Thursday July 31, 2014






Olynyk still busy as draft day approaches

T

he NCAA basketball season ended more than a month ago for Kelly Olynyk, but his life hasn't gotten any less hectic.

"I've been to L.A., Santa Barbara, Chicago, Spokane . . . I've been all over the place," said Olynyk, who was home in Kamloops for a couple of days this week before heading back to Spokane.

Those trips aren't necessarily vacations for the 7-foot-0, 240-pound former Gonzaga Bulldogs centre, who declared for the NBA draft on April 19, his 22nd birthday. They are recruiting trips from player agents, looking to sign a player projected to go in the first round on June 27 in Brooklyn.

"(Life's) just different, trying to find an agent and all that kind of stuff," Olynyk said. "But it really hasn't changed that much.

"(The agents) just give you their pitches and tell you what they think they can do for you."

Once he gets an agent, he expects to hear from NBA teams wanting to work him out.

No one, not even Olynyk's biggest booster, would have imagined this happening 12 months ago. No one could have foreseen that the big Canadian would turn into the best player on one of the top teams in the country, a team that took Gonzaga to a place it had never been before - No. 1 in the country, 30 victories and a No. 1 seed at the NCAA tournament.

Olynyk spent two seasons as a bench player for the Bulldogs, before sitting out the 2011-12 season as a redshirt. Although it is a rarity for an NCAA player to redshirt in the middle of his career - as opposed to in his first season - Olynyk apparently used the time wisely.

He stepped out of the shadows early, earning a starting position. But then he really came on, and ended the season with a team-high 17.8 points and 7.3 rebounds.

He became a sensation around the U.S., and graced a regional cover of Sports Illustrated magazine on March 23.

It's a lot to handle for someone who, just a year ago, was toiling in semi-obscurity in hopes of simply starting for the Bulldogs during the 2012-13 season. But, like everything else, Olynyk is handling it well.

"You are who you are," he said. "You don't need to change because something changed in your life. Your personality, your character . . . you are who you are and that's how you should be."

Olynyk's list of accolades is longer than his impressive wingspan.

He was named an Associated Press All-American, a U.S. Basketball Writers Association All-American, Sporting News All-American and National Association of Basketball Coaches All-American. He was a John R. Wooden Award Top Five honouree - the third Gonzaga player and first since 2006 to earn that honour - and was a finalist for the Oscar Robertson Award for national player of the year. He also was the West Coast Conference's player of the year.

He was no slouch in the classroom, either, posting a 3.53 GPA in accounting before graduating in December, and was named the Division I-AAA Athletic Directors Association scholar-athlete of the year and to the all-scholar-athlete team.

His draft stock rose from, well, nothing to where he is now - projected to be a mid-first-round pick.

"People tell you what they think will happen, but no one really knows until your name gets called," Olynyk said. "People can speculate and say all they want, but in the end, it comes down to that day and that night to see what happens."

Yes, this is a man who is taking nothing for granted.

He is still plugging away in gyms, working hard on his game and getting stronger.

He's not working on improving any one part of his game - "You're not going to learn much in the next month to show (NBA teams)," he said - but isn't about to rest now that he is so close to his NBA dream.

"I usually try to get in three or four workouts a day," Olynyk said. "Individual workouts, on the basketball floor, play a little bit, work out in the weight room, then do shots and reps."

This isn't the first time Olynyk has been chased by suitors. In 2009, as his high school career was drawing to a close, he drew the interest of numerous American universities, among them San Diego, Syracuse, Oregon State and Princeton.

But that decision was made in January 2009, eight months before he was scheduled to head to Gonzaga. Due to NCAA rules forbidding players having agents, Olynyk only has a few weeks to make his decision about representation.

"I've met with four or five agents," he said. "I'm trying to narrow it down and get it done in the next couple days or so."

Like any student who leaves home at 18, Olynyk has changed a great deal over his four years at university. He's bigger, stronger and more mature, but remains the quietly confident sort he was when he left Kamloops for Spokane.

Of course, his hair is different - his brown locks hang down to his shoulders. He has plans to cut the hair off for charity, but not until he takes care of some other business.

"I'm holding onto it right now," Olynyk said. "I haven't really decided - I'm trying to pick an agent and get some other stuff out of the way first before I settle down and do that kind of thing."

Still, a lot of the mystique around Olynyk comes from the hair. It also could have been his lucky charm.

"Ever since I got the hair, it's been working," he said. "You never know."

mhunter@kamloopsnews.ca


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