Przemek Karnowski couldn’t walk 10 feet without being stopped by fans seeking an autograph or picture near Gonzaga’s booth at Hoopfest.
In the middle of an interview, a woman approached and asked for an autograph. Karnowski politely responded he’d be happy to sign in a few minutes. He kept his word.
The 7-foot-1 center from Poland became one of the most beloved players in Gonzaga history for several reasons, beginning with his amiable personality. He made an impressive recovery from a career-threatening back injury. His on-court impact – leadership, anchor the defense on one end and his soft touch and slick passes at the other – was undeniable.
His appeal doesn’t have borders. He would be a well-known commodity on the professional market overseas, likely with an opportunity to earn $250,000 or more.
One catch: Karnowski wants to play in the NBA. That’s why he signed on with the Charlotte Hornets’ summer league team, which opens play Saturday against Miami in Orlando.
“That’s Plan B,” Karnowski said of playing overseas. “I’m trying to stay here and play in the summer league and show people what I can do.”
Karnowski believes Charlotte was the best of several summer-league options to eventually find his way on an NBA roster, or at least earn an invite to training camp.
That he had options shows NBA teams are satisfied with the condition of his back.
“I did complex testing in LA with my agency and everything was sent out to the teams, all the notes after surgery,” he said. “Obviously they’re aware of my situation and they had to consider that when offering me.
“As much as my surgery was dangerous in 2015 and in 2016 doing rehab, I think I proved to the teams that I didn’t miss a game, I practiced and I’m sure they talked to coach (Mark) Few and my other coaches.”
Undrafted free agents encounter long odds but there are success stories, including ex-Zag Kyle Wiltjer making Houston’s roster last season.
In summer league, Karnowski will compete for playing time with Johnny O’Bryant, who played in 11 Hornets games last season, and Mangok Mathiang, a 6-10, 230-pound rookie who put up decent numbers in four years at Louisville.
“He’s quicker than you think, he has very good hands and good basketball instincts,” Hornets league coach Stephen Silas said in a video on the team’s website. “We worked more (Tuesday) on post-ups and (Wednesday) we were playing more to his strength, which is flashing to the elbow, the high post, and making plays that way. I think that’s where his game is as opposed to pounding inside and trying to score.”
The Hornets recently acquired center Dwight Howard from Atlanta. They have 7-footers Frank Kaminsky, a third-year pro who can play on the perimeter, and Cody Zeller, entering his fifth year.
“I think it’s the best situation for me,” Karnowski said. “Great organization and they worked me out so they know what I’m capable of.
“I’m trying to stay (with Charlotte). If not, I’ll think about going to Europe.”
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