We are talking with Krzysztof Szubarga, the captain and playmaker of Asseco Arka Gdynia, soon after the team has secured the bronze medal of the Energa Basket Liga in the 2018/2019 season.
Szubarga is one of the most important parts of Gdynia's team, who thanks to his experience and determination in the playoffs has had a huge impact on the team's ultimate fate.
Let's start from the beginning. You've enjoyed a long career which nearly ended prematurely. You've been part of a lot of teams and ultimately ended in Gdynia. How did that happen?
After a year-long break due to an injury (I haven't played for a whole season) I was searching for a club. Asseco Arka Gdynia has shown interest and has taken a risk in taking me on. The team's leadership has shown trust in my capabilities. It might be due to the fact that I am known to them personally. They believed in my return. I am grateful and hope that I fulfilled their expectations.
Both sides seem to have benefited from that decisions. We have a bronze medal and you are one of the fathers of that success.
We are glad that we managed to win that medal, especially since it took us a lot of effort to get it. After the first match at Zielona Góra, where we lost by 18 points, we picked ourselves up and made up the difference. Stelmet is an experienced team with a lot of good players so managing that win was proof enough that we deserve the medal.
Does Krzysztof Szubarga enjoy choclate bars? You used to be quite fluffy, but now you are built like a bodybuilder. How has this metamorphosis gone for you?
Everybody enjoys sweets, especially myself since I tend to chow down on a lot of them during work (laughs). I do enjoy candy but I realized (or I was pushed into realizing) that they are not good for you. I changed my diet during the injury and avoid sweets altogether. To summarize, I do enjoy sweets, but I avoid them during the season. Maybe after I'll get to enjoy some.
So thing such as good physical prowess, dieting, your body - all those do not come without hard work?
Nothing of value comes easy. Reaching the goal which cost you so much tastes much better and motivates you to work harder.
Are you a workaholic? How much work does Krzysztof Szubarga put in to achieve success?
I definitely am one. I train a lot even during my free time, when I perform exercises which affect my health and keep me in shape. I hope that it will benefit me in the long run.
You have been with us for three seasons, and if you include the break and the season at Asseco Prokom Gdynia, four seasons. What has changed in Krzysztof Szubarga, both professionally as well as privately?
A lot has changed since the injury. I focus on keeping in shape. I am not getting any younger and I have to put a lot of work into maintaining my form. If I had the foresight, I would have started way earlier in my life.
The fans tend to say (myself included) that Szubarga is like a fine wine - gets better with age. What do you think?
The most important thing is that basketball is still a source of fun for me, and age has done little to stop that. Basketball is a part of me and the emotions which accompany me during play are still as vivid as they were at the beginning of my career. I still yearn for a challenge and playing at the top levels.
How has basketball changed?
It has become much faster. There are a lot more three point throws, and with all the statistics and calculations, they have become very sought after. Sudden score changes are becoming the norm, in one moment you can be loosing by 20 points, only to be winning by 20 moments later. You play faster, throw more. It used to be that after getting a 20 point advantage you slowed your game, making it harder for the opponent to regain that loss. Now, a small lapse may result in the opponent doing a quick run, getting a couple of "threes" and everything lands in a draw.
What is the role of the defense? Does the old rule that everything start with defense still hold true?
It definitely remains important. Anwil is a good example of that, whose fluid defense can put the opponent of balance. I believe that, although some say that our offense is better, we remain strong on the defense as well. Maintaining the pressure, cutting off that first pass. There are plenty of examples where the team was throwing a lot of points and yet lost.
One could risk the statement that it has become the norm.
The play works best when the offense is spread out to a number of players. It makes the job harder for the opposing team.
What is the difference between younger players such as Marcel Ponitka or Mariusz Knopatzki and stars such as Josh Bostic or James Florence?
I think that the biggest difference comes in the form of the coaching staff. The younger players needs to be reminded of things that the experienced players are well versed in. The older players knows how to react to certain situations, while the youths are still learning and it is important that they keep an open, fertile mind. That is probably the biggest difference. Other than that, an older player knows what he lacks and can work on it. Sometimes you need more throws, some time at the gym. Younger players need reminding them of those things, with their bodies still preparing for the games.
Not to put shade on your age, you have been part of the league circuits for quite some time. What does Szubi consider to be the most important in basketball and how to achieve success?
Success is a sum of a lot of factors. Personality and will to fight are the most important. When you walk out to play the match as opposed to winning a match, it makes a difference. Talent is handy, but will and determination trump that. Sometimes only one situation can determine the whole match.
We first spoke during the time of Asseco Prokom Gdynia in the 2010/2011 season. You were known that as a roughneck and a moody person. Not knowing you, I had some preconceptions. Our conversations spread to a wide range of topics and I was charmed. Was that the real Szubi?
It's not the first time when I heard of that opinion regarding myself. Maybe it's due to my posture when I walk out onto the court. I also heard that coaches have a hard time with coaching me but I disagree (laughs). Sometimes the coaches ask me regarding the "hard Szubi" since they work with me for three months and have little to no trouble with me. I have no idea where it came from or when. Sometimes you just get stuck with a label and it sticks. It probably comes from the way I play, since I dive in wholeheartedly.
I know from a secret source that you have a ritual that you follow before a match. Can you let us in on it?
Everything starts on the day of the game after the throwing training. I shave my beard and my head, even though there is not a lot to shave. Then lunch and a nap. My wife and kids leave and "are allowed" to come back only after I send them a text. They understand the importance of my concentration. Also, my wife prepares the same lunch every time - pasta with chicken.
Watching you during your warming up I see that you are very focused and motivated. What is your recipe for motivation, both of yourself as well of your colleagues?
The importance of the game, the type of opponent, these factor in. It's hard to pinpoint anything specific. Each player has his own ways. I have a very individual outlook on said matter.
How can a person with such a strong character become a play maker, someone who sacrifices himself for the well being of the team and allows other to shine? How is your ego?
Coach Przemysław Frasunkiewicz always reminds us to not let ego take control. I have no problem with that, I enjoy passing and I believe it better when I acquire 10 assists and 8-10 assists rather than throwing 30 points and starving my colleagues of my throws. Getting 10 assists means getting 10 to 15 points for the team. There are different types of play makers, and I find myself best at passing - marker of my personality I suppose.
There are moments during the match when things are not going according to plan, when some players try to play individually. What is the source of these situations, how does a player feel in those moments?
It's hard to answer this question. Sometimes when things are going bad you want to take responsibility and score, which is not good. Playing consistently, with a cold head and playing out known sequences takes priority. Sometimes the decisions are too fast and it's too late to come back from the losses.
How do you react to criticism? How do you feel when somebody points out errors after a bad game?
I've never had problems with taking criticism. I prefer to hear it straight up, rather than behind my back. I try doing the same and I feel that one can benefit most from that kind of approach.
The first match at Zielona Góra was, to put it lightly, bad. I was devastated and angry, along with many other fans. How does a team captain, like You, carry the weight of all that happened, the fans, colleagues, your own thoughts, how did you carry on and led the yellow-and-blues to victory?
We were also not happy with that match, especially since the first half we had under control. We were winning. The match was still an unfinished book. We knew that it was a two-match series and even a small loss will be hard to make up at Gdynia. Mistakes in the third an fourth quarters allowed Stelmet to race ahead to what seemed as a gigantic advantage of 18 points. As you said, it was hard to believe and there were a lot of voices pointing out that defeating such an advantage against an opponent as good as Stelmet will be impossible. At home I thought on how Anwil must have felt after their two losses at Gdynia Arena, who expected to leave with at least 1 win but left with 2 losses. After that, they rised up and won 3 games total. If they could do that, so could we. It would be much simpler than Anwil's situation. I talked with the guys, who were on my side. We had a meeting where we discussed our situation, and everyone was very motivated. We just had to go out there and fight for the whole 40 minutes. We managed that and shown all that we had some brass basketball balls.
Play makers cooperate with the tall players. How is is when after a bad play, for example, a pick and roll, you come up to a men who is twice your size, look him straight in the eyes and berate him for what was wrong?
(Laughs) I don't care whether they are twice or thrice my height. If I got something to say, then I will say it. Sometimes I may tell him to put a tighter defense. Sometimes to roll faster. To be honest, these supposedly two-man actions are actually led by a whole team. Everybody has to be in high gear and if need be I correct all who need it.
You are seen as a tough guy and "indestructible". Is there anything that Szubi is afraid of?
I don't think so. My primary concern is the health and well being of my family, and other than that - no fears.
I am under the impression that at the beginning of the season you were in the shade of other players, and now you are widely loved by the crowd. How does it feel? What do you do to not loose head?
I changed. The last years were a huge responsibility, which now spread to other players. I learned about myself, my reactions by going out on the court and performing specific tasks. I was learning, not giving up and was constantly aware that I can help the team. I know my worth, my capabilities and I am important to the team. In the second part of the season, after returning from my injury, I have shown my usefulness.
I would say that you were one of the fathers of the success.
It's nice of you to say so. As I said at the beginning of the season, each team member has the potential to explode during a game and be its hero. We've had a good squad and I'm glad that I managed to fit in.
You are a husband to a wife and a father to two children. How is Szubi outside of the court? How to change from a "warrior" to a Mr Szubarga? Which basketball qualities help, and which are an annoyance in everyday life?
It's like a button, where after pressing, you change modes. From match mode to family mode. Although, a personality and a strong hand are crucial in raising children well.
People call you "General Szubarga", when I prefer "Admiral Szubi" myself. Do you like any of these nicknames?
I don't mind them. If this is how people see me and call me, that is their business.
Many thought you condemned to vagueness, but now you are back to the limelight with the EBL's bronze medal. Will you stay with us for another season and what are some new challenges awaiting Szubi?
It's hard to pinpoint challenges at this point. My contract is up by the end of this year. It's very fluid in the sport's world and the situation can change by 180 degrees by moment's notice. We'll see what happens and then I'll set up my goals. Now is time for rest and preparing for the next season.
But if the club was to propose you another contract, would you consider it?
Of course, the matter is open. Gdynia suits me and I wish to remain with Asseco. But life is full of surprises and sometimes unforeseen circumstances can impact your decision.
Thank you and I wish you a well deserved rest.