As every Gonzaga fan has noticed, the roster has a very International feel to it. With guys from Canada, Germany, France, Ivory Coast and of course the United States filling up the roster, it should come as no surprise that the coaching staff is looking abroad for a key piece of the 2012 recruiting class. With Robert Sacre set to finish out his Gonzaga career, the Zags are looking to highly-skilled Polish center Przemek Karnowski to fill the void left in the paint.
In order to learn more about how Karnowski has developed over the past season while playing in the top division in Poland, we decided to check in with Rafal Juc, who is an employee of the Polish Basketball Federation and a basketball scout for Eurohopes.com. We want to thank Rafal once again for taking the time to provide some terrific insight about this intriguing prospect. Here is Part I of the interview with Rafal, who gives some background on how Karnowski has improved his game and how his season is going. Also, be sure to check Rafal Juc out on Twitter (@rafjuc)
TSSF: One of the areas that Przemek Karnowski has seemed to really improve is his conditioning on the court. How has his game changed since he has been able to get in better shape?
Rafal Juc: You are definitely right - Karnowski is still maturing and his body is still changing. It's important to note that he is a really focused player, who knows his weaknesses and is working hard to improve. It was not a secret that conditioning was an area where Karnowski was struggling. He has lost a few kilos, added some muscle and improved his running, jumping and mobile abilities.
He is more explosive and has improved his lateral speed. Two or three years ago, when Karnowski was competing only on the youth level, he was a rather slow player, who was using only his height. Now he is playing at the highest domestic level with professionals for Siarka Tarnobrzeg and it is a completely different story. The game is not only faster, but also more physical. However, it has not been a problem for Karnowski.
Losing a few kilos has improved his quickness and in comparison to other centers from the Tauron Basket League (first division in Poland - ed.) he has impressed with his love for up-tempo basketball. Standing around 7-feet, he is often the first man down the court on the fast break. Being in better shape has influenced all areas of his game. Now his repertoire is not limited to only playing with his back to the basket. Karnowski is now willing to get the ball on the high-post and is capable of going one-on-one off the dribble, as well as able to face-up to the basket, thanks to his better foot-work and mobility. It also pays off on defense, where Karnowski is now able to stop not only other big men, but also athletic centers or even power forwards. In addition he has improved his team defense and is dangerous on defense coming from the weak-side.
TSSF: For fans that aren't familiar with the league he is playing in, what kind of talent does Karnowski face in the Polish league? What kind of statistics is he putting up and what is his role with his team?
Rafal Juc: Karnowski really broke out last summer when he showed that he can play at the highest level during the U-19 World Championships, where he faced guys like Jonas Valanciunas, as well as at the U-18 European Championships, where he was selected to the All-Tournament Team.
Not surprisingly, there were many offers on the table from the best European teams, with prestigious FC Regal Barcelona interested. However, he decided to stay in Poland to finish high school and in effect joined Siarka Jezioro Tarnobrzeg. Honestly, it's a team near the bottom of the standings, but Karnowski's family reached a great agreement with Siarka, so Przemek can gain experience and compete at the highest level without signing a professional contract. He did this knowing the rules of the NCAA.
Dariusz Szczubial, who is Siarka's head coach, used to be the head coach of the Polish National Team and played an important part in the development of some of our stars. But honestly, his teammates aren't at the highest level. On the other hand, playing with professionals at such a young age is great for him.
At this point, Karnowski, who is the back-up center, has played in 20 games and is averaging 9.4 points and 4.5 rebounds in 25 minutes per game. Although the Polish league isn't the top league in Europe, there are still some interesting players. Karnowski scored his career-high of 26 points, including a 3-point buzzer-beater to force OT, against Corsley Edwards, who played at Central Connecticut St. and was selected in the 2002 NBA Draft.
While he is still learning the game, Karnowski has an important role at Siarka. His main role for the team is fighting for rebounds on the defensive end, and using his size to help the motion offense. Karnowski is inconsistent at this stage, playing some great games followed by some poor games, but that is normal for youngsters. Karnowski might not be the perfect fit for Siarka, especially since the head coach prefers to play up-tempo basketball, but the point guard tends to play out of control. He often pushes the tempo but doesn't look to pass to Karnowski. He has looked frustrated at times, but he is learning a lot and gaining experience.