It’s fair to say that one must be careful when using superlatives to describe Telenet Ostend swingman Mateusz Ponitka, but not too careful. On the one hand he’s only 20 years old and playing for a club outside of his native Poland for the first time this season. On the other hand, Ponitka is one of the brightest prospects Polish basketball has produced in years, is already a proven talent, a contributor to his national team with a year of Euroleague seasoning under his belt. Blessed with a good outside shot, fearlessness when taking the ball to the rim and defensive instincts, Ponitka is a fun player to watch with no limit to how good he can be.
When asked to describe his game, Ponitja said: "A lot of energy, definitely, and heart. I want to show on the floor that I can fight against bigger, older and more experienced players. Whatever coach tells me to do, I will do it, during the games and during the season."
Fans of Polish basketball were surely aware that Ponitka was coming down the pipeline for several years. He represented Poland at practically every junior level and started his professional career at the age of 16 for AZS Politechnika Warsaw. But by the summer of 2010, basketball fans around the world learned his name.
That summer Ponitka was the darling of the FIBA Under-17 World Championships in Hamburg, German, where he led his team to a silver medal and was named to the all-tournament team alongside teammate Przemyslav Karnowski, gold medalists Bradley Beal and James McAdoo from Team USA and Canada’s Kevin Pangos. Ponitka ranked second in the tourney in scoring with 19 points per game as Poland went undefeated with wins over host Germany and European powers Serbia, Spain and Lithuania before coming up short in the final against the Americans. Ponitka is well aware of how impressive that tournament was for himself and his teammates, but now he is firmly looking forward.
"The silver medal at the 2010 FIBA U17 World Championships was the biggest success in Polish junior basketball and now I have a chance to play against all these players who I compete against each other in European and World Championships," Ponitka said. "It is like a dream come true for me."
Even as he continued to develop his game at the senior in Warsaw, Ponitka remained a stud on the junior circuit. He was invited to the prestigious Nike Hoops Summit in 2011 and proceeded to lead the World Select squad in scoring with 17 points. He also studied up on the best basketball in Europe. "I saw a lot of Euroleague games during the last two seasons," Ponitka revealed before he made his own Euroleague debut last season. "I know all of its famous players and famous teams. That's all I can say about this. I am a big fan and now I can be a part of it, also."
His first Euroleague season was certainly a success from an individual point of view. He scored in double figures in half of his 10 games and averaged 8.8 points, 3.5 rebounds and 1 steal over 22 minutes as a 19-yearold. One of the disappointments, aside from his team 2-8 record, was that Ponitka did not get a chance to match up against the Euroleague’s all-time leading scorer. "I would love to play against Juan Carlos Navarro. He is one of the best shooters in Europe and also in the world. It would be a great experience to play against him."
Despite the expectations that many have of him, Ponitka keeps his feet on the ground – at least off the court – while preparing for the challenges to come. "I don't feel any pressure because I am focused on my goal," he said. "I want to play as good as I can and became as good [a] player as I can be. That's the point. I am working hard on practice and the rest will come."
Eurocup fans should prepare to see a lot more of Ponitka this season. Ostend is 4-1 and looking poised to play deep into the competition. And their young star is committed to helping the team any way he can "I will try to do my best in each and every game that I will be playing in. That's the only thing I want to show. I will be 100% concentrated and focused on what I am going to go on the court."
What’s not to like about that?