|Mateusz Ponitka led Poland at the U20 European Championship Division B, before joining the senior team for the EuroBasket qualifiers|
By Dimitris Kontos
Ask any youth team coach in Europe to list the most exciting talents under 20 years of age and the name of Mateusz Ponitka will come up with great frequency.
The Polish shooting guard possesses the fundamentals and combines technical skills with athletic ability and a high basketball IQ.
He has the potential to evolve into an excellent player. If he keeps improving and all the pieces fall into place, he could even become a reference player in Polish - and European - basketball.
For the moment though, Ponitka is still 19 years old.
And he gets a big smile on his face when he talks about how it felt to play alongside his role models.
"Oh, it was a great experience to play with all these great players from my country," he told FIBAEurope.com about his first inclusion in the senior national team.
"Playing with [Marcin] Gortat, with [Lukasz] Koszarek, with [Michal] Ignerski ...
"It was such a good experience, I learned a lot from them and I was so happy to be in this team," his smile widens as it sinks in that he was a part of Poland's qualifying campaign last summer.
GAINING EXPERIENCE ON THE SENIOR TEAM
The young Ponitka was handed -he earned, rather- the chance to spend 13.6 minutes on the court per game during the EuroBasket 2013 Qualification Round.
He averaged 5.0 points and 2.3 rebounds as Poland overcame a worryingly bad start to win five games in a row and top Group E with a 6-2 record, ahead of Finland, Belgium, Switzerland and Albania.
"Next year maybe we will have even more very good players, maybe [Tomas] Kelati and [Maciej] Lampe wil join us."
He mentions 'next year' without even being asked, it's quite evident that the Poznan-born youngster's mind is racing forward to EuroBasket 2013.
Poland were drawn into First Round Group C with reigning European champions Spain, hosts Slovenia, Croatia, the Czech Republic and Georgia.
Ponitka has already calculated their chances and has full confidence in his nation.
"I've seen our group, it has tough teams to play against but we will have a little bit of time to prepare ourselves and be as good as we can when the time comes.
"Hopefully we're going to advance from this group," he asserts.
Only three teams qualify to the Second Round but if the youngster's enthusiasm is contagious, Poland could aspire to reach even further than that.
"I think we can do something good at the EuroBasket, of course I do," he states.
"We have a young team with potential and everybody is getting more experience this year playing in the Euroleague, in the Eurocup, and next summer we're going to be stronger."
Ponitka himself is one of those players, playing in the Turkish Airlines Euroleague with Asseco Prokom Gdynia.
The Polish champions are left with no chances of progressing to the Top 16 but, under coach Kestutis Kemzura, the 19-year-old has become a starter and averages 8.7 points and three rebounds in the top club competition.
POLAND AT FULL STRENGTH
The last time Poland stepped on the EuroBasket podium was 1967 and they did not achieve a top-8 finish even at home, in 2009.
Their chances of finally making the breakthrough in Slovenia will largely depend on their ability to field their star frontcourt duo.
"It's important [to have them on board] Gortat is our only NBA player, he is an excellent player for Poland," Ponitka agrees.
"I don't know if Lample will come, I haven't spoken with him but he plays for Caja Laboral, a great team in Spain and the Euroleague, he has so much experience.
"These two players will be very important [to us] next year."
Ponitka though knows of at least one player that will definitely jump at the opportunity to represent Poland at the EuroBasket.
"If I get the invitation," he says modestly, "of course I will be ready to give everything I have on the court.
"I will do everything to help the team, as much as I can."