One of the most hyped Gonzaga recruits of the past few years will need to fill a big need for the Zags to reach their potential. What should we expect from Przemek Karnowski?
Many people look at the 2007 recruiting class as the moment that Gonzaga proved it was no longer a cute mid-major in Spokane, but instead a potentially elite program that was ready to play with the big boys. That class featured three Top-100 recruits according to Rivals, including Austin Daye, who came in as the first 5-star recruit in Gonzaga history.
While other elite prospects have committed to Gonzaga since 2007, few incoming freshman have the resume of Przemek Karnowski. As if a comparison to Marc Gasol wasn't enough, a handful of sites reported that Karnowski would have been a potential Top-20 prospect had he played in the states. On the International scene, Karnowski has garnered numerous accolades, including being named MVP of the U-18 European Championships All-Star game and joining Kevin Pangos on the All-Tournament Team at the 2010 U-17 World Championships. The buzz around Karnowski only continued to grow during the Spring, as schools like Duke, Kansas and Marquette attempted to get involved in his recruitment. However, the long-term relationship with Tommy Lloyd proved to be enough to secure a commitment from the talented big man.
Beyond his clear potential, what makes Karnowski such a huge member of this team is the clear void left by the graduation of Robert Sacre. While many schools have looked to utilize more athletic and mobile big men, Gonzaga has always thrived with a true back-to-the-basket big man that can clog space in the paint. It's pretty hard not to be excited when you think about the versatility that exists among a big man rotation of Karnowski, Sam Dower, Elias Harris and Kelly Olynyk. Of the four, Karnowski is probably the most comfortable in the paint and in the post. Elias has always been at his best using his athleticism in the open court, while Sam and Kelly both are difficult to guard because of their range and versatility. The comparison that immediately jumps to mind is JP Batista and Ronny Turiaf. That inside/outside game was one of the keys to those exceptional Gonzaga teams.
Although his offensive skill around the hoop is enticing, the biggest area where the Polish big man will make an impact is with his passing. While Dower and Harris both possess excellent offensive skill, neither is a great passer. With Karnowski looking to kick the ball out to the perimeter, guys like Kevin Pangos, Gary Bell Jr, Drew Barham and Kyle Dranginis should have a field day with open looks. This really should put the opposing defense in a tough situation, as Karnowski will be difficult to guard with one man due to his size and skill. However, if a team chooses to double-team when he has the ball, they are potentially leaving open a group of elite shooters.
After all that positive commentary, it's important to remember that there will be adjustments for the freshman. Despite playing against some decent competition in Poland, Karnowski will have to adapt to facing elite athletes on a game-by-game basis. Certain moves that he may have executed with ease will now be more difficult. Conditioning will also be a crucial factor in the impact PK makes. While he has already shed a ton of weight, Karnowski will need to continue to trim down so that he can play at the pace that most GU teams thrive at.