TUCSON, Ariz. At one point in his life, Kaleb Tarczewski wanted to be a pizza chef, making mouth-watering slices of heaven.
That changed. He wanted to be a mechanic, working on automobiles to keep the world rolling.
That, too, changed. He wanted to play basketball, getting the idea from the Boston
Celtics after he got his first glimpse of the sport when he attended a game at the age of 10.
He was hooked.
I just loved it, said Tarczewski, who is from Southborough, Mass. I wanted to be as tall as Paul Pierce (6-foot-6). He was my favorite player.
By his freshman year in high school, he had already outgrown Pierce. He was about 6-8.
Ive always been taller than everyone else, said Tarczewski, Arizonas 7-foot center and focal point near the basket.
With that height, it was almost like he had no choice but to play, although his parents stressed the student part of student-athlete more than anything.
My mom always pushed academics, and my dad never pushed sports, he said. He said if it was something I wanted to do, I could. He didnt care either way. He just cared that I did well in school.
He did and he is, although Tuesdays eight-point, no-rebound, five-foul game in Arizona's 89-64 win over Oral Roberts has brought out radio callers, Internet threaders and talking heads sayingwriting a guy 7-foot shouldnt go a game without a rebound.
But it happened. Tarczewski, the guy the Zona Zoo calls Zeus," was shut out in part
because of the fouls. For the second consecutive game, he was on the bench at the end. He also fouled out in the Florida game.
Arizona coach Sean Miller used insight and sarcasm to describe Tarcewskis foul trouble, saying hed have to review the game tape to see what was going on.
First the sarcasm: Im thinking of telling him, 'If anyone wants to run into you, just
run away; run on your tippy-toes, fall down as much as you can and get
out of the way when the game gets physical.'"
Then the insight. Part of being a 7-footer is knowing youre in the spotlight, so Millers suggestion has been: "Dont get frustrated.
Tarczewski isnt. And hasnt been all season, although some fans might be in that they are expecting the 7-footer to be fantastic every time on the court. Problem is, it doesnt work that way. And thats at any level and any age, but especially for a freshman.
The good thing about Tarzcewski is that hes level-headed enough and pragmatic enough to know hes a work in progress and that "potential" is a word used when things havent been realized yet.
Patience, in this case, is needed.
Of course, the patience got harder to come by after he finished his first Arizona exhibition with 18 points and 13 rebounds. Even this writer said after that performance that he appeared to be arguably the most physically impressive big man UA has had in the last 25 years.
So yes, the bar had been raised.
But the bar has always been high for myself and the team, he said. We all strive to be the best. Thats why weve had such a successful year so far.
Tarczewski is averaging 7.0 points and 6.3 rebounds a game as Arizona heads into the Diamond Head Classic in Honolulu, with play starting Saturday. As for his double-double debut? Well, as he looked at the statistics sheet, he said, It shows I have potential to be a great player. But you know its a work in progress. Its also what I need to keep me motivated and keep me working every game. Not every game is going to be easy. This isnt high school or AAU ... I have to keep working hard.
Music to Millers ears.
Miller also mentioned that his 7-footer has a mean streak, and thats a good trait for a post player. We need to teach him how to use it to his advantage and not disadvantage.
But as Tarczewski talks about his future, he mentions three things: staying motivated, helping his team and working hard. Three constants.
I just want to be the best player I can be, he said. And that means I have to work as hard as I can. Maybe I dont have a few good games and maybe I have a good game, but its about working to be better. Thats all that matters.
Asked for where he needs to get better, he starts with defense, ball screens and rebounding -- then stops and say, well, everything.
Its about working hard and getting better, he said. You cant go out there every day thinking its going to be a piece of cake.
Or a slice of heavenly pizza.