New York, NY - Marek Dolezaj came out in the first half of Syracuse’s first game of the ACC Tournament against Wake Forest and looked reluctant to shoot the ball. Syracuse’s freshman forward from Slovakia looked like a fish out of water, deferring to teammates despite being open during a pair of offensive sets when Wake Forrest went to zone. Each time Dolezaj passed up an open shot the crowd reacted as if to say, “Shoot the ball!”
Playing passive, Dolezaj went into the half with only four points.
And then all of sudden, like a switch, Dolezaj turned on after the intermission. He came out firing on all cylinders in the second half, looking like a man possessed on his way to a 20 point performance.
That sort of thing doesn’t occur by just pure happenstance. So what happened during the break?
“Just coach, he told me like be more aggressive in the high post when they play zone. And try to make some plays and go to the basket,” Dolezaj said in the post game locker room.
The freshman from Bratislava heeded his coach’s advice and shifted gears to score 16 second half points.
“We talked a lot a with him about being aggressive. He understands the right shot to take,” Frank Howard said of Dolezaj, “He has a high IQ.”
Aggressive he was as it ended up being a career high for Doley who finished with 20 points, 4 rebounds, 2 blocks, 1 steal and 1 assist. When asked what that performance meant to him on such a big stage, Dolezaj — who has endeared himself to the Syracuse fan base for his hustle play and will to win — noted he was just happy to win.
“I am happy but I am more happy we won this game. It was a really big win and we just (need to) focus on tomorrow’s game.”
English, of course, is not Dolezaj’s primary language. Since moving to the United States and settling in Syracuse, he’s brushed up by watching Two and a Half Men, but is still working out the kinks of a difficult language. So when it came time for a post game television interview with ESPN following his strong performance, Dolezaj declined.
When asked in the locker room what happened, he admitted that his English isn’t the best but he shouldn’t be so hard on himself. His grasp of the language has improved drastically since I last spoke with him in December.
Whether he speaks proficient English matters not on the basketball court, at least when he’s playing like he did Tuesday night. Besides, at the end of the night he seemed pretty acclimated to the city. One works up an appetite after dropping a 20 piece on the hardwood. So in true New York fashion, Dolezaj dipped off into the night with an entire pie to himself.
Now he’s talking our language.
But when it came to the stack of boxed pizzas postgame, he took a whole pie for himself.— Matt Park (@MattPark1) March 7, 2018