Penn men’s basketball is a program built on community and collective effort, and for freshman forward Andrew Laczkowski, playing team basketball is second nature.
Laczkowski, a Dallas native, is no stranger to success on the basketball court. The McDonald’s All-American nominee was a two-time team captain and team MVP at the St. Mark’s School, where he scored 2,504 points over four years. Laczkowski also excelled on the AAU scene, helping his team win the title at the 2020 Adidas Gauntlet, a hyper competitive Adidas-sponsored AAU basketball circuit.
Like most recruits, Laczkowski was discovered through his AAU team in high school. However, for Laczkowski, AAU was more than a means of getting noticed. It also taught him how to play against top-level competition from an early age.
“It told me not to be afraid,” Laczkowski said. “Don’t be afraid of anyone; no one is that much better than you. You always have the ability to outwork someone, and you always have the ability to outplay someone. At the end of the day, what you do between the — the effort you put forth [and] the mindset you have is all that matters.”
AAU basketball also prepared Laczkowski to play team basketball, where collective accomplishments matter much more than individual accolades, and where your team often serves as a second family.
“[At Penn] it’s about movement, it’s about team, and that’s something I played a lot with,” Laczkowski said. “My AAU team stressed the importance of playing together, being a family, and I feel like [there] definitely is a strong family at Penn, with whānau and all the culture around it.”
Whānau, a fundamental principle of Penn's basketball culture, is something coach Steve Donahue draws upon frequently when talking with recruits and building his program.
“We all have to be a part of this, and eventually, it’s we, not me. That’s how we drive everything that we do,” Donahue said. “[Everyone has] that feeling that you have in your gut that this means a lot to all of us, and [that] I’m going to do whatever I can to make this happen.”
Penn’s culture played a large role in Laczkowski’s decision to commit to play for the Quakers, but the freshman also wanted to be a part of the rich basketball history at the Palestra.
“Playing in the Palestra and understanding the history of all that has come before you — I think it’s just a super cool thing that a lot of schools don’t offer,” Laczkowski said. “That’s just something that I’m going to soak in and be super thankful for the opportunity.”
Experiencing the history of the Palestra, Big 5, and Ivy League will have to wait, however, as the Ivy League canceled winter sports in November. Though he won’t be able to suit up for the Red and Blue this season, Laczkowski is already planning to do his part to help the Quakers in the 2021-22 season.
“The first year, I definitely want to do everything that I can to contribute,” Laczkowski said. “Whether that’s playing in games and taking the shots they need me to take, or [whether] that’s playing the defense I need to play, I just want to help the team win. I want to do what the coaches ask me to do, and I want to be the best I can.”
Laczkowski is also using the year off from competition to grow closer to his teammates so that the team is ready to compete together next season.
“We’ll have already had a year to learn [about] those guys as people, so [learning about them] on the court as players will be second nature at that point,” Laczkowski said.
While his freshman experience is by no means ordinary, Laczkowski hasn’t let the unique challenges of his first year at Penn get in the way of his goals for the future.
“The Quakers winning the Ivy League is something we want to see happen more and more," Laczkowski said. “I think we’re the best team in the Ivy League. I feel like we should be competing for Ivy League championships and [NCAA] Tournament berths every year. So, stepping into a team that can do that is something I really want to help do.”
It’s clear that Laczkowski embodies the culture that Donahue has built at Penn, and it is likely that his team-first approach to basketball will make him a staple for the Quakers for years to come.
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