Rich Flanagan (@richflanagan33)
Many will remember the victories over two power conference teams, including one that has a national championship to its name, but for Konrad Kiszka, it was about so much more than what those wins delivered.
The 6-foot-7 forward appeared in 16 games during Princeton’s incredible run to the Sweet 16 last season, which began with a win over No. 2 Arizona. He made appearances in the tournament against both Missouri and Creighton, which ultimately ended the Tigers' season.
What Kiszka can vividly recall was the elation to not only have been in the NCAA Tournament, but the road taken to get there such as winning all three matchups with the University of Pennsylvania – the team pegged to win the Ivy League – and dropping two regular-season losses to Yale before upending the Bulldogs in the Ivy League Tournament championship game.
Kiszka, a La Salle College HS product, was part of a vaunted senior class that included Ryan Langborg, Tosan Evbuomwan, Keeshawn Kellman (Perkiomen School) and Jacob O’Connell (St. Joe’s Prep) and being able to take Princeton on its deepest March Madness run since 1967 is something no one can ever take away from them.
Konrad Kiszka, seen playing at La Salle College HS in 2017-18, will finish his college career at NYU. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL File)
“It was surreal just having come up with my senior class from our freshman year,” Kiszka said. “I think that spread throughout the team from our leadership and it allowed our team to have a really special year. That tournament run was special, and we will never forget it in our lives. The whole Princeton community was cheering for us.”
After the season had ended and the magic faded, members of that class used the increased exposure and entered the transfer portal in search of higher-level programs. Langborg went to Northwestern, Kellman headed to Florida Gulf Coast, O’Connell transferred to Merrimack College and Evbuomwan entered the 2023 NBA Draft, where he went undrafted then later signed a deal with the Detroit Pistons. Kiszka had a decision to make to follow suit and that rush felt during the NCAA Tournament run fueled his desire to find a new destination.
“After the season, I wasn’t really sure what I was going to do,” Kiszka said. “I was applying for jobs then a bunch of guys entered the transfer portal, and I wasn’t sure about it, especially with all the injuries I’ve had. From spring workouts, I felt really good, but I still have a little bit of a way to go further than this year, so I entered the portal.”
He heard from new head coach Tobin Anderson and Iona College as well Indiana University of Pennsylvania and Stevens Institute of Technology. Yet, one stood out above the rest due to his familiarity with its head coach. Dave Klatsky had just finished his first season at New York University, where he led the program to its first Division III NCAA Tournament since 2015-16 and set a program record for a first-year head man with 18 victories. Klatsky, who starred at Penn under Fran Dunphy, had recruited Kiszka when he was an assistant at Colgate and their past relationship helped seal the deal on Kiszka’s future.
“My goal was to go play and I think I have a chance to do that at NYU,” Kiszka said. “Coach Klatsky reached out to me, and I knew him as he recruited me at Colgate. We had a preexisting connection and after listening to what he had to say, I thought it was a good fit.”
Kiszka visited NYU in April and now steps into a situation where he is the healthiest he has been in years. In the spring of 2021, months after the Ivy League season had been canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Kiszka tore his meniscus and missed the entire 2021-22 season. It was his second meniscus tear, and the rehabilitation wasn’t progressing as planned. “I was really struggling with knee pain and seeing physical therapists the whole year. I was trying to get it back but couldn’t figure it out. After all the therapy, it started to officially feel better last summer,” Kiszka described. Furthermore, he dealt with a thumb and ankle injury this past season, which forced him to miss a few games.
All in all, Kiszka appeared in 30 games in his Princeton career and averaged 1.4 points per game in that span. His career-high was six points in a win over Rutgers-Camden in January 2020. He has been given an opportunity to follow a bachelor’s degree from Princeton with a master’s degree in sports business from NYU, but even more than that, he still has a real chance to showcase that raw athleticism and ability that made him such an attractive recruit in the first place. That is all Kiszka could hope for at this stage in his career.
“This is the game I love, and I just want to play as much as I can until my body tells me it’s time to hang it up,” Kiszka said. “My body feels good and I’m listening to it. I really want to keep playing and I think I have the chance to make a difference at NYU.”
Perform a search on X, or what was formerly Twitter, for Kiszka and a video will pop up of an emphatic dunk against Bishop McDevitt in 2019 where he drives from the left wing and nearly jumps over a defender waiting underneath the basket. He was a star at La Salle College High School where he averaged 12.5 ppg as a senior on his way to First Team All-Catholic honors. Alongside the likes of Allen Powell, Zach Crisler and Titus Beard, Kiszka led the Explorers to the Philadelphia Catholic League title game and PIAA Class 6A semifinals under the direction of first-year head coach Mike McKee.
Kiszka began his career under Joe Dempsey, now the head coach at Spring-Ford, and McKee was tasked with preparing the young but talented forward on advancing his versatility. He made him play out on the perimeter more to open things up and it paid true dividends as La Salle had one of its most accomplished seasons in school history.
“We pushed him to do some things he was uncomfortable with then when you’re uncomfortable, you’re also playing and having success against everybody at a high level,” McKee said. “He had that ESPN highlight dunk against McDevitt and beat Roman in the state tournament. He gets that dunk on the opening possession at the Palestra in the Catholic League championship. I definitely think that when he’s competitive and dialed in, he could play at a lot of places, and he can make a major impact at NYU.”
McKee, who stepped down in the spring, has the utmost confidence that this move will put Kiszka on the map in the same way that video of his dunk did, but for different reasons. He is healthy and primed to play what is expected to be his final season of collegiate basketball as a grad transfer. While playing professionally overseas may be an option, “he could have a great finish to his career. NYU is really lucky to have him with his experience, talent and brain. It’s a home run for them.”
The Violets finished 18-8 overall last season and lost to Lancaster Bible College in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament. Kiszka is part of a large contingent of newcomers, which includes 6-8 center Emmanuel Onuama (Columbia University) and there is real optimism that those two can make an immediate impact with leading scorer and D3hoops.com Third Team All-American Spencer Freedman having moved on. Junior guard Zay Freeney, who averaged 12.9 ppg and made 55 three-pointers, returns as does sophomore forward Quinn Clark (10.4 ppg, 8.0 rpg) and senior guard Cinque Stephens (9.9 ppg).
There is talent around Kiszka, which should allow him to flourish. With his last opportunity to play this game at this level, he is hoping to come in, be someone younger players can rely on and bring his overall skillset to a team primed to build on last season’s success.
“First, I want to bring some leadership,” Kiszka said. “They have a couple grad students who are good leaders and a lot of older guys, but Coach Klatsky wants me to come in, make an impact, and be a voice. I want to do that and help the team. Hopefully, I can help them get to the tournament again because that’s one of their goals. It will all be about one game at a time.”