Laczkowski's aim true blue

Tar Heels: Westminster grad Matt Laczkowski is fulfilling his dream of playing at North Carolina, although his journey to Tobacco Road had some bumps.

February 26, 2000|By Glenn P. Graham | Glenn P. Graham,SUN STAFF

Matt Laczkowski doesn't provide a storybook tale of how he found his way to the North Carolina roster, but imagine the possibilities.

Here's a lanky kid from Carroll County, far from a basketball hotbed, graduating from Westminster High after one solid season of varsity basketball before going on to play two seasons at Division III Catholic, where he said he "was getting worse and worse as a basketball player." And now, he's at Chapel Hill.

So how in the world does a kid from Westminster High find himself wearing the same blue as Michael Jordan and all the others?

"Just hard work," said Laczkowski, a 6-foot-9 senior bench player who has appeared in five games for the Tar Heels (17-10) going into this afternoon's visit to College Park.

"For some reason, growing up in Maryland I was always a big fan of the Heels. And for whatever reason, that drew me down here, and I'm working as hard as I can to chase what I thought was an impossible dream."

Laczkowski, who's majoring in sports marketing, came out of high school with good grades, high SAT scores and a 15-point, eight-rebound senior season at center. A number of smaller programs expressed interest in him.

After Catholic, he transferred to North Carolina in the fall of 1998 and once there, he took the initiative, first writing a letter to request a tryout as a walk-on and then showing up at the basketball office.

Last year, Laczkowski got the chance to practice with the varsity after a player was injured.

This season, he has dressed for every game, officially making the team at the start of the Atlantic Coast Conference schedule just after Christmas.

"When he sets his mind to doing something, he thinks he can do it," said Ron Laczkowski, Matt's father. "He just always had this idea he could play there. And even though he's not playing, he's sitting on the bench, he's the one who went to the office and asked how he can get the chance."

Laczkowski's understanding of the game and hard work got him there and those same attributes have kept him there.

"Matt has been a nice addition to our team. He works hard in practice giving our big men someone to battle against every day. We're glad he decided to enroll at North Carolina," said Tar Heels head coach Bill Guthridge.

Said Laczkowski: "Coach Guthridge told me to come out with a good attitude every day and give it everything I have. For me to let down would be unfair to everyone. It's difficult, it's fun and it's great to be out there, but you have to find a strange way to motivate yourself. When we're not playing well, I have to put that on myself, thinking maybe I'm not pushing these guys enough in practice."

Fulfilling his childhood dream of playing at North Carolina far outweigh the thought of getting more playing time at a smaller school.

"To have that uniform on and be able to run out of the tunnel, there's a family atmosphere that comes with it and I feel a part of that. It's the best feeling in the world," he said.

"I had my chance at a small school and it didn't come about. Sure it would be nice to have the ability to get more playing time, and I was contemplating using my last year of eligibility to graduate at a smaller school. But traveling and being part of this program is amazing, and anything else would be anti-climatic."

So Laczkowski's parents get their regular phone calls with stories from Chapel Hill. One was about the day Vince Carter came by to work out during last year's NBA lockout, another was when their son ran into B. J. Surhoff and got an invite to shoot some hoops at Cal Ripken's house some day.

Then there was that special day over the summer when they were visiting Matt, eating lunch when Jordan himself approached: "All of a sudden we hear this `Hey boy, where were you last night?' It's Michael Jordan asking my son why he wasn't playing pick-up with him," said Ron.

"I can't tell you how many times I've watched `Rudy' the last couple of weeks this is the same kind of thing. It's the greatest experience a kid can have and no one can ever take that away."

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