Late start no problem for Obrzut

November 02, 2003|LARRY VAUGHT

The first time he picked up a basketball he was about 5 years old, but the first time he got serious about basketball was when he was 15.

"Europe is a place where almost everybody starts out playing soccer," said Lukasz Obrzut, a 7-1 freshman. "I was a good goalkeeper because I had long arms. I was pretty good.

"But when I turned 15, I started playing basketball. A coach helped me with my shot. I was about 6-8 then, but I knew I had to learn to shoot. It didn't take me that long to pick it up."

The same was true for mastering a new language. Obrzut left Poland last year to attend Bridgton (Maine) Academy, where he averaged 12 points, eight rebounds, three assists and two blocked shots per game on a team that had seven players sign Division I scholarships.


He spoke Polish and understood some German, but he had no background in English when he arrived in the United States.

"I had a teacher that helped me learn how to speak and write English," Obrzut said. "I also watch a lot of TV and movies. I'm always talking to my friends, too, because that helps me with the language. Sometimes I have a few problems in class because I don't understand all that I am reading because of the language."

Obrzut seldom gets to communicate with his parents and 18-year-old brother, Dawid, who is 6-9. He's only seen them once since leaving Poland a little more than a year ago.

"The people back home check me out on the Internet and we talk as much as we can, but I don't have a lot of time," Obrzut said. "I knew I wouldn't get to see my family much when I came here, but it was also that way in Poland. I was playing about 80 games a year there and would just get to go home maybe for three days at Christmas."

Obrzut is not complaining because he's appreciative of the opportunity he has at Kentucky. In Europe, a player either plays basketball - as he did after high school - or goes to college. It's impossible to do both.

"You choose college or basketball," Obrzut said. "This way I get to do both. I like what coach Tubby Smith and the academic people are giving me a chance to do here. This is impossible in Europe. That's why I'm willing to work as hard as I can to make this work.

"I think is the best place for me to develop my game, polish my skills and become a better player."

His teammates didn't need long once he arrived in Lexington last summer to know that he was not a typical freshman. Not only is he 21 years old, but his work ethic and fundamentals are far more advanced than those of most first-year college players.

"He can play," senior Erik Daniels said. "I'm not sure any of us knew exactly what to expect from him when he got here.

"We always felt we would be able to communicate just fine with him, but it surprises me that he's only been speaking English for a year. He's even picking up some of our slang talk now.

"He picks things up well on the court, too, because he wants to be a good player. We're lucky to have him here and he could turn out to be a big key to how well we do this season."

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