ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Marek Olesinski returns to the Pit, where he starred
When the Lobos host Air Force Wednesday with a share of first place in the Mountain West Conference on the line, there will be a familiar name in the Falcons’ lineup.
And a name fans of New Mexico prep basketball will remember as being very successful in the Pit.
Marek Olesinski, a sophomore at Air Force, returns to the arena where he won back-to-back state championships with Roswell High in 2009 and 2010. The 2009 title was the first for Roswell in 45 years and made Olesinski and his teammates local legends.
“I like playing in the Pit,” Olesinski said. “People still talk about it. When I’m home, they see me and they’ll bring it up.”
While Olesinski has a chance to relive his high school glory this week, he’s mostly focused on continuing to balance academics and military life with trying to improve as a basketball player.
“I like it here but it’s a big adjustment,” Olesinski said. “Guys are more athletic, they’re faster. The speed of the game is faster.”
Olesinski is averaging 2.2 points and 1.6 rebounds per game as he comes off the bench for the Falcons as a sophomore but has shown improvement as his career progressed.
“I got a lot stronger and faster,” Olesinski said. “I can keep up with the pace of the game better.”
Olesinski scored a career-high eight points in Saturday’s win over San Diego State to help Air Force improve to 14-6 overall and 5-2 in the MWC.
“Marek’s strength level, his size, his confidence have all improved,” Air Force head coach Dave Pilipovich said. “He’s become a better perimeter shooter since he came here.”
After graduating from Roswell High, Olesinski enrolled in the USAFA Prep School, which does not use any NCAA eligibility. Olesinski scored 10.4 points per game and took college courses while learning the military side of the academy.
“It’s just an extra year to get bigger, faster and stronger,” Pilipovich said. “More importantly, you can learn the academy way of life. In our program, we really like our guys to go to prep school to get that extra year.”
“It was pretty good, it introduced me to the military part and helped me with my academics,” Olesinski added. “It gave me an extra year to play basketball.”
While his numbers may suggest Olesinski has contributed little to his team, Pilipovich said Olesinski has been a key figure behind the scenes.
“He’s really quiet at times when he’s around the coaching staff or more of an adult population,” Pilipovich said. “But when he’s in the locker room with his teammates, he’s fun, he has a great personality. He’s a great friend to his teammates, he’s very hard-working. I think he gets that from his parents.
“His parents are very hard-working people, very athletic and very competitive. I think he gets a lot of that from them.”
The 6-8 Olesinski also inherited his athletic ability from his parents.
Marek’s mother, Maria, was a member of the Polish national basketball team from 1982-1990. His father, Jan, was a member of the Polish national pentathlon team from 1976-1987.
“We were always doing something, shooting hoops or in the gym,” Olesinski said of his childhood activities. “It was fun.”
For a lot of people, the fun would be over once you enlist in the Academy.
“It’s hard,” Pilipovich said. “You come in the last week of June and you’re going through a six-week boot camp while your friends are still back home at the beach partying and you’re getting up at four in the morning and going through military challenges and academic challenges prior to the start of classes.”
Olesinski said he enjoys the lifestyle at AFA and never wavered in his decision to play for the Falcons.
“I just like the people here,” Olesinski said. “It’s different but it’s a great opportunity.”
— This article appeared on page D1 of the Albuquerque Journal