Kaleb’s Krowd: Tarczewski Leaves Hometown in Thrall
Wisconsin 's Nigel Hayes shoots past Arizona's Kaleb Tarczewski during the second half in a regional final NCAA college basketball tournament game, Saturday, March 29, 2014, in Anaheim, Calif. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)
Eric Tarczewski looks at a collection of basketball memorabilia from his son, Kaleb Tarczewski's high school and college career at his home in Claremont, N.H., on March 31, 2014. Kaleb Tarczewski, a sophomore, is a center for the Arizona Wildcats.
Valley News - Sarah Priestap
Arizona's Kaleb Tarczewski reacts during the first half in a regional final NCAA college basketball tournament game against Wisconsin, Saturday, March 29, 2014, in Anaheim, Calif. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
Claremont — Take a sports bar, fill it with 100 or so noisy people and put the father of Kaleb Tarczewski in a comfy couch in front of a big screen and you have the makings for a heckuva evening.
That was the scene Saturday night at the Time Out Sports Bar and Grill where multiple televisions were tuned to the same thing — the Arizona-Wisconsin NCAA men’s basketball regional final. And in front of the biggest screen in the place was the guest of honor, the man who pulled the whole evening together — Kaleb’s 48-year-old father, Eric, along with friends and family members.
“I still find what is happening to Kaleb is still amazing to me,” said Eric.
What was happening to Kaleb was that the seven-footer was playing for a Division I basketball team that had reached the NCAA tournament’s Elite Eight. And not only was he playing, he was the starting center for Arizona — a squad that had spent eight weeks as the nation’s No. 1 team and had run up 21 straight wins to start the season.
What Tarczewski has done is reach an athletic pinnacle that perhaps no other former Stevens High athlete has ever ascended.
Bob Parker, 85, now living in Maine, graduated from Stevens in 1946 and keeps track of what goes on Claremont. Sitting and watching Kaleb in action on TV, Parker said he believed what Tarczewski has done, sports-wise, is on top of the list of ex-Cardinals.
“There’s no question in my mind that he’s in a class by himself,” said Parker.
When Tarczewski — who played two years in Stevens colors before transferring to St. Mark’s School in Southborough, Mass. — scored the first points for Arizona Saturday night, the sports bar erupted, with high fives and cheering.
In the fall of 2008, freshman Tarczewski was a 6-foot-7 drummer in the Stevens band. To say you couldn’t miss him was an understatement.
When basketball season rolled around, he looked more at home because he was already showing evidence of being the best player on the floor. A part-timer as a freshman, Tarczewski matured into Stevens’ leading scorer as a sophomore, netting 13.2 points per game as Stevens went 21-3 and reached the NHIAA Class M semifinals as the state tournament’s top seed.
In a tight semifinal against Prospect Mountain, Tarczewski went to the foul line for two shots with time just about expired and his team down by a point. He needed one to tie and two to win — but missed them both. It was his last game in a Stevens uniform.
But not his last basketball game. Tarczewski was playing AAU basketball for a Springfield, Vt., team, and also attending the Five Star big-man’s basketball camp in Pennsylvania. His ability and progress attracted the attention of the basketball folks from St. Mark’s. In the fall of 2010, Tarczewski enrolled. One of his teammates was shooting guard Nik Stauskas, who eventually moved on to the University of Michigan and was named the Big Ten Conference’s player of the year this season.
While prep school play in Massachusetts offered Kaleb a high level of basketball education, it also served up a top-flight academic menu, something of which his father is extremely proud.
“He was a straight-A student at Stevens and an honor student at St. Mark’s,” said Eric Tarczewski. “They also made him play two other sports, and he chose soccer and tennis. If you think he looked a little out place in the band, you should have seen him playing soccer with those little guys.”
Because the NCAA allows five years of secondary athletics, Tarczewski started there as a sophomore. He helped St. Mark’s to three consecutive New England prep school titles and was ranked as the No. 4 overall prospect in the country and the No. 3 center by ESPN.com, getting looks for all of the top programs in the nation before he finally chose Arizona.
He had a solid freshman year, being voted honorable mention Pac-12 all-freshman team. He helped the Wildcats to a 27-8 record before losing in the Sweet 16 round of the NCAA tournament. This year, Tarczewski came back stronger physically and controlled the middle for the Wildcats on both offense and defense, earning accolades from former UCLA star Bill Walton for his style of play.
The Wildcats earned a No. 1 seed in the Western bracket and rolled into the Elite Eight where they met Big Ten juggernaut Michigan.
By halftime, Kaleb and the Wildcats led, 28-25, and the scene at the sports bar was somewhat chaotic as more people filtered in, looking to shake hands with Eric and comment about the game. Kaleb had eight first-half points, and Arizona was looking good.
“I’m going to Texas if Arizona makes it to the Final Four,” said Eric.
Also watching the game was Kaleb’s Springfield AAU coach, Wade McAllister. Kaleb played two years for McAllister, who said he was not really surprised that Kaleb has reached such heights.
“He was very coachable and a hard worker,” said McAllister, who coached Tarczewski for the Connecticut Valley Edge after his freshman and sophomore years at Stevens. “He was around 6-foot-7 and not nearly as muscular as he is now, but you could tell he was something special. He was always trying to get better.”
The question of what the future holds for Tarczewski was also floated around. Will he leave school for the NBA and all the riches that comes along with being drafted, or will he finish out his final two years at Arizona?
“I have no preference,” said Eric. “You can make a case for both — staying in school and leaving for the NBA.”
McAllister feels that the NBA is definitely in Tarczewski’s future. “It’s just a matter of when,” he said.
Eric Tarczewski makes one trip a year to watch his son play, while Kaleb’s mother, Bonnie (the parents are divorced) is in Tucson to keep a closer watch on things.
“I try to talk to him maybe once a week,” said Eric. “Even Bonnie has a hard time spending a lot of time with him because of basketball and schoolwork (Kaleb is business major). And he also has a girlfriend.”
When Tarczewski scored the first basket of the second half to put Arizona ahead 30-25, the crowd came alive after a halftime lull. The score stayed close until the final seconds when Arizona, trailing by a point, had the ball with just 2.3 seconds left. Arizona coach Sean Miller set up a play for top scorer Nick Johnson to take the final shot.
He told Johnson he will have time for just two dribbles. However, when Johnson got the ball, he took one dribble too many and time expired before he releases his shot.
Eric Tarczewski walked around the bar and shook a few hands.
“Nothing to be ashamed of,” he said. “It was a great season.”