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After Gortat, what do Poland do at center?
WARSAW (FIBA EuroBasket 2017) -With their most iconic player of the past 10 years missing this summer, how will Poland fill the void left my Marcin Gortat at center? As it turns out, it may not create the headache one may expect.
There are positive vibes in the Polish national side these days and for good reason. Talented players have been winning games under the bright and enthusiastic coach, Mike Taylor. There has been good chemistry both on and off the court. Players are competing in top foreign leagues and getting more and more experience.
How far can Poland go? They made it to the Round of 16 at FIBA EuroBasket 2015 before the run ended against eventual champions Spain. Last year, Poland took care of business. They made it to FIBA EuroBasket 2017 by winning five of six games and finishing first in their qualifying pool, Group D.
The primary concern for Poland heading into this summer appears to be at the five spot. The country's 33-year-old NBA center, Marcin Gortat, retired from the national team after FIBA EuroBasket 2015 and Maciej Lampe, who was left out of the squad a couple of years ago but helped the team qualify for this summer's event, is recovering from hip surgery.
What are the possibilities in the low post for Poland, who will take on Greece, France, Iceland, Slovenia and hosts Finland in Group A at FIBA EuroBasket 2017?
Karnowski is poised to be a leader for Poland
Forget Karnowski's last game in American college basketball with Gonzaga, the NCAA Final earlier this month against North Carolina when he missed shot-after-shot near the basket. Better finishing might have netted the Zags their first title. No, instead remember Karnowski from 2015 when in Montpellier, he showed poise, a soft shooting touch and a deft passing ability. He used his enormous 7ft 1in (2.16m) frame to good effect and should be just as good, if not better, this year. Signing with an NBA team could raise doubts about his availability for the EuroBasket but he's the country's No. 1 center now and making it to Helsinki will be a priority for him.
Kulig will be crucial for Poland at the EuroBasket
The 29-year-old can play power forward or center. Kulig was extremely important in 2015 when Poland made their run to the Round of 16, averaging more than 20 minutes per game. Two years ago, Kulig made 56.2 percent of his shots inside the arc and drilled 33.3 percent beyond it. Kulig had to miss last summer's qualifying campaign because his baby son was unwell but all signs point to the power forward being in Finland. If Poland go small and have Kulig at the five, that should make the team quicker. It is likely to also have the benefit of forcing the opposing center outside of the lane on defense since Kulig can bury mid- and long-range jumpers.
Hrycaniuk took it right to Pau Gasol at FIBA EuroBasket 2011
When it comes to Hrycaniuk, Taylor will get the maximum out of the Barlinek-born big man who is undersized height-wise as a pivot yet one with a powerful 6ft 9in (2.06m) frame. The reason to have 'Beast', as the coach called him, in the team is because of his tenacity and I.Q. The key for the player will be to bring physicality without fouling. That will be awfully hard to do against Group A centers Kostas Koufos and Giannis Bourousis (both Greece) and Rudy Gobert (France). Against the other teams' bigs, though, Hrycaniuk can surely be effective in spurts and that, at bare minimum, is what Poland will need. He averaged 5.3 points per game and 4.3 rebounds per game in 17.6 minutes per game in last year's qualifying campaign.
Czyz was hugely important in last year's qualifying campaign
Another power forward, the 27-year-old Czyz was on the roster at FIBA EuroBasket 2015 and also played last summer in qualifying, averaging 6 points per game and 3.8 rebounds per game in 15.9 minutes per game. A knee injury cut short Czyz's season with Italian Lega A side Caserta. He flew home to the United States earlier this year to have an operation but looks to have time on his side as he tries to make it back for the EuroBasket.
Bender is a power forward with a big future
A player whose nickname at West Virginia is 'Magic' must be pretty good. A member of the Poland side at the 2016 FIBA U20 European Championship Division B, Bender is learning the American college basketball ropes under Mountaineers coach Bob Huggins. While he attended the senior team training camp last summer, Bender is almost certain to remain in West Virginia this year to work on his game and enhance his prospects of getting more minutes next season. He's definitely a national team player of the future.
Olejniczak shone at the 2014 U18 European Championship
Similar to Bender, Olejniczak is playing the American college game. He just sat out a year after electing to transfer from Drake, where he'd been a huge hit as a freshman, to Mississippi. There is no doubt that he figures into the long-term planning of Poland. He also participated in the senior team training camp last year.
Lampe did well last summer but is an uncertainty after having a hip operation
Yes, he's recovering from right hip surgery but Taylor has yet to rule the 32-year-old out and here's why. Lampe averaged 14.6 points and 7.4 rebounds in the team's successful qualifying campaign in 2016, hitting 28 of 55 (50.9 percent) of his shots from the floor. Remembering how dominant he was at times for Barcelona in Spain's top flight from 2013-15, and taking on board his statistical contributions of last summer, wouldn't any coach keep his fingers crossed and hope that Lampe gets back to full fitness and makes the roster?
Cel will need to play big for Poland
A member of the EuroBasket 2015 squad, Cel looks set for a return to the team this year after missing the qualifying campaign. The 6ft 6in (1.99m) forward, who was born in Orleans, France, gave very good minutes in his national team debut two years ago in Montpellier and Lille. He'll have to be combative for Poland.