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GU’s Przemek Karnowski ‘ahead of schedule’ in recovery from back surgery

Gonzaga's Przemek Karnowski, watching his team play last season in Pullman against WSU, says his doctor has given him the all clear sign to play when the Zags open practice in October. (Young Kwak / Associated Press)
Gonzaga's Przemek Karnowski, watching his team play last season in Pullman against WSU, says his doctor has given him the all clear sign to play when the Zags open practice in October. (Young Kwak / Associated Press)

Gonzaga center Przemek Karnowski is “ahead of schedule” in his recovery from back surgery and he’s optimistic he’ll be ready when the Zags open practice in October.

“I’m slowly getting back into it, getting in shape, doing lots of lifting, basic rehab,” he said. “I’m really happy with where I’m at and I hope to keep progressing. The doctors are telling me everything is going in the right direction.”

After spending six weeks in his native Poland, Karnowski had a late July appointment with the Spokane doctor who operated on his back Dec. 31.

“The doctor cleared me,” Karnowski said. “I was obviously happy, big smile. It’s been such a long journey, hearing those words was a great feeling.”

Karnowski is cleared to play basketball but cautioned that his rehabilitation is ongoing. He’s done some skill work and played in 1-on-1, 2-on-2 and 3-on-3 situations. He can play 5-on-5 but said there’s no rush or reason to do so. Another hold-up: Not many GU players are on campus with the beginning of classes still about 10 days away.

The 7-foot-1 senior is following the advice of doctors and trainers as he continues to make measured progress. The goal is to be ready for the rigors of the 2016-17 season, not necessarily for a two-hour August pick-up game inside the McCarthey Athletic Center.

Karnowski noted that considerable steps remain, and how the next few months play out will go a long way in determining his preseason work load.

He was understandably “rusty” returning to the court after about seven months away but being immersed in the program again has boosted his morale.

“It was a great feeling getting back in the gym and being able to be with the guys,” Karnowski said. “It was an awesome feeling, not just as an athlete but as a person. I missed not being able to hang out with them.”

Karnowski is the program’s most experienced player with 113 career games and two-plus seasons as a starter. He averaged 10.9 points in 2015 and 10.4 points and a career-high 7.1 rebounds in 2014.

“He’s as important as it gets,” assistant coach Brian Michaelson said. “You can’t underestimate his value and it’s not just statistical with him. It’s his IQ on both ends of the floor.”

Karnowski said he doesn’t wear a brace when playing or lifting. The restrictions he faced shortly after surgery – no bending, twisting, etc. – are gone. He’s working on conditioning, stamina and strength.

“I haven’t played in so long, the better shape I’m in is going to help me get used to it again,” said Karnowski, who received a medical redshirt year after playing in just five games last season.

Karnowski’s presence would be huge to a frontcourt that includes Missouri transfer Johnathan Williams, junior center Ryan Edwards and several promising freshmen, led by Zach Collins, ranked 37th in ESPN’s Top 100.

“It’s been tough for sure,” he said, “but right now just getting back into playing gives me so much joy.”

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