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CBKB: Help may be on the way with Czyz

JOE SANTORO
For the Nevada Appeal

Look, Nevada Wolf Pack men’s basketball fans, up in the sky.

It’s a bird. It’s a plane.

No, it’s Olek Czyz.

Yes, help is on the way. So forget that five-game losing streak, forget the 1-5 record and ignore the worst start to a season since 1999.

None of that negativity matters because we haven’t seen the real Wolf Pack yet this year. All we’ve seen is a mild-mannered Clark Kent, a bunch of wet-behind-the-ears, talented but inexperienced kids looking for a leader to drop down from the sky and save the season.

“I have to help them with that,” Pack coach David Carter said.

Czyz, a versatile, athletic 6-foot-7 inside-outside guard-forward, will be able to help Carter with that. The Reno High graduate, who went to basketball school and studied for about 15 months under professor Mike Krzyzewski at Duke, will be eligible to play his first game for the Wolf Pack on Dec. 17 when Arizona State comes to Lawlor Events Center.

“He’s a guy with experience,” Carter said this week. “He’s one of a few guys we have on this team who has played at this level before. He can help our younger players.”

He just might be the leader this team so desperately is searching for as it tries to keep its head above water. This Pack team, right now, looks like an extra in the movie “Jaws,” flailing about in blood-soaked water with another wave of sharks (UNLV on Saturday and Houston on Monday) about to strike.

“We’re pretty much at the bottom right now,” Carter said.

Well, let’s hope so. But enough of that doom and gloom talk. This is not the time to hang your proud Pack heads in shame. This is a time to look up in the, well, you know.

Super Olek is on the way. And, yes, he definitely has the ability to change the course of what is shaping up to be a not-so-mighty season.

“I can’t wait to play in front of the crowd here,” Czyz said before the season. “I love playing on this court, in front of these fans. I have a lot of friends here.”

Czyz, who won a pair of dramatic state titles (2006, 2008) on Lawlor’s floor for Reno High, is indeed a strange visitor from another planet (OK, it’s just his native Poland), who came to northern Nevada as a high school freshman with powers and abilities beyond those of mortal 14-year-olds. He is faster than a speeding Armon Johnson, more powerful than a Luke Babbitt and able to leap tall power forwards in a single bound.

“He’s unique,” Carter said earlier this year. “He can play the three (small forward), four (power forward) and five (center). He can really be a wild card for us.”

And he’s about to fall out of the sky just when the Pack needs him the most.

“He’s a nice luxury to have,” Carter added, “a guy who can play inside or outside.”

A guy who can save a season.

We are not telling you these things to put pressure on Czyz (he can handle it) or to get you to run out and make hotel reservations near the Final Four in Houston. We are telling you these things simply to prevent you from giving up on this Pack season before it really gets started.

It starts Dec. 17.

But have patience. I know it’s hard. I know the tendency now in Wolf Pack World is to want everything all at once. The football team beat Boise State. Everything seems possible right now.

And it is. But give it time. Let this Pack basketball team figure out how all of the pieces fit before we ask it to outrun a speeding bullet.

“There’s a lot of season left,” junior center Dario Hunt said this week. “We’ll get it together.”

Czyz, unfortunately, won’t have an S on his chest on Dec. 17 unless, of course, there is a slam dunk contest at halftime. He’s not going to be a hybrid version of Luke and Armon. He’s not going to save a season all by himself. Yes, he can leap tall power forwards in a single bound but, to be fair to Czyz, Carter, the Pack and the future of Poland basketball, it must be pointed out that Czyz is almost as raw and inexperienced as his young teammates.

“The only way to get better is to play games,” Czyz said before the season.

He hasn’t played in a lot of games since leaving Reno High nearly three years ago. Czyz managed to play just 112 minutes in 19 games at Duke. As many as 10 Pack players, the same guys Czyz hopes to pull out of those dangerous waters, will have more experience than that this year alone.

The last time we saw Czyz, he had a jump shot as erratic as a Boise State field goal kicker. Reno High cheerleaders used to run out of the gym when he shot. They’d only come back when they heard one of his thunderous dunks.

So, to be sure, Czyz is still learning the game. Northern Nevada, don’t forget, is like a New York City playground as far as basketball competition is concerned compared to where Czyz grew up in Gdynia, Poland. And it would be unfair to Czyz to consider him a finished product after playing less than two hours at Duke.

So be patient, Pack fans. You’ll have your Polish Rifle this year and next.

Carter, though, doesn’t want his young team to simply stand around until the glorious moment Czyz walks through the door and saves the day. There are still three games (UNLV, Houston and San Francisco State on Dec. 11) to be played before then. That’s 120 valuable minutes of basketball to learn from, more than Czyz has even played in his college career.

“We can’t wait for one player,” Carter said. “These guys are still going to play when he’s here.”

A few of them won’t play as much. But that has yet to be determined. For now, though, Carter wants his young team to find itself before Czyz comes aboard.

“They have to get confidence before he gets here,” Carter said.

Confidence, as you can imagine, is a problem with this young Pack team right now. Nobody has emerged as the go-to guy, the Luke or Armon.

Czyz, you can be sure, will be more than happy to take that role starting in two weeks. Carter, though, would like a few others to volunteer their services in that leading-man role before that day comes.

So far, nobody has done it and that’s the biggest reason why this team is 1-5 right now.

“It’s up to me now to point to one or two guys and say, ‘We need you to step up,'” Carter said.

Help is on the way.