Mitch Pelichowski, starting forward on the Costa Mesa High School basketball team, is a proficient reader, but not only of Stephen King novels.
Pelichowski has the uncanny ability of reading defenses, which often are built specifically to stop him.
In a day when so many student-athletes emphasize the athlete ahead of the student, Pelichowski is a breath of fresh air, not only because he enjoys schoolwork, but also because he admits that he reads for pleasure as well.
This is unusual if only because Pelichowski is growing up in an era where many of his peers' attention spans are equal to that of an MTV video. Pelichowski is hardly a bookworm, but he does seem to realize that developing his reading skills will be as important to his college career as developing his jump shot.
"I like Stephen King novels the best, especially 'Christine,' " Pelichowski said. "I just grew up reading, I guess. That and basketball."
Pelichowski has averaged 26.6 points per game, second to Corona del Mar's Jeff Fryer (29.1) in Orange County scoring this season.
He has accomplished this on a Costa Mesa team that is 0-5 in the Sea View League, and 1-11 overall. By necessity, Costa Mesa Coach Craig Falconer has had to move the 6-foot 3-inch Pelichowski from guard to forward-center because of the Mustangs' lack of height.
Said Falconer: "He's usually matched up against much bigger guys, but he still gets his points inside. Either there, or at the free throw line."
Despite being a guard, Pelichowski doesn't mind the challenge of playing in a league in which taller men, such as Fryer (6-5), Saddleback's Bryant Walton (6-5), Laguna Beach's Coby Naess (6-6) and Woodbridge's Adam Keefe (6-7), dominate.
"I think I do better playing underneath," Pelichowski said. "It's tough sometimes, but underneath you can draw more fouls and go to the free throw line."
Pelichowski is shooting 80% from the line.
In a December game against El Modena, Pelichowski scored 43 points--21 on free throws. That 43-point total tied the Costa Mesa single-game scoring record set by Steve Jacobsen in 1967--the year Pelichowski was born.
During a recent loss to Saddleback in which Pelichowski scored 16 points, he displayed a variety of moves, scoring from inside and out equally as well.
But it also was evident that with his thinner frame (160 pounds), players such as the Roadrunners' 6-5, 190-pound Joe Deal, a tight end on the football team, have the edge when it comes to rebounding.
In that game, Pelichowski also showed a smooth jump shot, but in his role as forward, he has little chance to use it.
"I think he's one of the best pure shooters in the county--he's a great offensive player," said Newport Harbor's Tim Parsel who once coached Pelichowski at Costa Mesa. "It's just that there isn't another big scorer there to take the pressure off of him right now.
"Actually, three of the best pure shooters around are all in the league right now between him, Walton and Fryer."
Having an accurate shot is nothing new for Pelichowski--he has enjoyed hunting most of life. Pelichowski will often go hunting or fishing at Big Bear or Bridgeport Lake with his best friend, Costa Mesa football player John Carlson.
Pelichowski uses a military M-1 carbine when he hunts, a gun that he'd first seen in some of the war movies he likes to watch such as "Patton," "MacArthur" or "Apocalypse Now."
"I just use it for hunting rabbits," he said. "For anything else it would probably be a couple of years in jail."
Where Pelichowski takes his shooting seriously is on the court. But he was noticeably absent from the Mustangs' front line the past week when he was suffering from bronchitis, about the only thing to stop him from scoring this season. Pelichowski missed nearly a week of school, but said he feels better and expects to play Wednesday against Corona del Mar and Friday against Newport Harbor.
Check the linescores for those games and you'll likely find Pelichowski to be the Mustangs' leading scorer once again.
In fact, you can make book on that.