Back when the building had seats of various color and condition, bleachers that ringed the upper tier and a different name, the mind of a young area basketball player and Notre Dame fan already was at work.
Watching guys like former McDonald’s High School All-American Chris Thomas do what he did on the court, the kid wondered if he might one day be good enough to wear the Irish jersey and play on that Joyce Center (now Purcell Pavilion) floor.
“I wanted to play at Notre Dame,” said Mishawaka native Robert Mischler. “I dreamed of playing there.”
Mischler finally gets a chance Sunday, but he’ll be wearing the red and white of Cornell University, where he’s a sophomore reserve guard on a struggling Big Red squad. And when he steps on the floor to loosen up some 90 minutes before the 1 p.m., tip, someone he considers one of his closest friends will do so for the other team.
As a sophomore at Marian High School, he gravitated toward one particular player who was a class younger. The point guard, who was quiet and reserved off the floor but supremely confident on it, knew how to get Mischler the ball in all the right spots.
If Mischler was making shots — and he made plenty of them his senior season when he was nicknamed “Bobby Buckets” — it likely was a result of an assist from Demetrius Jackson, now a freshman guard at Notre Dame.
The two helped bring 22 wins and a sectional championship to Marian in 2012. Jackson, a junior, averaged a team-high 22.3 points, Mischler, a senior, averaged 13.8. He scored 987 career points and shot better than 40 percent from 3.
Both were Michiana McDonald’s All-Stars in the spring of 2012. It was the last time they played together.
“He’s always been a hard-working kid since I’ve known him,” Jackson said of Mischler. “He’s just a funny guy who could brighten your day. Every day with Robert was memorable.”
Mischler heard rumblings this summer that Cornell (0-8) was looking to piggy-back a Thanksgiving weekend trip to the Midwest — he did not play in Friday’s 83-70 loss at Western Michigan — and swing through South Bend to play Notre Dame (4-1). When the schedule was finalized in August, he spied the Dec. 1 date and made quick contact with Jackson.
“I was like, ‘Ah, I’m coming to see you so I hope you’re ready,’” Mischler recalled. “It’s going to be weird seeing him in a different-color jersey.
“I’d like to see him passing the ball to me. Hopefully he doesn’t dunk on me.”
Mischler’s transition from prep sharpshooter to overall college guard has been slow. He played nine minutes with two assists and a block in seven games as a freshman for a Cornell team that finished 13-18. Mischler knew that to progress toward more playing time as a sophomore, he needed to get stronger. He’s added 20 pounds to his 6-foot-3 frame and now weighs close to 190. He’s also worked to be quicker, especially defensively.
Mischler is averaging 1.5 points and 0.5 rebounds in 15 total minutes over four games.
“I’ve become more of a well-rounded basketball player to where I’m not just a shooter,” he said. “Hopefully I can continue to get better.”
Mischler already has done something this season he didn’t do a year ago — score. Years from now, he’ll share the story of his first career collegiate points — six of them on a pair of 3s — against defending national champion Louisville at the Yum! Center.
“I’ve always dreamed of playing college basketball and to get my first career points at Louisville is pretty neat,” he said. “I was told not to be afraid to shoot when I was growing up and I wasn’t afraid to shoot it.
“I got two pretty good looks. I just let it fly and they were there.”
Off the court, time management is a daily challenge with a relentless demand of an Ivy League education. The routine of classes, studies, practice and more studies is unforgiving in a league where athletic scholarships are not awarded.
Mischler originally wanted to major in biology, but the time commitment last year coupled with basketball was difficult. He’s now looking into applied economics and management. All-nighters are rare, but there still are times in the offseason when he’s up hammering out an assignment until 5 a.m. and grabs only a few hours of sleep before it’s time to start another demanding day.
“You come in as a freshman, you struggle with academics and basketball,” he said. “You can’t really waste a lot of time during your day. You always have something to do.”
Mischler has been busy trying to meet Sunday’s ticket requests from family and friends. Add that Saturday was the 60th wedding anniversary of his grandparents to the Thanksgiving holiday, and Mischler guesses he needs somewhere round 25 tickets.
Players generally get anywhere from two to four for road games. Cornell’s total ticket allotment is 100.
“I’m trying to get as many as I can,” he said.
What type of team will his family and Irish fans see? Will it be the one that played with confidence and led Syracuse by 14 early in the first half of the season opener in the Carrier Dome or the one that labored to get anything to go against Louisville?
“We’re young but we’re talented,” Mischler said. “We’ll give our best effort and hopefully get a win.”