Kelly Olynyk of Kamloops, who had such a magnificent season with the Gonzaga University Bulldogs men's basketball team, celebrated his birthday Friday by announcing that he will leave the Spokane-based school and enter the NBA draft.
The 7-foot-0, 240-pound Olynyk, who turned 22, said at a news conference in Spokane yesterday that he reached a decision Thursday night, then informed head coach Mark Few and teammates.
Olynyk, who played high school basketball at South Kamloops secondary, said it all came down to following his dream of playing in the NBA.
"In the end, it's something you've dreamed about since you were a little kid," he said.
Olynyk just finished his junior season with the Bulldogs. He actually played his freshman and sophomore seasons and then red-shirted in 2011-12 in order to work on his strength and his game, especially close to the basket.
It all paid off, too, as he turned himself into one of the most dominant big men on the U.S. college basketball scene.
Olynyk admitted that a year ago he never would have considered leaving early.
"Nine months ago this wasn't what I envisioned for today," Olynyk said. "It came quicker than I expected and I've got to capitalize."
Olynyk was named the West Coast Conference's player of the year as the Bulldogs won their conference and ended the regular season as the nation's top-ranked team, the first time that had happened in school history.
He averaged 17.8 points and 7.3 rebounds in playing 26.4 minutes per game - he shot 63 per cent from the floor - as Gonzaga went into the NCAA tournament as a No. 1 seed for the first time. The Zags' season ended in the third round when, despite Olynyk's 26 points, they were beaten 76-70 by the Wichita State Shockers.
Gonzaga finished its season with a 32-3 record - the first time the school enjoyed a 30-victory season - and postseason awards have continued to roll in for Olynyk, who last week was named the Division I-AAA Athletic Directors Association scholar-athlete of the year. He also was named to the all-scholar-athlete team.
Among other things, he was named an Associated Press All-America, U.S. Basketball Writers Association All-America, Sporting News All-America and National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC) Division I All-America. He was the third Gonzaga player to be named a John R. Wooden Award Top Five honouree and the first since 2006, was a finalist for the Oscar Robertson Award as national player of the year and was named to the Capital One All-Academic first team.
Olynyk graduated in December with a 3.53 GPA in accounting. He is in the process of finishing his first semester in Gonzaga's MBA program.
The NBA combine is to be held May 16 and 17 in Chicago, with the draft lottery on May 21 and the draft in Madison Square Garden in New York on June 27.
Most draft observers have Olynyk slotted as a mid-first-round selection. Chad Ford of ESPN, for example, has Olynyk in the No. 16 slot.
"Depending who you talk to the numbers slide one way or the other," Olynyk said in a news release. "No one can really tell until draft night."
As for the process that led him to make his decision, he said: "It was tough. When you talk to people no one really tells you to go or not go; everyone says it's your decision. Everyone tells you why you should go and why you could come back. Everyone kind of leaves you hanging in that sense. They just say go with your heart, go with your gut and that's what will make the best decision."
Which is what he did, although it doesn't make leaving any easier.
"I love this place, I love my teammates," Olynyk said, "but the NBA has been a dream of mine since I was a little kid so it was something I had to act on.
"It's your dream. That's the highest level and everyone wants to play at the highest level. It will be a journey, but I think it will be a fun one."
- With files from Nicholas K. Geranios of The Associated Press in Spokane