Gonzaga Bulldogs

Ex-Zag Przemek Karnowski trying to beat the odds again in NBA pursuit

Gonzaga's Przemek Karnowski, center, drives into Santa Clara's Emmanuel Ndumanya, left, back in March. Despite being picked as college basketball’s center of the year, some NBA executives wonder if Karnowski will be drafted.
Gonzaga's Przemek Karnowski, center, drives into Santa Clara's Emmanuel Ndumanya, left, back in March. Despite being picked as college basketball’s center of the year, some NBA executives wonder if Karnowski will be drafted. AP

Przemek Karnowski is facing long odds again, but that’s nothing new for the former Gonzaga center.

There was one 300-pound player listed on an NBA roster this season. Minnesota’s 307-pound Nikola Pekovic missed the season with recurring foot injuries.

There were just eight others listed at 275 pounds or more, including Timofey Mozgov (275), Zaza Pachulia (275), Jahlil Okafor (275), Kevin Seraphin (278), Andre Drummond (279), Jusuf Nurkic (280), Al Jefferson (289) and Boban Marjanovic (290).

Roughly 18 months ago, the NBA was the last thing on the 7-foot-1, 300-pound Karnowski’s mind. He was dealing with excruciating back pain. It was taxing for the big man to climb out of bed. He dropped to 238 pounds.

Karnowski had successful spinal surgery on Dec. 31, 2015, and made an impressive return to the court last season. He was a defensive force, averaged a career-high 12.2 points and handed out 75 assists en route to winning the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Award as the nation’s top center.

His resume and unique ability to influence a game are well known to scouts, but they have reservations about the native of Poland. Karnowski’s standout senior season probably satisfies many of the medical questions about his back.

But the NBA likes its centers tall – 47 7-footers last season, topped by Marjanovic and 7-3 Kristaps Porzingis – and athletic. Most NBA centers/power forwards are in the 240-255 pound range and are asked to run the floor, defend smaller players in pick-and-roll defense and occasionally connect on a perimeter shot.

“I don’t think he'll get drafted,” said an NBA executive, speaking on the condition of anonymity. “He has such great footwork and he moves pretty well. He’s very talented. I just wonder how he’s going to do moving up and down the floor.

“He’s very intriguing and worth working out, adding to a summer-league team and seeing what he does from there.”

Karnowski has worked out for Washington, Atlanta, Charlotte and Denver. He’s been working on a mid-range jumper to augment his soft touch on the low block.

“I worked on my body after the Final Four and I felt that was a big improvement from the college year,” Karnowski told Washington D.C. reporters.

Karnowski isn’t mentioned on most two-round mock drafts and he didn’t make CBSsports.com’s list of the top 12 centers. Draftsite.com recently projected Karnowski as Denver’s second-round pick (51st overall) with the Nuggets taking former Zag center Zach Collins with their 13th pick. The website’s updated projections have Karnowski going 50th to Philadelphia.

Karnowski would draw considerable interest overseas if he doesn’t make an NBA roster.

“You can’t rule it out, especially with the way the NBA ebbs and flows,” a second NBA executive said. “Can you picture him playing against a small-ball lineup like Golden State’s? But he’s sure hard to score against one-on-one in the post and he has such a unique skill set, I wouldn’t count the guy out.”

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