First Person: Flying Coop Has Worked for Kaleb Tarczewski
Stevens Kaleb Tarczewski (30) fights for a rebound with Prospect Mountains Ryan Hingston, center, as the Cardinals Travis Drewing (23) offers assistance on March 18, 2009. (Valley News - James M. Patterson)
Arizona's Kaleb Tarczewski (35) and T.J. McConnell (4) share a laugh after a time-out in the second half against New Mexico State in an NCAA college basketball game on Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2013 in Tucson, Ariz. (AP Photo/John MIller)
Arizona's Kaleb Tarczewski celebrates while dunking against Drexel during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in the semifinals of the NIT Season Tip-off tournament Wednesday, Nov. 27, 2013, in New York. Arizona won 66-62. (AP Photo/Jason DeCrow)
Claremont — Fourteen-year-old Kaleb Tarczewki was 6-foot-9 when he left Stevens High School to study and play basketball at St. Mark’s School in Stoughtonborough, Mass. In the ensuing six years, he grew three more inches, and his basketball prowess led to his recruitment by a number of NCAA Division I schools.
After selecting the University of Arizona, Tarczewski has continued his climb through the academic and athletic world to the point where he could land in the rarified environment of the National Basketball Association. Having recently completed his sophomore season at the Tucson, Ariz., school, Tarczewski is spending a part of his summer in the Twin State Valley, visiting with family and friends while also spending time in Boston where he is keeping his now 7-foot body in shape for his junior season.
Tarczewski, 20, recently chatted with the Valley News discussing his present status, his plans for the future and how delighted he is by the outpouring support of so many from so many communities in the area. What follows is an edited transcript of that conversation.
Valley News: Do you still have some fond memories of your Stevens High School days?
KT: Oh, sure. I remember the playoff game (Berlin) when they had to open the stage at Stevens and put up some folding chairs. That was wonderful. I still keep in contact with some of those guys.
V N: What are you doing this summer?
KT: I’m hanging out with Dad (Erick) and seeing family and friends. I owe so much to so many, and it’s a wonderful feeling knowing that so many people are concerned how well I’m doing. I can’t thank people enough.
VN: What was it like to play at McHale Center (capacity: 15,000) after playing high school ball in gyms that seated just a few hundred?
KT: It took some getting used to playing in front of all those people every night. But after two years now, I’m getting used to it.
VN: What is your pre-game ritual?
KT: Not a lot. I make sure my socks are folded the same way and my shirt is properly tiered. I’m pretty quiet. Trying to focus on the game ahead.
VN: Do you listen to pre-game music?
KT: I don’t think listening to music helps. It just takes my mind away from the task at hand.
VN: What was your biggest step forward last season?
KT: I was feeling more comfortable. It was tough my first year, but now I’m becoming more confident. And no longer awed at my surroundings. Going from a freshman to a sophomore was a huge step.
VN: What do you see as your strengths?
KT: My freshman year I would say my strength was as a team player. I would do anything to help the team win. As I get older, I want to expand my role as a rebounder and shot ejector.
VN: What do you think you need to work on the most?
KT: I still have a lot of work to do on all my skills. I hope to get better in every area of my game. You can never be satisfied.
VN: Would you eventually like to play basketball for a living?
KT: That’s the goal. It’s something I hope to achieve. I’m in a great place with a great coaching staff.
VN: Would you consider leaving school early if the right offer came along?
KT: That’s something I’ve been thinking about, but right now I’m just trying to be the best basketball player I can be at Arizona.
VN: We know your mother (Bonnie) was with you in Tucson during the season and you also have a girlfriend that is a couple feet shorter that you.
KT: There’s a story that every tall guy has a short girl to drive him crazy. Her name is Breanna Miller, and she’s from Gilbert, Ariz. She had never been to the East Coast, and when she did she loved it.
VN: Bill Walton broadcasts a lot of your games on ESPN and seems to be fan of yours, always complimenting you and saying things like, “Throw it down big fella.” Do you talk to him?
KT: He usually gets to the game early and talks to us. He’s a great guy to bounce things off, and just a great guy personally. He always tried to be the best he could be, and I’d like to model myself after him.
VN: Your team spends a lot of time flying around the country. Are you OK with flying?
KT: I love flying. We’re lucky in that we charter every trip. Just the basketball team on the plane. Lots of space between seats so we can stretch out.
VN: You are away from school a lot. Do you have tutors that travel with you?
KT: Arizona prides itself on its academic standards as well as its athletic accomplishments. Some weeks we are on the road for six days and we will meet with the academic advisers in a conference room every day.
VN: Are the motels and hotels you stay at accommodating to 7-footers?
KT: Oh, yeah. We stay at a lot of Marriotts and the like, and we always have comfortable beds. We get treated nice.
VN: What do you do when you have down time?
KT: I try to relax and take long rides in the desert. I love my own cooking, especially steak and asparagus on the grill. I go to the store myself and take what I buy back to my place. It gives me a feeling of satisfaction. I’m not a video-game guy. I like to do things more physical. I like to explore.
VN: Do you think scholarship athletes should be paid?
KT: I try not to think much about it too much, but I don’t think scholarship athletes need to be paid. I suppose it would be nice to have more money to spend on yourself. Basketball during the season is a full-time job. We do get per diem money on the road, but we do eat a lot.