Odd couple, Karnowski and Bakamus, has helped Gonzaga advance

Gonzaga center Przemek Karnowski and walk-on guard Rem Bakamus were both a part of the Bulldogs' 2012 recruiting class. Provided by Gonzaga Athletics

SALT LAKE CITY -- The NCAA tournament's odd couple resides in Spokane, Washington.

Przemek Karnowski is Gonzaga's 7-foot-1, 300-pound immovable force, a senior who traveled 5,000 miles from Poland to play for coach Mark Few. Rem Bakamus is a 6-foot, 173-pound senior walk-on who came 280 miles east (from Longview, Washington) to Spokane.

Karnowski is the healthy eater who bakes his chicken with avocado oil, and Bakamus is more likely to get his chicken at Taco Bell (specifically, one chicken quesadilla and two chicken quesaritos per trip).

Bakamus has played 98 minutes in his entire career. Karnwoski has played more minutes in the past four games combined. And when he's rarely on the bench this season, Karnowski chews his nails while at the very end, just two seats up from the team chaplain, Bakamus doesn't stop talking or cheering from tipoff 'til final buzzer.

Even their hair is diametrically opposed. Karnowski sports a bristly beard that reaches almost to his uniform, and Bakamus pulls up a messy man-bun at the back of his head.

Karnowski and Bakamus might be the most interesting duo of this NCAA tournament. Not only because Karnowski is the team's star and Bakamus is the career bench-mob leader, but also because over the past five seasons, the two have been the only constants on the Gonzaga roster.

They were the only members of Few's 2012 recruiting class and they're the only two players who have been a part of both of the Zags' No. 1-ranked (and No. 1-seeded) teams. And in their own unique ways they're doing everything they can to help their team, and Few, reach its first Final Four.

But if Karnowski is considered one of the keys that helped the Bulldogs get to the Sweet 16, then Bakamus is one of the keys that helped Karnowski get to this point.

Karnowski certainly looks at it that way.

"He has helped me a lot," Karnowski said. "He was always by my side."

Karnowski came to Gonzaga's campus later than the rest of his teammates during the fall of 2012 as he was playing for Poland's youth national team. He showed up to meet his new team outfitted in knee-length jean shorts, a green dress shirt and running shoes.

"And way too much cologne," Bakamus said.

"It's hard to be 7-foot-1," Karnwoski said, defending the jean shorts look as well as his misjudged cologne-to-body ratio.

As the only two freshmen on the team, Bakamus and Karnowski naturally gravitated toward each other and began spending much of their off-court time together.

From the big issues -- understanding American culture, housing, getting around Spokane -- to the little things -- the anxiety of talking on the phone for a late-night Jimmy John's order to Karnowski's misplaced fashion sense -- Bakamus became a mentor of sorts for Karnowski, who was acclimating to an entirely new setting.

Karnowski, who felt nervous using his English or trying to explain how "Przemek" was actually pronounced "SHEM-ick," allowed Bakamus -- the son of a coach who was used to leading and being vocal on his high school team -- do most of the talking.

Quickly, the pair, for both Bakamus' chatty and extroverted tendencies as well as Karnwoski's size, picked up the nickname "Shrek and Donkey."

And like donkeys and ogres (and onions and parfaits, as Mike Myers and Eddie Murphy debate in the 2001 film), both Karnowski and Bakamus have a lot of layers to sift through.

They're obsessed with the show "Shark Tank" and spend much of their free time brainstorming ideas for the show. Bakamus coyly says he just can't remember any off the top of his head while Karnowski -- who's a bit more straightforward these days -- says, "I cannot share. If I share, it won't be a secret and then I won't be able to make any money on it."

While rooming together during their sophomore and junior years, they binge-watched the TV show "Impractical Jokers," and tried to scheme up any kinds of city-wide pranks they could pull off in Spokane (ultimately, they decided, Karnowski was a bit too noticeable a person to get away with anything too sneaky).

And last season, when Karnowski injured his back badly enough that he required surgery just five games into the season, it was Bakamus who -- as he had done during Karnowski's tough transition to the state -- helped him transition into life as a player whose main purpose was to support his teammates rather than to put up points and pull down rebounds.

"He goes from being the man to having to take a backseat and watch his teammates go out there. ... It was just taken away from him," Bakamus said. "He worked so hard in the summer and preseason getting prepared. It wasn't easy for him to adjust."

But, during his adjustment from starter to bench supporter, he got to sit next to Bakamus, who had made a career out of celebrating his teammates' achievements.

"It was a lesson for me," Karnowski said. "It taught me a lot to be appreciative of what you get every day. In that sense, I took a lot from him. Just to live up to every moment and live right now."

Karnowski took that lesson back to the court with him, and both players have lived that mantra in their respective roles during their final season together. Karnowski is now averaging 12 points and six rebounds a game, and Bakamus is seemingly more energetic on the sidelines than ever before.

They're soaking up this final go-around and hoping to push the Zags into April. After they're done, their paths will diverge: probably the NBA for Karnowski, and for Bakamus, hopefully a way to put his sport management degree to use. If their Gonzaga careers are any hint, they're prepared well for their respective fields.

But, if not, they do have that lengthy list of "Shark Tank" ideas waiting to be sold. And if any NCAA tournament basketball duo is going to be effusive and convincing enough on reality TV, it seems like a safe bet to put your money on Shrek and Donkey.