Senior guard provides elite defense and spectacular plays in the Gauchos' quest for a Big West Conference basketball championship
UC Santa Barbara’s Human Tornado doesn’t get to wind down until long after the final buzzer of his basketball games.
But the buzzing on Josh Pierre-Louis’ cell phone never seems to stop.
“My parents will stay up late in Jersey to watch the games, and all my siblings love watching, too,” he told Noozhawk. “I’ll have a thousand messages waiting on my phone when I get back to the locker room.
“They actually text me after every play … They don’t miss a beat.”
The Pierre-Louis homestead in Plainfield, New Jersey, has plenty to watch this week.
The Gauchos, 20-6 overall and 11-4 in league play, are in contention for their second Big West Conference championship in Pierre-Louis’ three years at the school.
They enter the home stretch with games at the Thunderdome at 7 p.m. Monday against Cal State Fullerton and 7 p.m. Thursday against Long Beach State. They will complete their busy week at UC San Diego on Saturday.
Pierre-Louis still feels wistful about having moved so far from his home three years ago.
“I’m just a Jersey boy,” he said. “My family is me … My brothers are my best friends.”
But anyone who’s seen the 6-foot-4 guard race hell-bent down a court, score a floater after a 360-degree twirl, or leap high into the timbered rafters of the Thunderdome for a dunk know that he fears no Danger Zone.
“He’s one of the most athletic players I’ve ever coached,” head coach Joe Pasternack said.
Pierre-Louis shrugged off his athleticism.
“Sometimes I even catch myself off guard,” he said, “but the majority of the time I have very good body control and body movement.”
He’s refined his raw athleticism enough the last three seasons to become one the Gauchos’ Top Guns.
He averages 9.6 points on nearly 53% shooting, 4.3 rebounds and 2.3 assists. He also ranks among the top defenders in the Big West with 1.5 steals per game.
“Coming here — getting out of my comfort zone — took me away from the ones I’ve always depended on, and who always made sure I was 100%,” he said. “But I was also told that when you put yourself in an uncomfortable situation, that’s when you grow.
“The way I’ve grown here basketball-wise, academically, as a person … it’s been just absolutely great. The journey has made me a better person in so many ways.”
And Pierre-Louis, a devout Buddhist, is as serious about developing his spirituality as his game.
“I pray to my God every day,” he said. “I pray about improving my productivity … It’s 1% each and every day. I live by that.”
Band of Brothers
Sibling rivalries with older brother Nate and younger brother Christian developed Pierre-Louis’ game in basketball. He also has a sister and two other younger brothers.
“My dad just put a court in the backyard, so you know that when I go home, it’s on,” Josh said.
His father often joins the fray. Frantz Pierre-Louis was inducted into Wagner University’s Hall of Fame eight years ago after having averaged 19.6 points and 7.9 rebounds per game during his senior year of 1998-1999. He also played overseas for eight years in such countries as Turkey, South Korea, Spain and Italy.
“He’s 6-foot-8, 6-9, so he gets in there and dunks on us a little bit,” Josh said. “He was the first pro player in the house, so we give him his respect.”
JPL, the initials by which he’s known by many Gaucho fans, got his jet propulsion from his mother, Crystal Johnson, who was an elite track athlete.
“My family is so locked in,” Josh said.
Younger brother Christian, a 6-2 high school senior, was offered a scholarship by UCSB more than two years ago. He’s a key player for Roselle Catholic High, Josh’s alma mater in Roselle, New Jersey, which is ranked 18th nationally by MaxPreps.
“He’s really strong, and he’s the best defender in high school basketball right now,” Josh said. “He guards a lot of the top players in the country — guys from Montverde (Academy near Orlando, Florida) and Duncanville (near Dallas).
“It’s always late by the time we get to talk, but we do get to catch up a little bit. He just got 16 points and 12 rebounds today. We had an argument about it — now I’ve got to get me about 10 rebounds.”
Nate Pierre-Louis, his older brother by two years, convinced Josh to follow him to nearby Temple University when he completed his own career at Roselle Catholic. They became the first brother tandem in the history of the Owls’ basketball program.
“You always want to have your little baby brother with you,” Nate said at the time. “My parents always told me I’m my brother’s keeper.”
Finding His Discomfort Zone
But when Nate declared for the NBA draft in 2020, Josh figured it was time to leave his comfort zone and declare his intent to transfer to UCSB.
His brother, coincidentally enough, wound up barely 100 miles away as a member of the South Bay Lakers G-League team.
Nate got a 10-day call-up to the Los Angeles Lakers last fall during which he converted a three-point play in their Oct. 14 exhibition game against the Sacramento Kings.
Nate also assisted brother Josh in getting an audience with NBA superstars LeBron James and Anthony Davis.
“It’s definitely cool being around him,” Josh said. “I’ve gotten different views from different players, like Lonnie Walker and Dennis Schröder — just different conversations from being around my brother.
“Shaq Harrison is a tremendous defender, just like my brother, and they both really helped me in terrific ways. They even came to my game at Long Beach State.”
Pierre-Louis put on a show during a dramatic 75-72 victory. He capped it by making a steal with 1:11 remaining and hitting the two, go-ahead foul shots.
“It’s always competitive for us when we see Long Beach,” he said. “It’s such a great team, great talented guys, a great coaching staff. They play hard.
“It’s always a good game and good guys to play against.”
Sweet Foul Shooting
Pierre-Louis’ two free throws, shot toward the backdrop of a vocally hostile Long Beach State student section, were especially clutch, considering his 57% accuracy coming into the game.
“That had been biting me in the back for a while,” he said. “It’s been in the back of my head, so I’ve been getting into the gym later at night or early in the morning.
“I’ve been working on it so much because I don’t like missing free throws.”
He doesn’t like missing games, either. An old hip injury had flared up in the previous game at Cal State Northridge, keeping him sidelined during the second half of an upset defeat.
“I was boxing out Fidelis Okereke, and he’s a big body (6-6, 260),” Pierre-Louis said. “I put my body out there that time and landed on my back. But I got treatment done and it’s no longer a factor.”
He first injured his hip during last year’s Big West quarterfinal win over UC Irvine.
It led to a more painful game the following night: He could only watch from the sidelines as Jadon Jones, the Long Beach State player he would’ve been guarding, beat the buzzer and the Gauchos, 67-64, with a three-pointer.
“Sitting on the bench, watching Jadon hit that shot, it broke my heart,” he said.
It also torqued the Human Tornado for his senior year. The Gauchos fell out of first place in the Big West after losing last week to UC Irvine and UC Riverside, but he was upbeat when asked if they could reclaim the championship they won during his sophomore year of 2021.
“Oh my gosh!” he said. “Not only can this team do what we did that year, but we can surpass that.
“I feel we’ve been upgraded, and we keep getting better every day … 1% better each day.
“People who are around the gym and those who are familiar with our culture know how we are.”
And he’s got a cell phone full of their messages to prove it.