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Sports >  Gonzaga basketball

Everything is cooking in the Kennel kitchen

Mike Schroeder is the man tasked to feed the Gonzaga Bulldogs and their faithful fans. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
Mike Schroeder is the man tasked to feed the Gonzaga Bulldogs and their faithful fans. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

When ESPN’s College GameDay visited Moraga, California, on Jan. 11 to watch the Zags shut down Saint Mary’s, the broadcasters took a slight detour from the game to discuss what keeps Gonzaga’s big man so big.

Specifically, what Przemek Karnowski likes to eat. According to ESPN’s GameDay team, the Zags’ 7-1, 300-pound center has only one exception to a long list of foods he’ll eat – American food.

After practice earlier this month, Karnowski admitted that ESPN’s reporters had heard correctly.

“I’m not the biggest fan of American food,” Karnowski said.

The redshirt senior from Poland said while he’s in the U.S. playing for Gonzaga, he’d rather fill his stomach with Thai, Italian, Sushi or Mexican foods. American food just doesn’t sound quite as appetizing.

“I was just thinking more of deep fried stuff,” he said. “Burgers and fries and stuff like that, that’s what comes to my mind when I think about American food.”

Karnowski is part of a long list of Zags over the years who have voiced their preferences for certain foods over others, and it only ever really matters to one person – the guy who’s making their meals.

That would be Mike Schroeder, the general manager at the McCarthey Athletic Center who controls everything that comes out of the arena’s kitchen. He’s the one who listens to the likes, the dislikes, the allergies and the variety of diets, like the Paleo, vegan or vegetarian diets.

He even takes into account what the players like to see on their tables at home.

“I asked Johnathan Williams today what he thought the team meals should be. He said, ‘My mom’s cooking,’ ” Schroeder said.

Planning out dishes that reflect a tasty home-cooked meal could be a little difficult on Schroeder’s end, especially since some of the players are used to family dishes that aren’t everyday meals in the U.S.

“We’ve got a lot of different kids – we’ve got kids from Japan, and Germany and Poland,” Schroeder said. “Sometimes, it’s a little more challenging to find things everybody wants to eat.”

So Schroeder will constantly switch up the dishes. That way, all the players get a chance to have something they love to eat every now and then. But the meals still follow a basic layout to improve the players’ health and energy on the court.

Schroeder’s pregame meals are of most concern. Those dishes usually consist of some sort of lean protein, a lighter starch, some salad and fruits.

“And vegetables, which none of them eat,” Schroeder said.

Getting the players to eat on a regular basis can be a bit challenging as well, especially since the Zags have more than just basketball to worry about.

“It’s difficult being in school, the meals are all over the place,” Schroeder said.

While plenty of the Zags try to balance their hectic schedules between games, practice and class, Schroeder has his own storm to weather, particularly on game days.

When the Zags are on the court, the food never seems to stop leaving the kitchen. Aside from pregame meals, Schroeder and his team prepare food for members of the media, Bulldog Club socials prior to tipoff, fans who order meals from the arena’s suites and the Herek Club socials, where anywhere between 350 and 400 Gonzaga Athletic donors gather before and after every game at the McCarthey Athletic Center.

But Schroeder can’t get enough of the often stressful nights inside his kitchen and the arena, which is one reason why he’s stuck around the Kennel for 13 years.

Schroeder started at Gonzaga in 2004 after he moved to Spokane from Missoula, Montana. He began as a server for catering events at the university and slowly moved his way up. He stepped into the role as the catering supervisor in late November 2004 and eventually earned his spot as manager. In September 2015, Schroeder was promoted to general manager for Sodexo Sports and Leisure at the McCarthey Athletic Center.

With the general manager’s hat came the responsibility of more than 100 employees, and the stress of catering to not only the team, but to several other groups of people throughout the week. Schroeder and his team handle the menu and food preparation for a variety of events outside of the basketball games, including weddings inside the Kennel, concerts and catering events the school arranges.

His favorite part of the job? Interacting with the players and watching them grow through the program. Over the years, Schroeder has been able to get to get to know a lot of the Zags, especially the transfers, who hang around the arena when the Zags are on the road since they can’t often travel with the team.

Every now and then a former Zag will come back to the Kennel. Some of them, like Rob Sacre who saw Schroeder earlier this month when he made a trip back to Spokane, make sure to visit the man who kept their stomachs full through college.

And that’s what makes Schroeder loves his job the most.

“That’s one of the best part of the job is getting to know all the (players),” Shroeder said. “It’s fun. I feel part of the team.”

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