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Gonzaga’s Karnowski makes big strides

Gonzaga’s Drew Barham pumps his fist in celebrating a teammate’s shot along with teammate Kevin Pangos and AJ Few, the oldest son of coach Mark Few. (Dan Pelle)
Gonzaga’s Drew Barham pumps his fist in celebrating a teammate’s shot along with teammate Kevin Pangos and AJ Few, the oldest son of coach Mark Few. (Dan Pelle)

SALT LAKE CITY – Przemek Karnowski could have described his freshman season any number of ways, but he selected his words carefully.

“Very good, I think it’s the best year,” the 7-foot-1 center said. “I’ve learned a lot. I play 11 minutes per game, Sam (Dower) is coming off the bench first. I give my best in practice, in the weight room.

“I have not practiced like this before. It was a big adjustment for me.”

The intensity at practice is one of several adjustments Karnowski has had to make since arriving from Poland with considerable hype from those who monitor international recruiting. He’s part of Gonzaga’s deep frontcourt that includes WCC player of the year Kelly Olynyk, three-time All-WCC first-team selection Elias Harris and Dower, whom Saint Mary’s coach Randy Bennett said last week would start for most Division I teams in the country. Bennett said the same thing about Karnowski.

“Last year I played in the senior league and it was physical, but not as physical as the NCAA,” Karnowski said. “For sure the NCAA is much more athletic. It was hard at times, new country, new language, new culture, but I adjusted.”

Karnowski’s playing time has been limited, but he’s displayed the talent that initially put him on Gonzaga’s recruiting radar.

“Shem has taken the first steps to making the progress he needs to make,” assistant coach Tommy Lloyd said. “I don’t know if the year turned out the way we thought it would or how he thought it would but I don’t think it’s all necessarily on his performance. Kelly had something to do with that as well; that was a bigger part than Shem himself.

“He’s done a great job getting in better shape, getting stronger and doing the extra work he needs to do. He’s in position to have an all-league type of year next year.”

Olynyk, who averaged 12.3 and 13.5 minutes per game in his first two seasons, is a player of the year candidate who has already been named to a few All-America teams.

“I definitely know what he’s going through and I’ve tried to help him in that sense,” Olynyk said. “It’s not easy, especially when you have a lot of people who believe in you and believe you deserve an opportunity. He’s a great player. What you have to take into consideration is: How can I learn from this? And, what can I get out of this to make myself a better player?

“He’s a totally different player now. You could push him around before, now he’s stronger and more on balance. He’s finding ways to finish, ways to attack and he’s a smarter player. The sky is the limit for him.”

Karnowski, whose 7-1, 285-pound frame could pose problems for Southern, said he’s moving better and feeling more comfortable using his right (nonshooting) hand in the paint. He’s seeing improvement from workouts with trainer Travis Knight.

“I’m looking forward to March Madness,” he said. “I’ll work hard this summer and we’ll see what happens my sophomore year.”

Barham popular

The text messages and voice mails began showing up on Drew Barham’s phone Sunday during the Selection Show.

A few more arrived Tuesday night after Saint Mary’s defeated Middle Tennessee in a first-round matchup in Dayton. The Gaels now face Memphis, where Barham spent the first part of his career before transferring to Gonzaga.

“I heard from at least five of my ex-teammates by the time the show had ended. They were saying, ‘We might have Saint Mary’s, is Saint Mary’s good?’ ” Barham said. “I told them, ‘They’re a strong team, really move the ball well and hit the open man.’ They box out strong, and I think that’s something that could hurt Memphis. They’ve had a ton of questions.”

Feeling a draft?

Junior forward Kelly Olynyk anticipated hearing questions about his future plans, but was pleasantly surprised when the topic didn’t come up during Wednesday’s press conferences. He is generally considered a first-round draft pick, but he’s clearly enjoying his team and the college life.

“When the time and decision comes, I’ll worry about it then,” he said. “I owe it to be with my team and my thoughts are with my team. None of us want the season to end. We’re having too much fun, too much togetherness to be individualized right now.”

Olynyk has found a way to push draft chatter to the back of his mind.

“All of that is still going to be there later on, it’ll be there after the season,” Olynyk said. “This (tournament) can only last three more weeks at the most. Live in the moment and get the most out of every day.”

Heat check

For the second straight season, Cosmopolitan magazine’s 26 Hottest Guys of March Madness includes a Zag. Last year it was center Robert Sacre, who checked in at No. 4. That puts some Final Four pressure on senior forward Elias Harris, who made Cosmopolitan’s list but hasn’t heard any specifics.

“Everybody’s asking me but I didn’t read anything, it’s just what I’m hearing,” Harris said. “I have no clue if it’s top 50 or top 25, but I’ll take it either way. It’s an honor to fill Big Rob’s footprints.”

Few awards finalist

Gonzaga coach Mark Few is one of four finalists for the Naismith coach of the year award. He is joined by Miami’s Jim Larranaga, Georgetown’s John Thompson III and Saint Louis’ Jim Crews.