True Center

St. Andrew's School coach Michael Hart doesn't normally spend much time game planning for opposing big men. With most high school post players too busy shooting jumpers or not skilled enough to be effective inside, there's really no point.

"You don't have to worry about the big guys," Hart says. "They'll maybe get eight points and eight rebounds. It's the three-point shot (from guards) that kills you."

That philosophy goes out the window, however, when junior Kaleb Tarczewski and St. Mark's come to town. With a soft touch around the basket and a combative 7-foot, 220-pound frame, Tarczewski can't be overlooked. In fact, he doesn't allow it.

While his size and skill are imposing, it's Tarczewski's approach that makes him a tough matchup. He isn't interested in being a hybrid forward or a face-up four. Tarczewski welcomes the No. 5 position label next to his name and that's what makes him dangerous.

Michael Meloski, an assistant coach at St. Mark's, agrees with Hart, saying Tarczewski has a no nonsense edge that borders on nastiness. Even though he's only 220 pounds, Tarczewski competes against bigger and stronger players because he isn't afraid to battle physically.

"I think he's comfortable with who he is as a player and I think that's a big part of it," Meloski says. "He's a true center. He's going to play at the rim, protect the rim, rebound, block shots, score at the rim, make a high percentage of free throws."

Just three years ago Tarczewski was still very raw as a basketball player. He went to school in New Hampshire and struggled to find the coaching and competition he needed to progress. Even pick-up games were tough to come by as Tarczewski often traveled to Dartmouth to get good runs.

Now, playing for demanding high school and AAU programs, Tarczewski has built his identity by learning to play in the post. His coaches haven't coddled him but instead challenged him, and the results are obvious even from an opposing coach's perspective.

"He's got the sequence of post moves," Hart says. "He'll use the dropstep until they stop it. Then he'll go to the jump hook until they stop it. Then he'll go up and under.

"I can't talk enough about his improvement in the structure he has at St. Mark's," Hart says. "It just goes to show if you give kids the right environment with some hard-working coaches, good things will happen. I don't want to play (against) him anymore."

While Tarczewski is developing a fadeaway jumper and several other moves, he's most confident on the left block, catching the ball and shooting a right-handed hook shot.

"That right handed hook to the middle is almost to the point of unstoppable," Meloski says. "He does a good job of getting somewhere with it."

What Meloski means by "getting somewhere with it" is that Tarczewski dictates the action on his jump hook. Unlike lean post players who get knocked off their base and end up shooting a jump hook from eight feet instead of four, Tarczewski turns, seals and shoots the hook where he wants it.

Tarczewski also has an excellent feel for the post, according to Hart, and understands spacing. He often drifts behind the defense and fills the lanes for easy buckets. And when he gets the opportunity, Tarczewski usually looks to finish with a dunk.

"He really wants to get to the rim and dunk the ball," Meloski said. "If he could have 10 dunks in a game, he would have 10 dunks in a game. That's something we're really going to encourage."

Like most players his age, Tarczewski needs to continue filling out his frame. He was physically able to compete with the likes of Andre Drummond and Jarnell Stokes on the travel circuit this spring because of his attitude, but he'll go to another level when he starts to match their muscle.

Hart thinks Tarczewski would be a great fit athletically and stylistically at UNC, partially because he can't shake the image of a former Tar Heel great when he sees him play.

"Go back and see all the films on Eric Montross. That's it," Hart says. "He's a reincarnation of Eric Montross. He looks like him. He plays like him. He shoots his free throws like Montross. It's going to be (1993) all over again."

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