Volume 95, Issue 17

Friday, September 28, 2001
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Mustangs look to steady the ship

TD Waterhouse - good or bad?

Kwiatkowski- the next Steve Nash? Anything's possible

Elliotte Friedman: a reporter and a gentleman

Smith taking sports out to the Mustang masses

Mustang Mike Pasel holds the line on defense

As good as it gets

Kwiatkowski- the next Steve Nash? Anything's possible

By Jordan Bell
Gazette Staff

Imagine you're on the court, rounding a defensive screen but you can't quite make it through. You're forced to switch and the moment you look up – you're staring straight into the eyes of Steve Nash, the greatest basketball player to grace the courts of the Great White North.

This summer, Andy Kwiatkowski, the Western Mustangs' 6'6" forward, was thrust into the above-mentioned scenario.

"The first couple of days at training camp I was in awe of him," Kwiatkowski said. "But once you play with him, you realize he's just another basketball player – he's still human."

Kwiatkowski lived the good life this summer.

The Canadian national team came calling and the hulking, versatile forward was up to the challenge. At the same time he captivated a city, who now thinks of him as their own.

He said the realization he could fulfill his dream was gradual, but a certain moment strengthened his resolve.

"In Los Angeles, I had a breakout game," Kwiatkowski said. "After that, I realized I could make this team – it was smooth sailing from there."

The journey began in June when Kwiatkowski was involved in a development camp with 30 other young hopefuls. Along with 12 other players selected from that camp, Kwiatkowski then travelled to Vancouver to compete against the Japanese national team.

Dave Van Dyck/Gazette
INSPIRED BY THE HIT MOVIE CASTAWAY, ANDY DECIDED TO NAME HIS BALL, "PETE." Although Andy repeatedly slammed Pete into the floor, he always bounced back.

Due to his strong performance and rising notoriety, Kwiatkowski was invited to try-out for the national team. Fifteen elite Canadian players competed in the Los Angeles Summer Pro League in July and from there, Canada's national team was dwindled down to 12 players, Kwiatkowski being one of the lucky selections.

The emotions he felt were hard to put into words. "It was something else," Kwiatkowski said. "I grew up watching those older guys like Steve [Nash] and now I am actually on their team."

Kwiatkowski had shown the skills this vastly improved team would need in the future – the next stop: the Confederation of Pan-American Basketball Associations World Qualification Tournament in August. The Canadian team finished third and qualified for the World Championships in India slated for next year.

One would think Kwiatkowski would be content to just be along for the ride, but this is where he is vastly underestimated. The Cambridge native was a solid game-in, game-out contributor, performing feats usually reserved for elite veterans."

"I made a decision that I wasn't going to settle for just being on the squad," Kwiatkowski said. "I was going to be a contributor and my confidence from that point skyrocketed."

The Western faithful tend to be conservative when supporting their beloved Mustangs, but in Argentina, the atmosphere was euphoric. Kwiatkowski said the fans and the overall experience was surreal.

"The fans were so much more emotional down there," Kwiatkowski said. "It's a totally different world. Outside the hotel, there would be hundreds of people asking for your autograph and taking your picture."

And the competition? "The size of the opposition is definitely the biggest thing that stands out. Rebounding is such a battle and you get away with a lot more [elbows and body checks]. I had so many bumps and bruises at the end of the tournament."

Kwiatkowski is working on his master's degree in computer science this year, so it's hard to believe he might be lost without basketball. The emerging star on the Canadian hoops scene immigrated from Poland when he was eight and could have chosen a career in the computer world.

But Kwiatkowski said his heart lies on the hardwood.

"This summer opened up a lot of avenues for me," Kwiatkowski said. "I'm definitely going to make a career out of basketball."

To be chosen to represent your country on the world stage is an accomplishment that defies all odds and requires the type of work ethic and natural talent virtually none of the 27 million people in Canada possess. Andy Kwiatkowski has a gift.

Western fans, count yourselves lucky – you are able to witness the future of Canadian basketball up close and personal.

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Copyright The Gazette 2001