Since 2012, the Gonzaga Bulldogs have been graced with the presence of one of their better foreign imports, Przemek Karnowski. A mammoth of a human being, Karnowski, in his five years at Gonzaga, graduated from a project needing a lot of work to one of the best big men the program has ever seen.
That is a bold statement, and to a certain extent, Karnowski’s numbers don’t necessarily back up the claim. Over his career, Karnowski averaged 9.8 points, 5.4 rebounds, and one block a game. Not exactly hall of fame numbers there. Even in the Gonzaga record books, he isn’t hanging around too much. He is the sixth-best rebounder in school history, and No. 4 in blocked shots.
But just looking at numbers sometimes doesn’t do the player justice. Karnowski also only averaged 21.1 minutes per game--putting his per 40 minutes numbers almost at 20 points and 10 rebounds per game.
One of Karnowski’s best attributes was his passing ability, which we have gone on at length about on this blog. Karnowski harkened back to the elder Sabonis, and had a knack and vision all year for highlight caliber passes.
The one thing you can’t measure, and the one thing Karnowski had in droves, was his heart (as corny as that sounds). Every year, there are fantastic stories in college basketball, but Karnowski’s return for a senior year from season-ending back surgery was nothing short of extraordinary.
No one quite knew what to expect of Karnowski. Men of his size don’t just have back surgery and bounce right back, and Karnowski’s rehabilitation back to playing shape was a long and hard journey.
Karnowski was back for a final swan song, and no one could quite expect the song it would be. On a team that had a whole mess of new faces trying to gel, Karnowski was the quiet leader who kept the offense humming along with his soft hooks and bullying frame. We didn’t have any idea that Karnowski would be looking like his old self so quickly, and we didn’t have any idea that he would help lead the Gonzaga Bulldogs to their first Final Four and national championship appearance.
Unfortunately, Karnowski, like other Zags, would struggle in that championship game. But, to focus on that does a complete disservice to his presence all season. You remove Karnowski from the equation and there is no way the Zags finish with a 37-2 record, a No. 1 seed, and that championship appearance. Along the way, Karnowski, a Gonzaga Bulldog, became the winningest player in NCAA history.
So what is next for Karnowski? The NBA is most likely out of reach. Even if you ignore his age and injury history for a hot second, the NBA has evolved, and most teams aren’t exactly looking for a center of Karnowski’s mold. Most likely, if basketball is still in his future, it will be somewhere in Europe, where Karnowski’s game is much more suited.
Either way, a huge hole will be left on the Gonzaga roster—both in terms of literal size and the less quantifiable aspects of what Karnowski brings to the locker room. It has been a treat to watch Karnowski play for the past five years, and he can at least take solace in the fact he is going down as one of the favorites Zags of all time for a large number of people.