Todd MacArthur doesn’t need to seek out Andrew Pazdziorko when he watches game film. Most times, the Winthrop boys basketball coach can’t miss him.

If there’s a player diving after a loose ball to save a possession, it’s probably him. Same goes with the guy daring to box out a stronger player. Or the one throwing himself into the fray for an offensive rebound in a forest of taller players and longer arms.

“He’s probably the toughest kid I’ve ever coached,” MacArthur said. “He’s our dirty dog, he’s our leader. He does everything you ask. … If I had 15 Andrew Pazdziorkos I would have a very talented team.”

Pazdziorko’s role is one of many hats and many names. They’re basketball’s glue guys, grinders, blue collars and unsung heroes, players who contribute as much — and sometimes more — with their hustle, guile and drive as with their scoring and ball-handling ability. While others are on the floor to slash, shoot and run the offense, these players might be tasked with taking an elbow to grab a rebound, or a knee to the thigh to set a screen, or the momentum of an incoming player to draw a charge.

They’re the players most winning teams have. And the ones those teams know they need.

“It’s the player that does all the dirty work,” said MacArthur, whose Ramblers are 4-0 to start the season. “There’s no stat column for them, but when you go back and watch games you realize that those things could be a difference between winning and losing.”

“Those kinds of guys are invaluable,” Skowhegan coach Tom Nadeau said. “Everybody serves a role. … You need those guys to fulfill those roles in order to be successful.”

Pazdziorko has company. Hall-Dale, enjoying a 5-0 start to its season, has its glue guy in center Owen Dupont. Madison, 6-0 to begin the year, has one in junior guard Evan Bess. Skowhegan has one in Joadel Mora. Lawrence has Mason Cooper, whose tenacity matches his scoring ability. Gardiner has Collin Foye. The list goes on.

And listening to their coaches talk about those players, it becomes clear that they’re more than a luxury.

“He just seamlessly flexes to that skill that needs to be done,” Hall-Dale coach Chris Ranslow said of Dupont, the team’s best player at boxing out and playing interior defense. “You don’t see it often unless you really look at it, slow it down in film. But lots of it is about leverage and angles … and Owen really maximizes those opportunities.”

Madison coach Jason Furbush was just as effusive in his praise of Bess, a hard-nosed guard with a good outside shot and knack for lockdown defense.

“He’s the heart of the team, actually,” he said. “He’s the leader. Without him, we don’t run.”

Finding these players isn’t easy. Coaches know they don’t have much of a pitch. There’s little glamour to it, it’s hard, and players who carry out those responsibilities pick up bumps, bruises or worse along the way.

“(People) don’t talk about the physicality involved in boxing out the kid that’s three or four inches taller and has 40 pounds on you. (They) don’t talk about defending the interior pass against that same kid that’s bigger and stronger than you,” Ranslow said. “(They) don’t talk about some of the intangibles of what it takes to dive on the floor after loose basketballs and be in the right spot to take a charge.

“It’s very difficult to sell that.”

Instead, players who fit those roles are engineered that way. Sacrificing stats to do anything and everything to help the team win is in their nature.

“I just love working as a team and trying to achieve one goal,” Pazdziorko said. “(I) try to do anything I can to help any of my teammates. So if that is diving on the floor to get a loose ball or set a screen to get someone open, that’s what I’m going out to do.”

And those physical perils?

“Nope. That’s never on my mind,” Pazdziorko said. “I’m just focused on getting the job done and doing the best I can. Whatever happens, happens, and I just accept that.”

Because of that, grinders on the court are often leaders on it as well. Players blessed with the skills to be the scorers and distributors see the effort they put forward, and it inspires them to add a level of grit to their game as well.

“That type of player automatically gets the respect of his peers,” MacArthur said. “They demand and they get the respect of their teammates because of what type of work they put in. … Kids see that stuff. It’s just contagious.”

That leadership can extend beyond the games. At Madison practices, Furbush knows he doesn’t have to scold the team for a sloppy effort, or for a poorly executed play.

His junior guard will do that for him.

“A lot of times, I don’t have to call guys out. Evan will do it before I do,” Furbush said. “He doesn’t care about hurting anyone’s feelings. The guys really respect him, so he can be vocal and they don’t take it personally.

“That’s kind of nice,” he added, laughing. “I don’t always have to be the jerk.”

Furbush knows the difficulty of winning without that kind of player. In 2014-15, Furbush’s first Madison team had plenty of talent, but little leadership to tie it together. The Bulldogs made the Class C tournament as a fifth seed, but lost by 40 points to Winthrop in the West quarterfinals.

“We didn’t really have a true leader on that team. That hurt us, especially down the stretch when you get into tournament time,” he said. “There’s a lot of stuff that doesn’t show up on the stat sheet that coaches see for sure. And I’m not blind to it.”

Many are, however, and that’s why getting a player to sign up for the dirty work can be a fruitless task. And why coaches feel fortunate when one eager for that role falls into their laps.

“It’s not as valued on the surface,” Ranslow said. “But (coaches) realize that you can have all the flash and pizzazz in the world. But without those glue guys willing to accept a less prominent role and really embrace it, you’re not going to ever reach the potential that your group can.”

Drew Bonifant — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @dbonifantMTM

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