PHOENIX – How big is Przemek Karnowski?
Called a planetoid by one broadcaster, it has been suggested he is so massive he generates his own gravity field. Some have said he can blot out the sun with his XXXL frame. “Fear the beard,” say others.
But it’s not as if the Gonzaga University basketball force of nature is some malevolent Polish giant, here in Arizona to step over Camelback Mountain as he swallows up sun-baked real estate in ground-swallowing strides, laying waste to whatever he encounters.
Pretty much everyone who knows him says he’s truly a nice guy.
But big. Really big.
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And that beard – let’s talk about it. Better yet, let’s hear from some people in downtown Phoenix on Thursday.
Everybody in Spokane knows who he is. But what about the rest of the world?
Have you ever heard of Przemek (often pronounced Shemek) Karnowski?
“No,” said Sue Prior, a Final Four volunteer who lives in Glendale, site of this weekend’s semifinal games.
But further probing revealed that her brother-in-law in Michigan picked GU to win it all when filling out his brackets.
So there’s that.
Don Stephens, a retired federal employee who lives in Tempe, was drinking a light beer on the patio of a downtown bar when asked if he knew about Shem.
“No sir, I haven’t.”
Yet he claims to be a basketball fan and thinks GU is going to win it all. Go figure.
Like others interviewed, he was asked to don a Karnowski-esque fake beard. Well, a poor man’s version.
Say what you will, it adds something to a person’s look.
William Scott, a retired teacher from Rochester, New York, is here for the Final Four. He knows all about the Big Fella.
“Good footwork, nice hands.”
And that incredible bulk.
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“I have to stay up late to see Gonzaga.”
Yeah, but it’s worth it.
After Scott cheerfully put on the beard, he saw two young men in suits looking at him with more than a hint of skepticism in their expressions.
Scott returned the looks. “Who am I?” he called out to them. “You don’t know, do you?”
Then he went back to contemplating the way Karnowski sometimes fills the television screen. “He’s huge. The pros have to give him a chance. I mean, that body.”
And let’s not forget his athletic skills.
Jamie and Freddy Foster from Tucson were wearing University of Arizona shirts and made faces when Karnowski’s name was mentioned. “He hurt us,” said Freddy.
“Us” being the Arizona basketball team. Karnowski helped defeat the Wildcats early in the season.
Jamie, who said he is 6-foot-7, called the bearded one “a 7-foot mountain.”
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They said this will be their 29th consecutive Final Four.
It’s Karnowski’s first.
When requested to don the beard, Freddy held it at arm’s length as if it gave off an offensive odor.
Guess they are not over that loss to GU yet.
A security guard standing near the downtown Phoenix rail line couldn’t be bothered with the unscientific beard survey – “I’m on duty.” But he lit up with recognition when Karnowski’s name was mentioned.
“The big dude!” he exclaimed. “Oh, yeah. He can pass.”
Yes, the big dude. Maybe a few people who haven’t heard of him will see that change in a few days.