Polish connection helping Kentucky's Obrzut

October 31, 2004|LARRY VAUGHT

During his first season at Kentucky, Lukasz "Woo" Obrzut had trouble adjusting to the physical style of basketball coach Tubby Smith wanted him to play.

It was a dilemma Dawid Przybyszewski, Obrzut's former teammate in Poland, understands because he's gone through the same transition at Vanderbilt. Or at least the Vanderbilt coaches have tried to get him to also play the more physical style of American basketball.

"The European style of basketball is a little different. Coaches here want you to play more physical," Przybyszewski said during the Southeastern Conference Media Days in Birmingham last week. "In Poland, Woo was a more physical player than he was at Kentucky last year."

Even though they lived about 400 miles apart in Poland, Przybyszewski and Obrzut played for the same high school team and were teammates one year when Przybyszewski played power forward and Obrzut center.


"When we played together, he was more of a back-to-the-basket guy," the Vanderbilt senior. "Now I hear he wants to be more versatile. He was not a 3-point shooting kind of guy in Poland. He stayed inside where he had a lot of skills. I help him when he wonders what the coaches are talking about or doing because I'm older."

Przybyszewski and Obrzut are both 7-footers. However, while Przybyszewski ranks among the SEC's top returning shot blockers (29), he also made more 3-point shots (51) than any 7-footer in the country last year. He shot 45.5 percent from 3-point range, and over half of his shots came from there.

"They push me to play more inside, too, but I still like to shoot the 3," Przybyszewski said. "Height does not have anything to do with where I play. I can play inside or outside."

Staying in touch online

The two Poland natives don't get to see each other often, but they do talk regularly via the Internet thanks to online messaging.

"We talk on the phone some, but mainly it's online because that is more convenient," Przybyszewski said. "We have it so we can send Polish messages and read them on-line. We mainly just talk about basketball related things and how we both are doing. We just try to help each other and make sure we are both doing okay.

"Woo talked a little trash before the game at Vanderbilt last year, but we don't try to be mean. We are even now because we both won a game last year. I don't think there will be a lot of that trash talking this year."

Przybyszewski said Obrzut had not told him there was a family in Lexington who regularly cooks him Polish food, a luxury Przybyszewski does not have.

"My freshman year in Nashville I went home with a teammate and his mother fixed me Polish food based on recipes she found on the Internet," Przybyszewski said. "I can't cook or I would fix my own food. I miss Polish dishes. I love steak, but it's nothing Polish."

Przybyszewski looks for Obrzut to make bigger contributions for Kentucky this season.

"He's getting better every year. I'm actually excited to see him play this year," Przybyszewski said. "He's always telling me how hard their practices are and how demanding Tubby (Smith) is. But he's tough and he'll survive."

Experience needed: Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury was surprised media members overlooked the returning experience Alabama and Florida have by picking Mississippi State and Kentucky, respectively, to win SEC division titles this year.

"Kentucky and us are in the same boat," Stansbury said. "They have a young team and are picked high. We have an inexperienced team and are picked high. That might show where the programs are, but it also shows that some people undervalue experience.

"Alabama has four starters back and the (SEC) coaches picked three of their guys among the top 16 players in the league. We had one. LSU has four starters back. How we are picked to win the West, I don't understand.

"Florida has everybody back including three of the leagues best players in David Lee, Anthony Roberson and Matt Walsh. To pick Kentucky over a Florida team that has everybody back, even with freshmen as talented as Kentucky has, is a little hard. Florida has great experience and great recruits. They have talented experience, Kentucky has untested talent."

Hayes backer: Vanderbilt senior guard Jason Holwerda has been a fan of Kentucky's Chuck Hayes for two years.

"He's been one of my favorites since our sophomore year," Holwerda said. "He's the backbone of their team and doesn't get the credit he deserves. He's an excellent player. He does a little bit of everything."

Hayes was voted to the preseason all-SEC team, a move Smith certainly endorsed.

"If I had 15 Chucks, I would be the happiest man in the world," Smith said. "There are just so many intangible qualities about him that the numbers don't always show."

Preseason honors: Several Kentucky players have been named on various preseason college basketball lists.

Sporting News: Shooting guards, Joe Crawford, 14th; small forwards, Kelenna Azubuike, 10th; power forwards, Hayes, seventh; centers, Randolph Morris, 14th; SEC newcomer of the year, Crawford; best NBA prospect in SEC, Morris; and player on the rise, Azubuike. The magazine also rated UK's backcourt as the nation's 16th best and the frontcourt as the ninth best.

Athlon Sports: Best SEC defensive player, Hayes; SEC newcomer of year, Morris; top 10 transfer, Patrick Sparks. The magazine picked UK to advance to the NCAA Sweet 16, the best of any SEC team.

Blue Ribbon yearbook: SEC newcomer of the year, Sparks.

Street and Smith's: SEC's best instincts, Hayes; SEC's top impact freshman, Morris; best strategist, Tubby Smith; and best assistant, David Hobbs.

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