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FIBA U19 World Championship Preview: Poland

June 29th, 2011 · No Comments

One of the teams that comes to Latvia with a  lot of hopes is Poland. After having won the Silver Medal at the U17 World Championship in Germany, it looks like the Polish teams is taking the World Championship as a preparation event for “their” U18 Euro later this summer. But as Rafal Juc explains, they might combine preparation with success.

2011 FIBA U19 World Championship in Latvia will be the first tournament in this category in history for the Polish Federation. Having in memory the fact that Poland is the current runner-up in U17 category shows that in this big country between Germany and Russia youth basketball is every single year on a higher level.

For this year’s summer, the Polish federation has got two very important goals in youth basketball. Firstly, achieve a title on European Championship U18, which will be hosted in Poland. Chances are very big, because in the tournament will play the best young team in polish history, which last year in Hamburg reached second place at World Championship U17. Secondly, achieve an advance to Division A in European Championship U20. This is the only category, where Poland does not play in the first division. World Championship is only an occasion to get an experience of playing on the top level for the young polish players and promote them. Taking into account all these facts, the Polish federation decided that to Latvia will go only players born in 1993 and 1994 under the experienced coach Jerzy Szambelan. It means that this tournament will be a warm-up and test for the polish team before European Championship U18.

This brings that the fans in Latvia will not have a chance to watch the best 19-years-old from Poland. Boys born in 1992 will play this summer only in U20 category. It is very big loss for them, because Michał Kwiatkowski, Michał Sokołowski, Bartłomiej Bojko, Mateusz Dziemba, Bartłomiej Bartoszewicz and Wojciech Leszczynski achieved with six one-year younger boys an advance for this year’s World Championship during the U18 Euro last summer.

The Polish team, which is for sure the youngest one on this tournament is not a favorite for title, but Jerzy Szambelan’s team can make a surprise. Poland is a well-balanced team with two solid players on every position. Shooting guard Mateusz Ponitka and center Przemysław Karnowski, who played both in Nike Hoop Summit are one of the best players in Europe of young generation. Ponitka as well Karnowski were selected to the All-Tournament Team last summer in Hamburg at World Championship U17. With averaging 19 points Ponitka was second scorer of the tournament and Karnowski with 11 rebounds was second rebounder of the tourney. He had also recorded 14.5 points per game.

They both had a very good season and are ready to make the next step. Ponitka was playing in second polish division in Politechnika Warsaw and probably next season he will stay in this team and play in the highest leve which is the Extra league. He made a progress, especially improved his body and playing on a ball. But to be honest, Karnowski made even a bigger progress. He spent last year in special sport school in Cetniewo, where he has an occasion to work with the best polish coaches. He improved his mid-range shoot, playing on ball and especially his body. He is faster and more dynamic now.

But Polish team is not only Ponitka and Karnowski. Coach Szambelan in his rotation has got also few another solid players. First playmaker will be Grzegorz Grochowski. He is not too tall, but has got impressive court vision, high IQ and plays aggressive defense. He can score points on few ways, but in national team he is focusing on creating good position for teammates.

A very interesting player is Tomasz Gielo, who will play from season 2011/12 in NCAA for the Liberty Flames. He can play on both wings, plays very good on and off the ball, has solid 3-point shoot. Captain of the team is guard Michał Michalak, who has got impressive year in second polish division – he averaged 16.2 points, 4.8 rebounds and 2.7 assist. Because of his playing style, he is compared to Juan Carlos Navarro, who is also Michalak’s favorite player.

One of the best player of U19 World Championship can be power forward Piotr Niedzwiedzki, who had also a terrific year. He played in his hometown in third polish division with legendary Adam Wojcik, one of the best basketball players in polish history. Now Niedzwiedzki is stronger and plays better with ball. Because of his nice jump shoot he looks like a young Pau Gasol.

Coach Szambelan is still looking for a replacement for injured Filip Matczak, who has a metacarpal bone fracture in his right hand. It looks like that gives more minutes on court to Daniel Szymkiewicz (’94), who spent second half of last season on rehabilitation after an injury.

The biggest advantage of the polish team is the fact that they play together for years. Poland has got a very strong frontcourt as well as a backcourt. Michal Michalak and Mateusz Ponitka is a very offensive couple. Michalak prefers play near three-point line and running off the screens looking for good position for the jumper. From the other hand, Ponitka prefers playing on the  ball and can create positions by himself. He showed it in semifinal of World Championship U17 last year, when he scored 14 straight points in important moment!

There is not too many teams with so strong frontcourt like Poland. Piotr Niedzwiedzki and Przemyslaw Karnowski have got both more than 2.10 meters. Karnowski is a terrific rebounder. The rest of the team plays with him often inside and outside, players from backcourt try to use him in isolations. Niedzwiedzki feels better with ball on 4 or 5 meters, he can also shoot from three-point line. He is very hard to defend when he drives to the basket.

Poland is in group A with Brazil, Tunisia and Russia. It looks like Brazil will be first and Poland will fight with Russia for second place. It is hard to predict in which place Poland will finish this tournament. It must be remembered that in the Polish team are only 18- and 17-years-old players. This year’s tournament is only an important lesson for them before European Championship U18, which Poland wants to win.

Probable Roster for Poland: Jan Grzeliński (1994), Jakub Koelner (1993), Michał Michalak (1993), Grzegorz Grochowski (1993), Pawel Spica (1993), Łukasz Bonarek (1993), Mateusz Ponitka (1993), Michał Pietrzak (1993), Tomasz Gielo (1993), Daniel Szymkiewicz (1994), Piotr Niedźwiedzki (1993) and Przemysław Karnowski (1993).

Rafał Juć is a very young journalist from Poland. He is a correspondent for the official website of the polish extra league, works for polish basketball federation and writes for the biggest polish magazine about basketball “MVP”. He can be found on twitter @rafjuc or reached via e-mail

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