A five-inch growth spurt and a regimen of weight-lifting over two years transformed the Timberline senior from a lean guard into a muscular center.
The growing came naturally. It was the mental transition from guard to center that took some adjustment.
After being a perimeter player and bringing the ball up the court since he was a second-grader, Podowicz struggled initially with being the scorer with the post-up moves.
“It was hard at first,” Podowicz said. “I had always played on the perimeter. Now, I’ve been asked to play inside. It’s made me a better all-around player.”
Podowicz has played basketball 10 months out of the year since joining his first AAU team as an eighth-grader. Then something unexpected happened in the summer after his freshman year. He began to grow and grow – up and out. It transformed him from a 6-0, 170-pound guard to a 6-5, 225-pound center.
It changed how he thought of himself and what he could do on the basketball court.
“Being taller I was able to do more,” Podowicz said. “I was more of a presence down low in the paint.”
When he moved inside, Podowicz did what he always does when faced with a challenge. He overcame it with hard work, often going alone to the gym to pop 200 jump shots.
“He had more of a perimeter mentality,” Timberline coach Mike Tafoya said. “He’d always played guard. But he’s getting better with his back to the basket. He’s worked hard at it.”
Last year on a 10-11 team, Podowicz averaged 17.5 points, scoring a season-high 28 in a win against White River.
Last season, in his first full season inside, Podowicz’ shooting percentage improved to 54 percent from the field. He shot 31 percent from 3-point range.
“He’s got a nice midrange jumper. I’ve tried to convince him that it’s easier to shoot inside,” Tafoya said.
Rather than grumble, Podowicz accepted his role.
“He’s very coachable,” Tafoya said.
Podowicz isn’t just a basketball player. He’s a basketball fan. He often watches basketball games on TV. Hanging on his bedroom walls are posters of Michael Jordan and LeBron James. Like his NBA favorites, Podowicz has some hops to his game. He has a 36-inch vertical jump.
He dunked a basketball for the first time as a ninth-grader at a summer practice.
“He can definitely jump,” Tafoya said. “He’s explosive inside. He’s filled out since his sophomore year, and that’s helped.”
Podowicz played guard on the junior varsity team as a freshman. He started as a sophomore and played wing, making second-team all-league after averaging 15 points. On his AAU team, Podowicz averaged 14 points last summer and continues to play guard.
He’s carried the load of being his team’s go-to scorer.
“I’ve always been a scorer, so I’m used to the pressure,” said Podowicz, who carries a 3.8 GPA. “You can’t stop shooting because you missed. People look to you to score.”
Podowicz is the early choice for the league MVP. But Tafoya isn’t cleaning out a spot in the trophy case for a Western Cascade Conference trophy quite yet. He’s expecting another tough battle in a league that has no nights off. North Thurston doesn’t return a single starter, and Capital returns just one starter. Yelm has a young team showing promise.
But North Thurston and Yelm will both be counting on a talented group of young players up from the junior varsity.
“This is a tough, tough league,” Tafoya said. “All (four) teams are well coached. Everyone plays hard. There’s not a wide gap in talent.”
Besides Podowicz, Dominic Woods returns for the Blazers after averaging 10.8 points as a starting guard. The 5-foot-9 senior will move from shooting guard to point. Woods and Podowicz have been teammates since the eighth grade.
Quinton Sison, a sophomore and transfer from North Thurston, gives the Blazers added depth at guard. Sison started on Timberline’s 10-1 football team.
With quickness at guard, Timberline will play more uptempo this season.
“We’ll be more run and gun,” Podowicz said. “We like to get it going. I like the uptempo offense.”
When necessary, Timberline can also play in the half court, looking to push the ball inside to its guard-turned-center. Tafoya is hoping it’s a winning combination to help lift the Blazers to the state playoffs for the first time since 2004.
3A WESTERN CASCADE CONFERENCE: BOYS
1. Timberline (8-12)
2. Capital (20-8)
3. Yelm (6-14)
4. North Thurston (15-9)
Kole Podowicz C6-5Sr.Timberline
The preseason pick to be the league’s MVP
Colin Bossio G6-0Jr.Capital
Second-team all-WCC player and a sharpshooter from outside
Rahmel Moton W6-1Soph.North Thurston
Inside-outside threat will help Rams reach the playoffs
Alex Williams C6-7 Sr. Capital
Coming off ACL injury, missed all last season
Dominic Woods G5-9Jr.Timberline
Can play point or shooting guard
Timberline returns two full-time starters and two part-time starters, making it the WCC’s most experienced team. Kole Podowicz and Dominic Woods are back after starting every game last season. Kevin Russell and Austin Kleinhans were spot starters. ... Capital and North Thurston are in reloading modes. Colin Bossio is Capital’s lone returning starter off last year’s 20-win team that reached state. ... North Thurston lost all five starters off last year’s team that won the league championship and reached the district playoffs. ... The Rams will get a boost from sophomore guard Ramel Moton, who came off the bench late last season as a freshman. ... Capital will be counting on four seniors with backup experience. Senior center Alex Williams and senior guards Tam Nguyen, Chris Holm and Shawn Erwin will need to step up their games for the Cougars to get back to the playoffs. ... Williams missed all last season with a torn ACL. As the biggest player in the league, he’s a threat. ... The Cougars will rely on a balanced attack and a hustling, pressing defense. ... Podowicz is a three-year starter. Under Blazers coach Mike Toyofa, Podowicz has developed from a perimeter player to more of an inside scorer. ... Yelm coach Arlin Olson will be counting on a young lineup to make a run at the playoffs ... All four schools had strong junior varsity teams last year. Who’s got the best up-and-coming talent will determine who wins the title.