An unlikely center

Matt Peters

Warzynski opts for basketball smarts over athleticism

The only few things separating Kevin Warzynski from passing as Napoleon Dynamite is his Kent State jersey, Nike basketball shoes and lack of oversized glasses. The Flashes center sports a mild white-man’s ’fro. At 6-foot-8, he is tall enough, although maybe not quite as lanky as the main character in the movie that bears the same name. But in one season at Kent State, Warzynski has gotten results. What skills does he have? (After all, girls want boyfriends with great skills.)

The junior transfer from Charleston Southern has helped to secure the Flashes questionable depth at center entering the season.

He’s led the Flashes in scoring for parts of the year, averaging 11.9 points.

He’s also been the team’s leading rebounder, averaging 4.6.

Can he hit from outside?

Heck yes!

Warzynski sports a 50.8 percentage from beyond the arc.

OK, so it isn’t nunchaku or bowhunting skills, but his play has left some opponents saying, “But it hurts real bad.”

Admittedly, he isn’t the most athletic ball player you will ever see. Mr. Dynamite probably isn’t either.

“I don’t look like I can play — I mean, I’ll be honest,” Warzynski said. “You see me walking around here (and think), ‘There’s no way that guy is doing that much for a team that good.’ That doesn’t surprise me, but I’m used to that by now. At the end of the day, people say, ‘You know, damn, he can play.’”

What does drive Warzynski’s game is the mental aspect. In conversation, the son of a former Detroit Pistons draft pick doesn’t take long until he brings up his mental focus.

“It’s not about athleticism — at least not to me,” Warzynski said. “When you’ve never had athleticism, you learn how to outsmart people. You’re used to a big center trying to go up and dunk every ball, but I’m not going to be able to do that. I’ve kind of accepted that 21 years later.”

“He wasn’t blessed with the most athletic abilities, but his knowledge of the game gets him over the hump,” said Bryan Bedford, Warzynski’s current roommate and former Kent State basketball player.

For the past four years, the Flashes have been a lock at the center position. Through 2001 to the end of the 2003 season, Nate Gerwig and John Edwards were a two–headed monster at the position. When Gerwig sat out with injuries last year, Edwards went on to have his most solid performance to date while earning Mid-American Conference Defensive Player of the Year honors. Even with Gerwig coming back, questions arose about his health and availability throughout the season. Warzynski quickly solidified the position.

“I knew I was going to be playing a lot,” he said. “It was just me and Scott (Cutley). You didn’t have a choice as to who was going to play. I knew I would just come in and make the best of it.”

It didn’t take Warzynski long to prove he could add something to the Flashes’ lineup. In just the second game of the season, Kent State had a marquee matchup against Marquette. Warzynski went on to lead Kent State in scoring, dropping 20 points in the 66-61 loss.

“Any doubts or any questions, I think I answered real quick,” Warzynski said. “You always question what the new guy is going to do — freshman, transfers or whatever.

“That gave me the confidence to build. I knew I could do it. Once I was able to do it, there was no question from anyone’s end that I could do it.”

Bedford said he saw it all last year when Warzynski practiced strictly as a scout team member.

“We had our fair share of battles last year,” Bedford said. “He had a chance to go up against myself and John Edwards in practice. He was always the best player on the scout team last year, and he definitely prepared us well for the games.”

By playing so well so early, Warzynski afforded the Flashes a chance to bring Gerwig back at a slower pace.

While his individual play certainly has helped Flashes, Warzynski still points to what the team has done. After lighting up Bowling Green for 23 second-half points but still losing Feb. 12, his postgame comments revolved around wanting the team to win.

Bedford knows firsthand. The two have shared numerous talks after games. Bedford said they mostly revolve around what he didn’t do, even after a game like Bowling Green.

“His concern about always wanting to do more is a testament to his character and wanting to win basketball games, not so much collecting individual accolades,” Bedford said. “It’s always what more could he have done for the team.”

Warzynski and versatility may as well be synonyms for each other. Both Edwards and Gerwig have given Kent State the powering inside presence, but Warzynski isn’t quite your typical center.

Loose balls near the hoop won’t result in dunks nor will drives to the basket. Warzynski said he has dunked just three times in his career. But he does have a killer 3-point shot.

So just where did he get that touch?

Warzynski’s AAU coach during his seventh and eighth grade years in Atlanta made shooters out of the entire team through a variety of shooting drills.

“He taught that whole AAU team how to shoot,” Warzynski said. “We were very good for it.”

The final test his coach gave would separate the good shooters from the confident shooters. Each player had to make 10 straight 3-pointers — blindfolded.

Warzynski’s shots where as in the bag as Pedro’s run for class president. Shots one through 10 all sank.

“I worked with (the coach) probably about five hours a week for the whole semester,” Warzynski said. “He just taught me everything there was to know about shooting — how to have a good form, how to be able to get a quick release. I still use those things today.”

It is a skill that has separated him from most of the other inside players.

“His ability to step out and shoot the basketball separates him from a lot of the other big men in the conference,” Bedford said. “To be able to score, you’ve got to be able to do it from a lot of different areas on the floor. I knew he had a lot more to offer than the post game. Kevin can definitely step and hit the open 15-footer, and he can step out beyond the 3.”

While this will be his first official trip to the MAC tournament, Warzynski said he is no stranger to the tournament. While sitting out due to transfer regulations last year, he witnessed Western Michigan’s postgame celebration after beating the Flashes and claiming the title.

When his teammates went to the locker room, Warzynski stayed out on the floor and observed.

“I just sat there and watched them, how happy they were and what they did,” Warzynski said. “When I went into our locker room, I saw how devastated everyone was.

“I think it was good for me to be able to see that. The other guys weren’t able to see Western celebrate like that. I wanted to be able to see that so that way (in the MAC championship game) when we are doing that, I’m not unfamiliar with that.”

Even with struggles and criticisms of the Flashes’ late-season play, Warzynski said he has no doubts to the question of whether his team can recapture the MAC title.

“Without question, we’ve got so much here,” Warzynski said. “We’ve proven at different points in the year what we can do. We’ve got good shooters. We got a good point guard. We’ve got good big guys, slashers. It’s all there; we just have to get hot at the moment.”

Or the simple answer — Heck yes.

Contact sports editor Matt Peters at [email protected].