Saturday, January 21, 2012

Tarczewski and O'Connor Square off One Last Time

They grew up playing basketball together as teammates in middle school and high school. Then when they went their separate ways and transferred to different prep schools they began playing against each other as opponents. Well, it all came to an end on Saturday afternoon at the St. Mark's School when Kaleb Tarczewski and Kevin O'Connor played an organized basketball game on the same court for the last time.

Tarczewski (who stands 7 feet tall) and O'Connor (6-foot-6) played at Claremont Middle School together, and then at Stevens High School. Before their junior year Tarczewski transferred to St. Mark's, a prep school in Massachusetts. The following year O'Connor also went prep, choosing instead to attend the St. Paul's School in Concord, NH. So over the years these guys have played in many games as teammates and opponents - but this afternoon was the last one.

"They might still let us play at the Stevens alumni games" joked Tarczewski, after he helped his St. Mark's team to a 64-44 win over O'Connor and St. Paul's. "We started playing together in 6th grade after I moved to Claremont from Charlestown, NH."

Since leaving Stevens High he has developed into one of the top players in the country, and he recently committed to play his college ball at the University of Arizona.

"Arizona has the #1 ranked recruiting class in the country for 2012" said Tarczewski. "They have the #3, #6, #9 and #33 recruits in the country all going there."

Tarczewski is #6 on the list. He had a dominating performance in Saturday's win, finishing with 21 points, 10 rebounds and 3 blocked shots before checking out of the game with 5:41 left in the 2nd half and his team up 61-38. O'Connor meanwhile had 9 points and 4 rebounds for St. Paul's.

St. Paul's actually led this game 16-11 with 8:50 left in the 1st half. Then St. Mark's went on a 17-3 run, taking control of the game and never looking back. St. Paul's is a good team (they would likely beat anyone from the NHIAA) but they just went up against a loaded St. Mark's team that's one of the best in New England.

One of the highlight reel plays that Tarczewski made included one where he came running down the floor as the trailer on the break, caught a pass around the free throw line and before the defender could get there he slammed down a 2 handed dunk. He also had a couple of reverse layups along the baseline, powering his way to the basket and finishing inside either with dunks or layups. Tarczewski showed tremendous skill and agility for a kid that's 7 feet tall.

"I actually didn't even make varsity my freshman year at Stevens" said Tarczewski. "And people always said I had potential. But over the last few years it's been a lot of really hard work and I've also had some great coaches. TJ Gassnola from the NE Playaz taught me a lot, Jay Murphy helped me out too. Coach Lubick (St. Mark's head coach) helped me a lot, and playing with Nate Lubick helped me to get better. Coach Carroll with the NE Playaz is a former coach with the Celtics and he's a good guy who really knows the game.'

Another play Tarczewski made that got the crowd going was when he caught the ball on the left elbow, faced up to the basket, made an up-fake, one dribble and then exploded to the rim before drawing a foul. He also made a double pump 2 handed dunk after catching a pass inside off the dribble penetration of a teammate.

St. Paul's actually led this game 16-11 with 8:40 left in the 1st half, but then St. Mark's took over, going on a 17-3 run and never looking back. Still, St. Paul's is a good team that would likely beat anybody in the NHIAA. But they just went up against a St. Mark's team which is one of the best in New England.

O'Connor meanwhile had a solid game. He could have had more like 15 or 18 points but his outside shot was off, as he misfired on a number of shots he normally makes. But overall he played well. O'Connor runs the floor well, can hit shots inside, outside or in the mid-range area and has a high basketball I.Q. He is still weighing options and hasn't decided yet where he'll play his college ball.

Tarczewski on the other hand does know, and on Saturday he gave the folks in attendance a preview of what Arizona opponents can expect over the next few years - a true center who is a dominant inside force scoring, rebounding and blocking shots.

"I'm hoping to get playing time at Arizona right away" said Tarczewski, who plans on studying business at Arizona. "That's one of the reasons I picked them. I have come a long way, but I know I still have things to work on in order to get where I want to go."

Of course the place Tarczewski would like to end up going to is the NBA. That would be a great accomplishment, considering there has only been one player from New Hampshire to ever make it there (Matt Bonner). Then again, no other NH player since Bonner has been ranked as high nationally as Tarczewski either. He's got a shot, no question about it.

"Yeah, the NBA is where any kid who plays basketball wants to get to" said Tarczewski with a smile. "But I try to stay humble and not think too much about the future."

Good luck to both Tarczewski and O'Connor in the future, both on and off the basketball court.

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