When the 7-foot kid from Torun, Poland, arrived at Gonzaga University to play basketball in 2012, he made an immediate impact. The previous season wasn’t bad, with a 25-10 record behind a talented squad that included Robert Sacre, Elias Harris and Steven Gray. They beat St. John’s, then lost to Brigham Young University in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
With Przemek Karnowski in the middle of the paint, the Zags went 32-3 in the 2012-13 season. Kelly Olynyk, another center, led the team in scoring with 17.8 points per game. Karnowski was down the list at 5.4 PPG. Wichita State knocked the Bulldogs out of the NCAA tournament in the second round.
But Olynyk jumped to the NBA in 2013, leaving Karnowski as the tallest man on the roster. Backed up by Sam Dower in the front court and Kevin Pangos and David Stockton in the guard positions, the Bulldogs went 29-7 and Karnowski’s average was up to 10.4 points a game. The team exited the NCAA tournament in the second round with a loss to Arizona.
In 2014-15, transfer Kyle Wiltjer led in scoring and the team went 35-3. The powerhouse team from Spokane reached the Elite Eight in the NCAA tournament but lost to Duke in Houston and missed the Final Four.
Wiltjer and Domantas Sabonis coalesced into a powerful offensive duo in 2015-16, but Karnowski was sidelined early in the season by a painful bulging disc in his back. The 28-8 Bulldogs got to the Elite Eight before losing to Syracuse.
Karnowski had surgery in December 2015. No one knew if the big man could recover enough to play the college game again. He lost 60 of his 300 pounds during the ordeal. Ten months later, he was cleared to play again.
“He’s not just back,” Gonzaga Coach Mark Few told CBS Sports a few days ago. “He’s playing at a level better than he’s ever played at. It’s just unbelievable.”
The 2017 NCAA Tournament games are the last Karnowski will play in a Gonzaga uniform. Although it’s not a stat tracked by the NCAA, the Zag center leaves with the record for wins by an NCAA player in his career at 133.
Karnowski told CBS Sports, “My injury and my surgery taught me to just be grateful for the small things. Go to practice with a smile on your face. Right now, I just try to cherish and be grateful for another chance.”
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