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Zuzanna Kulinska becoming key contributor for CU Buffs

Sophomore playing with confidence for Colorado women’s basketball team

PUBLISHED: | UPDATED:
Brad Cochi/Daily Camera
Colorado’s Zuzanna Kulinska takes a shot against Washington State on Sunday.

For two weeks this summer, Zuzanna Kulinska had the opportunity to spend time in her home town of Gdynia, Poland.

A sophomore for the Colorado women’s basketball team, Kulinska had spent just five days at home in the previous two years, but made the most of her visit this summer, seeing friends and family and all the places she missed back home.

“It was actually really good for me and I enjoyed my time so much,” Kulinska said this week. “It was just a beautiful experience to spend some time with my friends and family, visit places I used to visit in my home town. I just very, very needed that.”

Re-charged mentally, Kulinska is off to a good start this season, as she has become a key player off the bench for the Buffs (4-5, 2-4 Pac-12), who visit Southern California on Monday.

So far this season, Kulinska has averaged nearly 10 minutes per game, contributing 3.3 points per contest, as well as posting five steals and seven rebounds. A 5-foot-10 guard, Kulinska is shooting 8-for-12 from the floor (.667 percent), including 2-for-4 on 3-pointers (.500).

It’s been the type of production CU coach JR Payne hoped for when the staff recruited Kulinska out of New York Military Academy for the class of 2019.

“We thought all along that she could be someone that could just come in and be really solid – be solid defensively, knock down shots,” Payne said.

BOULDER, CO - Dec. 17, 2020: ...
Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer
Colorado’s Zuzanna Kulinska has averaged 3.3 points off the bench this season and also has five steals and seven rebounds.

After leaving Poland, Kulinska spent one year at NYMA and dominated, averaging 24.3 points per game and earning MVP honors for the New England Private School Athletic Conference. She also led her team to the Class E championship.

That year, however, didn’t do much to ease her transition to CU.

“It was a very unusual experience,” she said. “It wasn’t like a normal high school and basketball wasn’t at the best level. I’m just happy I had my team of Europeans, that we could play together and develop our skills in practice and not necessarily in games because our opponents weren’t very good.”

She also spent much of her time with the foreign community and didn’t feel she got a “true American experience,” she said.

Last year at CU, she got that experience, but certainly had to adjust. She averaged just 5 minutes per game and scored 10 total points.

“I knew I wasn’t going to play right away,” she said, “but I have four years, so I just wanted to make sure at the end of those four years, I’m at the highest level I can possibly be.”

Despite the roller coaster of navigating the COVID-19 pandemic this year, Kulinska has made significant strides on the court.

“I know Zu spent a lot of time all last year, definitely, but also this spring, summer, and fall really working on getting a ton of shots up,” Payne said. “We’ve (told) her all along, ‘You’ve got to be able to knock down a shot.  You’ve got to be able to stretch the defense.’”

Point guards Jaylyn Sherrod and Sila Finau or forward Mya Hollingshed will draw the defense to them, which leaves other players, such as Kulinska open for shots, and the Buffs count on her to hit them.

“I really think she’s developed into that player and it’s not just the last weekend; she’s been that player throughout practice,” Payne said.

When on the court, Kulinska is playing with more confidence.

“Last year … I was just trying to get around and learn a new style of basketball because basketball here is different than in Europe,” she said. “And now when I look back I could tell that I was really lost and when I was in the game I wasn’t really confident. This year, there’s a big difference. I go in, I want to make a difference, I want to impact the team, impact the score. So there’s a big difference.”

Kulinska has gone to Payne and the other coaches to ask what she can do to improve and get on the court more. Then, she backs it up by putting in the work to get there.

She’s also learning how to make use of her time on the bench. When she’s not on the court, she’s studying the teammate that’s playing in her position. That keeps Kulinska in the game mentally and adds to her confidence when coaches call her number.

As she continues to develop, Kulinska hopes to earn more time on the court and become a bigger factor for the Buffs.

“It’s driving me every day,” she said. “It’s just like my inner drive. I just want to have an impact and it’s bothering me when I don’t, so if I’m not going to go play in a game, I’m going to do something about it.”