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No. 2-Seed Zags Meet Media on Eve of Battle Against No. 7 Seed Iowa

Posted on March 21, 2015 in: Men's Basketball, Spotlight, Students, Tracking the Zags
It was a beautiful, sunny day in Seattle and the fish were on display at Pike Place Market. (Photo by Peter Tormey).

It was a beautiful day in Seattle and the fish were flying at the world famous Pike Place Market. (Photo by Peter Tormey).

By Peter Tormey
SEATTLE – As sunshine sparkled off the waters of the Puget Sound and the fish mongers hurled their fresh catches at the world-famous Pike Place Market on Saturday afternoon, Gonzaga basketball players Przemek Karnowski and Kyle Wiltjer and their Coach Mark Few met a few blocks away  at the media at the KeyArena.

That’s where the No. 2 seed Zags will battle No. 7 seed Iowa in a third-round game that tips off at 4:10 p.m. Sunday. The winner advances to the Sweet 16.

Karnowski, a 7-foot-1-inch center, along with 6-foot-10 forwards Wiltjer and Domantas Sabonis have collectively given the 33-2 Zags a major size advantage in most of their games this season. That won’t be the case on Sunday against the 22-11 Hawkeyes with 7-foot-1 center Adam Woodbury and 6-9 forwards Aaron White and Jarrod Uthoff.

Wiltjer said Iowa’s size won’t change Gonzaga’s approach to the game.

“We’re going to still continue to play our game,” said Wiltjer. “Me and Shem play really well together and we really just try to just play a good high-low basketball and post up strong, no matter how big they are. So, I think we fare up well with them.”

A transfer from Kentucky, Wiltjer, a junior, was asked if he feels as though he has missed on an opportunity for a perfect season with Kentucky, which remains unbeaten this season.

“No, I’m in a great situation here. Those are some of my friends, so I always stay in contact,” said Wiltjer, a graduate of Jesuit High School in Portland. “But I’m so focused on our season right now that we’re just worried about ourselves and our game tomorrow.”

Karnowski, a junior from Torun Poland, said he is looking forward to a great match-up against Iowa, a team some have compared to Gonzaga with its height and style of play.

“I think it’s going to be a great opportunity to kind of show what I’m capable of, after another good game from me yesterday. So, I think it’s going to be a good game,” Karnowski said. “Like I said, I prefer to play against bigger guys or longer guys than going against guys that are 6-5 or 6-6.”

Asked how he has adjusted to life in the Pacific Northwest, Karnowski said the weather is fairly similar but not the language.

“Probably the biggest challenge for me was, I think was a second language, just going to class and getting all the basketball terms,” he said. “In terms of basketball, I had to adjust with the faster pace. The game was much more physical, so I thought those are the two biggest adjustments for me.”

Karnowski said Tommy Lloyd, Gonzaga assistant coach, was in touch with him for some two years and had been to Poland a half-dozen times. Coach Few even made a trip to Poland to recruit him.

“It’s a long trip, so I much appreciated that,” Karnowski said. “So it was a big deal for me. Then I was also in touch with Kevin Pangos, who I played against at the World Championships under 17 in Hamburg. And we also played in the Hoop Summit together. Also Kyle was on that team. So, I knew him before. When I came to Gonzaga for official visit, I just fell in love and I thought it was a good choice for me.”

Wiltjer said he chose to transfer to Gonzaga in large part because of its history of developing players.

“For me, it was just player development was huge at Gonzaga,” he said. “They have a history of getting their players better. The style of play really, I thought, fit the way I played. And then also I played with Kevin (Pangos) internationally as well. So just knowing him at the point guard, I thought it would be a really good fit for me.”

For his part, Coach Few said getting the right players – regardless of where they are from – to buy into a team concept has been a key to Gonzaga’s success.

“It’s finding the right people that you’re recruiting that want to step into a team situation and they’re going to have to make some sacrifices. Again, speaking with the transfers, they’re going to have to make some sacrifices for the sake of winning,” Few said. “Certainly, the ones we have had have wanted to do that and have been looking to do that, because they have kind of had the individual success. Then on the flip side, the group you have has to be one that’s really selfless and really motivated on doing what’s best for the team, because they have had to make sacrifices.”

Few said Gonzaga’s administration has supported the basketball staff and its sometimes far-flung recruiting efforts.

“The administration’s been great. The whole run at Gonzaga’s been built on a great relationship between our staff and the administration. And they understand if they grow the product, how much it helps the overall school and all that,” Few said. “The guys that we have brought over here have just been such pillars of the school and even the community and it’s worked really well.”

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