Poland to Patterson is just one of Owsianny's many moves

January 24, 1991|By Dave Glassman | Dave Glassman,Special to The Evening Sun

There aren't many 15-year-old basketball players who start as freshmen for their high school and lead the team in scoring. There are even fewer who listen to cassette tapes of polka music and Polish comedians.

But Patterson's Magdalena "Maggie" Owsianny left Poznan, Poland, with her family just six months ago not speaking any English, and moved to Baltimore. And, while she copes with an unfamiliar country, a strange language and makes new friends, the conventions of basketball are well-known to her.

"She knew how to do every drill I did when we began practice," said Patterson coach Derek Maki. That's not surprising since Owsianny, a 5-foot-7 guard, played for three teams in Poznan: a school team and two club teams, one of her age group and one of players two years older.

"The coach is almost the same as in Poland, strict and tough," Owsianny said through an interpreter. "Sometimes I hear my old coach when Maki speaks."

Maki may never have imagined that the sound of a barking coach could bring comfort, but then, he never imagined before the season that Owsianny would arrive bringing 14.3 points and five assists per game. And she's one of the top three rebounders on the young Patterson team (4-5, 4-4) of seven juniors, four sophomores and one freshman.

Owsianny's family came to Baltimore because her grandparents live here. She and her parents and two younger brothers live in Northeast Baltimore, but she attends Patterson because it has a program for speakers of other languages. She carries a Polish-English dictionary around with her.

"She works real hard at English and basketball," Maki said. "She's very quiet. She talks with some of the girls individually and they're starting to understand her. They get along with her great. She's really pleasant and helps pull the team together. They look out for her in certain situations."

Owsianny said that she's adjusting to rules differences from international basketball and Maki said, "She has a habit of taking an extra step driving to the basket, from European ball."

But in the largest part of a teen-ager's world, school, there are big differences.

"In Poland, teachers were very strict," she said. "Some were kind of mean. They were not as close to the students as here. They used to give us more homework and studying to do. Here, there are more conversations between the teachers and students. And there are more school activities here."

And there are differences in the food. "McDonald's and hot dogs," she said, not unexpectedly.

But it is Owsianny's skill that sets her apart on the court. Playing with a sprained ankle in a recent win over Northwestern, in one sequence she grabbed a defensive rebound, drove up the right sideline, passed to an open teammate under the basket, then rebounded the missed layup and put it up for the score.

Though Patterson has lost twice by large margins to top-ranked Western, her play caught the eye of Doves coach Breezy Bishop. "She could really be a premier player," Bishop said. "I sure wish she could be at Western. I'd love to have her. She stands out on that team. She shoots well from the outside and she shoots well off the dribble."

"The other day I told her if she was good enough, she had a chance for a college scholarship," Maki said. "She wasn't even aware of it."

In time, as Owsianny develops as a player and learns the American way of doing things, she'll become aware of it. But for now, basketball is basketball and, she said, "No big difference."

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