Tarczewski growing into his role with Wildcats
DEC 21, 2012 8:59a ET
That changed. He wanted to be a mechanic, working on automobiles to keep the world rolling.
That, too, changed. He wanted to play basketball, getting the idea from the Boston
Celtics after he got his first glimpse of the sport when he attended a game at the age of 10.
He was hooked.
“I just loved it,’’ said Tarczewski, who is from Southborough, Mass. “I wanted to be as tall as Paul Pierce (6-foot-7). He was my favorite player.”
By his freshman year in high school, he already had outgrown Pierce. He was about 6-8.
“I’ve always been taller than everyone else,” said Tarczewski, Arizona’s 7-foot center and focal point near the basket.
With that height, it was almost like he had no choice but to play, although his parents stressed the student part of student-athlete more than anything.
“My mom always pushed academics, and my dad never pushed sports,” he said. “He said if it was something I wanted to do, I could. He didn’t care either way. He just cared that I did well in school.”
He did and he is, although last week’s eight-point, no-rebound, five-foul game in Arizona's 89-64 win over Oral Roberts brought out radio callers, Internet threaders and talking heads saying or writing that a 7-foot guy shouldn’t go a game without a rebound.
But it happened. Tarczewski, the guy the Zona Zoo calls “Zeus," was shut out in part
because of the fouls. For the second consecutive game, he was on the bench at the end. He also fouled out in the Florida game.
Arizona coach Sean Miller used insight and sarcasm to describe Tarczewski’s foul trouble, saying he’d have to review the game tape to see what was going on.
First the sarcasm: “I’m thinking of telling him, 'If anyone wants to run into you, just
run away; run on your tippy-toes, fall down as much as you can and get
out of the way when the game gets physical.'"
Then the insight. Part of being a 7-footer is knowing you’re in the spotlight, so Miller’s suggestion has been: "Don’t get frustrated.”
Tarczewski isn’t. And hasn’t been all season, although some fans might be, from expecting the 7-footer to be fantastic every time on the court. Problem is, it doesn’t work that way. And that’s at any level and any age, but especially for a freshman.
The good thing about Tarczewski is that he’s level-headed and pragmatic enough to know he’s a “work in progress” and that "potential" is a word used when things haven’t been realized yet.
Patience, in this case, is needed.
Of course, the patience got harder to come by after he finished his first Arizona exhibition with 18 points and 13 rebounds. Even this writer said after that performance that he appeared to be arguably the most physically impressive big man UA has had in the past 25 years.
So yes, the bar had been raised.
“But the bar has always been high for myself and the team,” he said. “We all strive to be the best. That’s why we’ve had such a successful year.”
Tarczewski is averaging 6.5 points and 6.4 rebounds a game as Arizona heads into Tuesday's matchup with San Diego State in the championship game of the Diamond Head Classic in Honolulu. As for his double-double debut? Well, as he looked at the statistics sheet, he said, “It shows I have potential to be a great player. But you know it’s a work in progress. It’s also what I need to keep me motivated and keep me working every game. Not every game is going to be easy. This isn’t high school or AAU ... I have to keep working hard.”
Music to Miller’s ears. Miller also mentioned that his 7-footer has a “mean streak, and that’s a good trait for a post player. We need to teach him how to use it to his advantage and not disadvantage.”
In time. But as Tarczewski talks about his future, he mentions three things: staying motivated, helping his team and working hard. Three constants.
“I just want to be the best player I can be,” he said. “And that means I have to work as hard as I can. Maybe I don’t have a few good games and maybe I have a good game, but it’s about working to be better. That’s all that matters.”
Asked for where he needs to get better, he starts with defense, ball screens and rebounding — then stops and say, “well, everything.”
“It’s about working hard and getting better,” he said. “You can’t go out there every day thinking it’s going to be a piece of cake.”
Or a slice of heavenly pizza.