In what began as a random email from his Slovakian coach to Syracuse Orange basketball assistant Adrian Autry, Marek Dolezaj embarked on his pursuit to play college basketball in the United States, all the way from Bratislava, Slovakia.
Eventually, Dolezaj would find a home in Syracuse, New York and not long thereafter, find his way into the hearts of the Syracuse fan base. Jim Boeheim, who at the start of last season referred to him as ‘the kid from Czechoslovakia’ — divulged that Syracuse took a total flier on Dolezaj during Syracuse’s NCAA Tournament run last season.
“I’ve only taken one player in my career off tape before Marek and he was the worst player I’ve ever had,” Boeheim said after Syracuse’s win against TCU. “Normally we wouldn’t even think about taking somebody off of tape. But we were in the summer, we had lost a player late or knew we were going to lose a player pretty late. So our numbers were really sketchy at the time.”
Taking a shot on Dolezaj was a chance Syracuse could afford to take after Jordan Tucker committed to Duke at the eleventh hour. Frankly, it worked out well for both Syracuse and Dolezaj. Syracuse would not have made the NCAA Tournament last year had Dolezaj not committed to the Orange. His mid-season adjustment and mid-range jumper proved to be imperative down the stretch for SU.
“He seems to be doing pretty good,” Boeheim responded in that same presser when asked of how Dolezaj’s adjustment to the U.S. was going. “He’s doing well in school. He’s got a blonde cheerleader for a girlfriend. He’s starting on a team in the top 32 in the country. I guess he’s doing OK. She drives him all over, too. It almost should be illegal. Probably is.”
But the real legend of Dolezaj started to build less than two weeks prior when he came down to Brooklyn, NY for the ACC Tournament and dropped 20 points on Wake Forest, declined a television interview from ESPN and then walked out of the locker room with an entire pizza for himself.
“Yup,” Dolezaj recently admitted when asked if he ate the whole pie after the Wake game. “Yeah I did. I was hungry.”
He was hungry, but not even an entire pie could satiate Dolezaj as he then followed that up by fittingly eating Little Ceasar’s (Arena) for dinner in Syracuse’s NCAA Tournament run. He scored 17 on TCU and was crucial in helping the Orange win three games in five days to advance to the Sweet 16.
After Syracuse’s run through the tournament and close to the semester, Dolezaj returned to his hometown of Bratislava this summer where he, “hung out with friends, family and ate good food.” Included in ‘good food?’
You guessed it. None other than true Doley cuisine.
“I ate a lot of pizza,” Dolezaj said. “I like pizza. Pizza is my most favorite food.”
So what’s different about pizza in Slovakia versus pizza in Syracuse?
“I don’t know, like, I think just the taste. It just tastes so much better,” Dolezaj said, noting he prefers the pizza in Slovakia but also has no complaints of pizza in Syracuse.
Dolezaj also said he usually goes with ham and cheese for toppings and still eats pizza in Central New York, stating that Apizza Regionale is his favorite.
Dolezaj also grew an inch from last season — shooting up to 6-foot-10 — and he, “has gained at least a pound or a pound and a half,” Boeheim quipped at media day. Doley also expanded the range on his jumper as he worked diligently on it this summer.
“I feel more confident in my shot,” Dolezaj said. “I’ve been working on it every day and I hope it will be good this year.”
If it’s as good as he claims the pizza to be in Slovakia, Syracuse fans will have little to worry about.
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