebounds this winter as the Bruins went 26-7.

Belmont set up a rematch with Murray State in this year's league title game with a 60-50 victory over Eastern Kentucky on March 6. The next day, Muszynski had 25 points, eight rebounds and two blocks to earn tournament MVP honors as Belmont won 76-75.

Five days later, the NCAA announced the cancelation of the winter sports postseason because of the coronavirus.

"It was definitely a wild two weeks," Muszynski said. "They started canceling conference tournaments so we knew there was a legitimate chance. It was more of playing in front of nobody is more of what we were expecting. That would have stunk, but we'd have much rather had that than the alternative."

Belmont won its last 12 games with a roster filled with players eligible to return.

In addition to Muszynski, sophomore guards Adam Kunkel (16.5 points) and Grayson Murphy (9.8 points) and junior guard Nick Hopkins (5.6 points) were key players.

Muszynski, who is planning to graduate in 2021 and is studying corporate communications and marketing, has continued to impress Daniel.

"Nick's high school career completely surprised me," Daniel said. "He's always been a guy that keeps developing and he's so long and so coordinated with both hands and he has skills. Now he's a tougher player. He's one of the greatest players to ever play at St. Charles. He's always had a great mind and a great personality. As far as what he's done in college, I'm not surprised that (he has been a surprise). If Nick keeps developing, he can play professional basketball."

julrey@thisweeknews.com

@UlreyThisWeek