DORSET – No distance will stop Patryk Lukaszewski and Tomasz Koc from spreading their message, not even the 4,000 miles that separate them from their homeland of Poland.
As the Long Trail starters took to the field to warm up Saturday ahead of their Division IV playoff clash with Arlington, Koc and Lukaszewski donned white T-shirts with a Ukrainian flag painted on it: a gesture of solidarity for the people Ukrainian who continues to face an invasion from Russia.
The conflict in Ukraine is personal for the Long Trail basketball duo. Many Ukrainians flee to Poland in search of safety.
Lukaszewski is proud of how his country pulls together and embraces its neighbors when needed.
“I see in my community, and all over Poland, that everyone is trying to help. I am very proud of Poland, we are doing such an amazing job.
So before the biggest game of the season, Koc and Lukaszewski put on the tees they made themselves with blue and yellow paint and walked onto the field with their teammates.
“We want to encourage people to help out and show their support,” Lukaszewski said. “Everything matters.”
It’s hard for Koc to grasp the concept of what’s happening in Ukraine right now.
“We can’t even imagine the war.”
How the game brought them together
Basketball has a funny way of connecting people. Koc is from the western part of Poland, and Lukaszewski’s hometown is in the northern part of the country. The two never met before coming to the United States. They played together at another high school in the United States before transferring to Long Trail.
Now the Poles are a big reason for the Mountain Lions’ season success, reaching the playoff semifinals for the first time in program history.
“I think we are doing a good job. We are happy with the semi-finals,” said Koc.
Koc is the starting point guard, the engine that drives the attack. He’s averaging north of 20 points per game. Lukaszewsi is a force in his own right, a skillful big man who can shoot from distance and is equally comfortable with an opponent in position.
The chemistry they share on the pitch leads you to believe they grew up playing together. They move in unison, appearing like they’ve played together all their lives. It’s also not uncommon for both to speak in their native language on the pitch.
“I mostly say ‘give me a screen,'” Koc said with a smile.
Lukaszewski says it’s simple things on his part, like asking Koc what set they’re in when passing inbounds or giving him words of encouragement or advice from the bench.
No matter what they say to each other in Polish, it attracts the attention of their opponent who often asks where they are from.
“It’s funny,” Lukaszewski said.
“It’s like our secret code,” Koc added.
Although they found success, it was an on-court adjustment for Koc and Lukaszewski. They are used to a faster version of the game.
“Mostly in Vermont but in the United States [in general] the rhythm is different. You mainly play 1v1 and of course [there’s] no stopwatch. It’s difficult,” Koc said.
“In the last few games we took around 40 shots as a team,” added Lukaszewski. “Which really isn’t much.”
The Long Trail starters seem to be adjusting very well, contributing to the best season in program history.
And when they take to the stage at Barre Auditorium on Wednesday in the Division IV semi-final against White River Valley, they plan to don the Ukrainian flag again in warm-ups.
Long Trail coach and athletic director Mike Olson knows it’s deeper than basketball right now for his players. Count him among those inspired by the actions of his players.
“For me, to see them show their support for their homeland, it touched my heart.”