A big-time throwback: Bartlett’s 7-3 Conrad Luczynski

The Bartlett senior is putting up whopping numbers, averaging 18.2 points, 12 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 4.2 blocks. Forget double-doubles, Luczynski records triple-doubles.

SHARE A big-time throwback: Bartlett’s 7-3 Conrad Luczynski
Bartlett’s Conrad Luczynski (54) flexes after dunking a lob pass from a teammate.

Bartlett’s Conrad Luczynski (54) flexes after dunking a lob pass from a teammate.

Allen Cunningham/For the Sun-Times

The curious case of Conrad Luczysnki needs to be told. For many reasons.

The Bartlett senior is putting up whopping numbers, averaging 18.2 points, 12 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 4.2 blocks. Forget double-doubles, Luczynski records triple-doubles. 

Those types of stats alone are attention-grabbing.

Then there is the mammoth size, the type of size that turns heads when he ducks his head under any door.

At a legit and rare 7-3, he’s playing a sport where you can never hide with that type of attention-grabbing height. At that size you’re forced to play basketball, bringing a dimension basketball coaches have always salivated over.

And then there is the recruiting – or lack of it. Luczynski currently doesn’t have a single scholarship offer. 

Wrap it all together — the numbers, the size and the lack of recruiting interest considering the stat-sheet-stuffing numbers and mammoth dimensions — and it’s a story worth telling.

If this were any other decade of basketball, the story might be completely different. But it’s an era where big men are obsolete. Guards dominate all levels, three-point specialists are must-haves and the post game is needed less today than ever before.

“There is a bit of frustration, and it does bother me a little,” Luczynski says of the current form of basketball and the personnel teams play with at the higher levels.

All you need to do is look to the next level. It’s where two of the most dominating players in college basketball, Purdue’s 7-4 Zach Edey and Illinois’ 7-foot Kofi Cockburn, are huge mismatches, big men excelling but who aren’t even mentioned as potential first-round NBA draft picks.

The low-post, on-the-block big man is not extinct, but it’s inching closer to that reality every year. We’re in the basketball world of the “stretch 5” and positionless basketball. Shooting and floor-spacing are essential, and they’re willing to play more versatile — and shorter — players at the center position. Both in college and in the pros.

Bartlett coach Jim Wolfsmith has a realistic approach to the recruitment of Luczynski. He understands it all and has no issues with it, even if it is at a disadvantage for his star player.

Wolfsmith says it’s easier for him as a high school coach to cater his style and system to his 7-footer while he has him than it is for a college coach to completely adapt a style of play for a single player. 

“If they [college coaches] don’t want to play that kind of basketball, I get it,” said Wolfsmith. “That’s their livelihood, and I don’t blame them if they don’t want to alter everything for a big man.

Lucczynski has taken the same approach. The focus remains on getting better, stronger and more of a weapon. He’s not worried about being a relic of the past when bigs were the focal point of team construction. 

“I have to do what I do best, play my position and show people that how I play can be impactful,” said Luczynski, who is the school’s all-time leader in blocks and rebounds. “Whether they like me or not or if I’m for them, that’s up to them.”

Wolfsmith simply wants one thing for his big man, because he has no doubt where his player is headed in the future –– even beyond college. 

“I want him to go to a place, no matter what level it is, where they know how to use and how to develop players like Conrad,” said Wolfsmith of Luczynski’s college choice. “He’s going to play after college. It’s just a matter of how much work he puts in over the next four years and then what level of professional basketball he plays after college.”

The veteran coach is so confident because he’s seen the huge improvement first-hand. He’s seen the endless work his big man has put in. As Wolfsmith says, “Conrad is always looking for an opportunity to get better.”

Luczynksi was 6-7 as he headed into eighth-grade. But he says he has loved basketball and has been playing for as long as he can remember. This wasn’t a case of the big, tall kid being forced onto a basketball court at a young age.

Bartlett’s Conrad Luczynski (54) plays strong in the low post as the Hawks host West Chicago.

Bartlett’s Conrad Luczynski (54) plays strong in the low post as the Hawks host West Chicago.

Allen Cunningham/For the Sun-Times

“I have always wondered where basketball can lead me to, how far I can take this?” he adds. “No one knows yet, really. I think I can go as far as I dream to go. I have to put the work in and see.”

Loving the game has resulted in a work ethic. The work ethic has led to tremendous strides as a player, showing significant improvement from year to year. While Luczynski says he’s always wondered where he will end up as a player, he’s been waiting to see just where his body takes him first. 

“I know two or three years from now things will be different,” he says. “I will be bigger, stronger. I’m still growing. I still have yet to get used to my final height. I more or less understand it’s going to take time.”

Glenbard East coach Al Biancalana has faced Luczynski the past two seasons in the Upstate Eight. As a former college assistant coach –– six years at Bradley and five more at UIC –– Biancalana is confident in his assessment and evaluation of the Bartlett big man.

“He has such a very high basketball IQ and sees the game few players his size do,” said Biancalana. “Terrific vision. He sees everything on the floor.”

The veteran coach sees a Division I player, even though he’s far from being a ready-made player at that level.

“There is no question he’s a Division I player,” said Biancalana. “Over the years there have been a ton of mistakes made on players just like him. Most players at his size don’t mature until they are into their 20s.”

Wolfsmith knows the leaps he’s certain to take at the college level. The necessary leap he will need to take to get stronger, quicker and more explosive will only be aided, Wolfsmith says, at the next level.

“The strength and conditioning people will grab him and say, “You’re mine for the next 12 months,’” said Wolfsmith. “He’s just a kid now who will get there — just not immediately. It’s going to take time, and that’s OK. He loves to work. It’s the reason he’s gotten so much better.” 

Size is still a must. Natural size will always be helpful and matter. But it’s the type of big man that has changed, so Luczynski continues to work. He’s evolving as a player while polishing up different parts of his game.

This is a bonafide big man who has established a presence at the high school level. He can catch in the post, get up and down the floor and is finishing at a higher rate. He is now capable of using both hands around the rim, an area of his game –– using his left hand, specifically –– that Luczynski says has been “my biggest improvement.” 

The underrated aspect of his game are his passing skills. He finds teammates easily on cuts and while spotting up on the perimeter when he’s double-teamed. This is a 7-footer who is among the top 12 in career assists at Bartlett.

Luczynski will even stick a face-up jumper and shows nice touch from the free-throw line.

These are what you call tools in the industry. And when a 7-3 player shows flashes of them, it’s intriguing. This is seven feet of moldable talent for some college program comfortable in how they develop big men and how he would fit.

Still, the speed of the game can create some problems for him at times. The comfort level he plays with, particularly when facing bigger and longer defenders, must still improve when evaluating long term. But he continues to adapt, learn and improve.

Luczynski will first worry about putting the finishing touches on what has been a very rock solid season for Bartlett basketball. The Hawks have won 22 games while he’s put up eye-popping numbers.

Once the season is over he will play in the spring with the high-profile Illinois Wolves on the club basketball circuit. He says everything is on the table as far as his future, including a developmental year at a prep school. 

“I’ve thought about it a little bit,” Luczynski said regarding the prep school route. “I am open to everything. A lot of Division I schools have recommended it to me, for my body to adapt to getting stronger and bigger. But if I can get a Division I school, I would probably take it.”

He’s hearing from a half dozen or so Division I schools. He recently took an unofficial visit to Purdue, a program known for developing big men projects and one that has shown subtle interest.

“I’m OK with it,” Luczynski says of the slow-developing interest. “I just want to do what I do best and show my game. I have a lot of room to still improve. I am a fast learner and I am planning on getting better. 

“I have always wondered where basketball can lead me to, how far I can take this? No one knows yet, really. I have to put the work in and see. I think I can go as far as I dream to go.”

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