Josh Pierre-Louis, a basketball player with a prodigious jump, took his greatest leap of faith this year when he changed coasts and came to UCSB.
There would be no Thanksgiving dinner in Plainfield, N.J. with his parents, Frantz and Crystal, and his four siblings. He wouldn’t be able to join them around the family tree on Christmas morning, either.
“My family is me… That’s me,” said Pierre-Louis, a 19-year-old sophomore transfer from Temple University. “My brothers are my best friends. Being so far from all that can get you feeling a little depressed and down.”
But he feels he stuck the landing in Santa Barbara. He made an impactful debut with the Gauchos on Sunday, scoring 12 points in a 92-55 victory over Saint Katherine’s. They’ll be back in action with home games on Thursday against Bethesda and Monday against Loyola Marymount, with both tipoffs at 5 p.m.
The Thunderdome already feels like home to Pierre-Louis.
“Being here with a good group of guys, you really don’t feel homesick,” he said. “It’s a family. It’s your second family. It’s like, ‘Yeah, I’m far away from my parents and my brothers,’ but the guys here have been so welcoming.”
He thought that might not be the case, joining a team of seven lettermen and two redshirts that had already bonded. He “felt even more uncomfortable about it” last month when the NCAA granted his waiver for immediate eligibility. Would other Gauchos resent losing playing time to the new 6-foot-4 guard?
“I thought it might get a little shaky, but there’s been no confrontation… Nothing,” Pierre-Louis said. “These guys have really bought into that concept of attitude and family.
“Duke talks about the brotherhood, and attitude, and I feel like we’re a brotherhood. When you’re not an open slap of the hand, you become a fist, and it’s hard to beat a group of guys that becomes a fist.”
The competitive environment is actually a healthy one, he pointed out.
“Every day, somebody is coming for your neck, but they’re also there to make you better,” Pierre-Louis said. “With a bench so deep, it doesn’t matter who’s on what team, it’s always going to be competitive.”
The talent is as good as anything he saw while playing for Temple in the tough American Athletic Conference.
“We’re trying to be Big West champions and compete for a national championship,” he said. “We’re set far away from thinking that we can’t be a national champion. This is the year.”
Pierre-Louis comes from a basketball family. His father was inducted into Wagner University’s Hall of Fame after a stellar career which included averages of 19.6 points and 7.9 rebounds during his senior year of 1998-99. He continued on to play overseas for eight more seasons.
Josh’s older brother, Nate, starred at Temple and is now pursuing a professional career.
He believes UCSB offers its own path to the next level with coach Joe Pasternack’s NBA connections. Assistant Larry Lewis also worked three years for Los Angeles Lakers in player development and spent three other seasons with the Sacramento Kings.
“Coach Lewis, working with Kobe Bryant, always says that you don’t mature and grow and reach your full potential until you feel a sense of uncomfortability,” Pierre-Louis said. “And me being here, it’s been a little comfortable, especially with COVID.
“I don’t get to go home for Thanksgiving or Christmas, but my parents are all on board. They know that it’s my dream and aspiration to make it to the NBA. If it takes coming to California to get there, that’s what I’m going to do.”
His younger brother, Christian, is a sophomore at Roselle Catholic High, the same school that Josh helped lead to the 2018 New Jersey State final. UCSB has already offered Christian a scholarship. He has one other brother, Aidan, and a sister, Alayana.
“My brothers Facetime me every day … or group call,” he said. “That’s what keeps me going. They let me know that I have people back home supporting me and pushing me to be great.”
Pierre-Louis’ basketball background is one of his best assets, Pasternack said.
“His dad was a great player, a professional, and Josh is from a very successful program,” he said. “He had a great high school coach, and he has all the makings and pedigree to be an outstanding player.
“What he really needs is experience. With age and experience, he’s going to be an incredible player down the road.”
Pierre-Louis’ explosive acceleration made a big impression on Sunday.
“Skipp is phenomenal in transition,” said junior all-leaguer Amadou Sow, referring to Pierre-Louis by his nickname. “He’s always looking to get guys going, and he crashes hard.”
He inherited his father’s hunger for rebounds. Frantz Pierre-Louis set a Northeast Conference record when he grabbed 22 missed shots in one game. His son had six in his Gaucho debut.
“I should’ve had 10,” he said. “That’s one of my biggest pet peeves, when I don’t rebound the ball at my highest clip.”
But Pierre-Louis is satisfied with where he is now. On Thanksgiving Day, it was in the home of his coach, breaking bread with the Pasternack family.
“He’s a family guy,” he said, “and I’m all about family guys.”