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Gonzaga takes healthy approach with big center Karnowski

Gonzaga center Przemek Karnowski shoots the ball during the first half last Saturday against Portland. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
Gonzaga center Przemek Karnowski shoots the ball during the first half last Saturday against Portland. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

Opponents looking for Przemek Karnowski’s flaws might want to scrutinize his form on a yoga mat.

The big man can score on the low block, zip passes out of double-teams to open teammates and he anchors Gonzaga’s defense.

But his yoga needs work.

“I’m not all-league, but I’m also 7-1, 295 pounds, after back surgery,” Karnowski countered in self-defense. “I can still touch my toes. I bet some of these guys cannot touch their toes after back surgery.

“It (yoga) helps us a lot at the beginning of the season to get some stretching and get our muscles loose.”

Third-ranked Gonzaga (20-0) has taken precautions to try to keep Karnowski healthy for the duration of the season, including an occasional day off, yoga, pool workouts and limiting his reps.

“We usually go two pretty good days just to stay competitive where we’re battling with equal teams,” said GU head coach Mark Few, a schedule that has been adjusted during the team’s current stretch of five games in 10 days.

“The day before games we go light and he’s sharing reps with the other bigs so he gets a lot of breaks there. And if we sense it’s wearing on him, he gets a pool conditioning day.”

Karnowski’s playing career was uncertain after undergoing back surgery on Dec. 31, 2015. He made steady progress in his recovery and doctors cleared him to play basketball in late July.

He didn’t rush back on the court, instead concentrating on individual workouts and his strength and conditioning so he would be ready for the outset of fall practice.

There was no need to push Karnowski at that point. He is the Zags’ most experienced player with a thorough understanding of the offense and defense. He said he’s been more in “regular mode” since the beginning of WCC play, but the coaching staff has limited his mileage in GU’s numerous blowout wins.

Karnowski played 19 minutes in Monday’s rout over Portland. He’s averaging 22.1 minutes per game, down from 25.4 in 2014 and 24.5 in 2015, but his scoring average is a career-best 12.7 points.

“I’m probably the first one to come out,” Karnowski said. “Just being proactive and not being in the game super deep when we are up 20, 25 points. Other guys can play and we still maintain our advantage.”

Karnowski said pool workouts are “really helping me with decompressing my joints in my back and I maintain conditioning at the same time.”

Karnowski’s favorite yoga pose is “tree,” and he quickly demonstrates the move while seated, drawing a raised eyebrow or two in the locker room.

Few remains skeptical of Karnowski’s dedication to yoga – “I’m not going to vouch for him on that one” – but he’s thrilled with the center’s recovery over the last 13-plus months, calling it a “heartwarming” story.

“I think he’s moving better each day,” Few said. “When you see him every day maybe it’s hard to ascertain that, but when I talk to some of my buddies that haven’t watched our games in a while they’ll make comments just how well he’s moving, even how much leaner he looks.”

Contact the writer:

(208) 659-3791jimm@spokesman.com

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