Every slumping offense needs a spark to get it going, and Penn men’s basketball got it all the way from Poland.
With 14 points in the first half last weekend against Temple, junior forward Kuba Mijakowski sparked the Penn offense to a huge win and a share of the Big 5 title.
Born in Warsaw, Poland, Mijakowski grew up in a basketball family. Both of his parents played professionally, and he began playing basketball under the same coach his father once played for.
Even though it took him some time to crack the rotation for the Quakers, Mijakowski has had success from an early age. His youth team placed second nationally, then a year later they won the title.
As a sophomore in high school, Kuba made the transition to American high school basketball after he was recruited by Polish coach Paul Mrozik at Mountain Mission School in Virginia along with a couple of his championship-winning teammates.
Throughout his youth and high school career, Mijakowski always had a great shot. He was recruited to play at Penn in large part due to his shooting ability. His inability to defend well at the college level, however, is a large reason why his sudden notoriety is only happening now as a junior.
“As a freshman, I honestly felt like I couldn’t guard anyone,” Mijakowski said.
At 6-foot-7, Kuba has the size to play the power forward position, so it was just a matter of constant improvement in practice. Unfortunately, just as it seemed he was about to start earning more minutes for the Quakers a year ago, an ankle injury set him back and delayed his breakout performance until this season.
Coach Steve Donahue has always been impressed with Kuba’s shot but also felt that he had other skills that would be beneficial to Penn’s offense.
“The skills that Kuba has, it’s not just shooting, he can pass and dribble as well as anybody on our team,” Donahue said. “He’s a really good playmaker. I don’t think he’s just a catch-and-shoot guy.”
Mijakowski also fills a positional need for the Quakers. Minor injuries to forwards Michael Wang and Max Rothschild have created a hole at the position and opened the door for Kuba. His unique skill set also adds multiple other dimensions to the offense.
“He gets guarded by a bigger, slower guy, so that’s a pretty big advantage for us,” Donahue said. “Even the threat of him out there helps us because it stretches the floor.”
Even though Mijakowski is coming off of the best game of his college career, he still plans to continue with the same mindset, goals, and practice routines that he always has. This quiet perseverance can be attributed in part to his mild-mannered and reserved personality.
Even though other parts of his game have improved greatly, and that may be the biggest reason for his increased involvement and expanded role, Kuba knows that he has to stick to his greatest strength to have continued success.
“I don’t think anything really changes; when I’m open I’m going to shoot,” Mijakowski said.
This attitude is perfect for the Quakers, as Kuba’s coach unknowingly shared the same exact sentiment.
“His willingness to shoot, that means a lot,” Donahue said. “You have to have someone who, when they’re open, that’s what they’re comfortable doing, and that’s his first instinct.”
Kuba’s willingness to shoot helped deliver the Quakers at least a share of the Big 5 title. Now, he will be looking for similar success this Saturday against St. Joseph's as they try and lock up sole possession of the honor.