Monday September 01, 2014






Olynyk's 'unparalleled work ethic' made NBA dream a reality

F

or some reason, David Stern, the commissioner of the NBA, felt it necessary to include Kelly Olynyk's hometown when announcing the 13th overall pick in Thursday's draft.

And thus, Kamloops, Canada - as Stern announced it - became world famous, if only for a few minutes. Kamloops was trending on Twitter, as were the words "Kelly Olynyk," not long after the 22-year-old was drafted by the Dallas Mavericks, but traded quickly thereafter to the Boston Celtics.

Stern, who became commissioner in 1984, is on his retirement tour and, through all his years in charge of the NBA, had never had a chance to say the world 'Kamloops' on draft day.

"It's fun. It's cool to be in the community (after) how much support the community has given me over the last five, six, seven years," Olynyk said during a Thursday news conference at the Tournament Capital Centre. "It's great to look back, and to be able to give back to the community and . . . kind of pave the way for young people growing up to really chase their dreams and aspirations and to see that it is quite possible."

What Olynyk has done for basketball in Kamloops is entirely unique.

The town has a great base of basketball players, fans and supporters. And there have been some good teams and players throughout the years. For 15 years, it was home to the provincial AA championships, before the tournament pulled up stakes in March and moved to the Lower Mainland.

But Olynyk, who starred for the Gonzaga Bulldogs for three of the past four seasons - he red-shirted in 2011-12 - has done things one could only have imagined for a product of Kamloops.

"This validates everything we've done," said Del Komarniski, Olynyk's high school coach with the South Kamloops Titans. "This shows that it doesn't always have to be the kids from New Jersey or California who are getting drafted.

"This is big not just for Kamloops, but also for the province."

Even the prime minister was impressed. Stephen Harper tweeted not long after the selection was made: "Congratulations to @kellyolynyk on being selected in the first round of the #NBAdraft. This is a great day for @CanBball."

It also was a great day for Kamloops, and the Olynyks - Ken and Arlene, their daughters Jesse and Maya and, of course, son Kelly.

The Olynyk family moved to Kamloops from Toronto in 2003 after Ken was named the athletics and recreation director at Thompson Rivers University. Kelly played a variety of sports at the time, including rugby and football.

Olynyk started playing for Komarniski's senior Titans in 2006-07, when he was in Grade 10. Olynyk was the best player on a team that fell short of provincials but showed some promise.

The coach immediately saw something in Olynyk that set him apart from the rest of his teammates - "unparalleled work ethic."

"You know what? I felt like the NBA wasn't out of the realm of possibility for Kelly," Komarniski said, "considering his skill set and determination - and you could see his size was going to be there."

The next season was a wash for the Titans, as Olynyk broke his left arm playing football and missed all but a handful of basketball games. He ended up having an incredible summer with the national junior team, and returned for his senior (2008-09) season with renewed confidence and a few extra inches on his then 6-foot-9 frame.

He and the Titans, a team that featured John Bantock, David Wagner and Josh Wolfram, all of whom would play postsecondary hoops, had an incredible season. It ended with a disappointing third-place finish at the B.C. championship, but Olynyk was named MVP after leading the tournament in points, assists and rebounds.

He left Kamloops for Spokane to play for the Gonzaga Bulldogs in 2009. In his first two seasons, he came off the bench, averaging 5.8 points per game in 2010-11.

But he hadn't grown into his 7-foot-0 frame, so redshirted the 2011-12 season - an almost unheard-of idea - in hopes of improving his inside game and getting stronger.

It worked, as Olynyk averaged 17.8 points and 7.3 rebounds per game as the Bulldogs went into the NCAA tournament as a No. 1 seed for the first time and Olynyk was named an All-American.

What impressed Komarniski most about his former player was that he remained down-to-earth throughout all his success, the ESPN profiles and the Sports Illustrated cover, all the way up until draft day.

"(Thursday) was the biggest day of his life, outside of birth," Komarniski said. "He flies in from Atlanta and gets home at 3 a.m. But there he is, in the South Kamloops gym at 10 a.m., scrimmaging with the (Titans) junior boys."

In Boston, Olynyk will join a team just starting a rebuild. The Celtics won an NBA title in 2008, but the core of that team is all but gone, the last two pieces - Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett - reported to have been traded away to the Brooklyn Nets.

Danny Ainge, the Celtics' president of basketball operations, was hesitant in his praise of his newest draft pick.

"Kelly was a guy we think complements (Rajon) Rondo and Avery (Bradley) and Jeff (Green)," Ainge told reporters. "He's just a really good complementary player. He's not a go-to guy. He's not a star player. He's a really good teammate-type of player for those other guys."

Olynyk might surprise some people - he has been doing it his whole career.

When he got to Gonzaga in 2009, there was talk that he would red-shirt his freshman season - he didn't, and handled himself well considering he was a raw rookie from Kamloops, Canada.

In 2011, at 20, he played with the national men's team at an Olympic qualifying tournament in Argentina. Instead of just going along for the ride, he got some serious minutes, and hit double-digits in points twice. He even led Canada with 19 points and 12 rebounds in a loss to Argentina, which went on to win the tournament and finished fourth at the 2012 London Olympics.

At the start of 2012-13, he was seen as a role player for the Bulldogs - he ended up being the best player on a No. 1 team and won the West Coast Conference player of the year award.

So being discounted is nothing new for Olynyk. It even happened Thursday, when the NBA didn't invite him to Brooklyn to watch the draft in person, instead bringing 13 players it thought would be among the top picks.

Olynyk was at home, in his parents' basement with around 45 of his closest friends and members of his family, when Stern gave his shout out to Kamloops, Canada.

"I got to witness something that was very special for the Olynyk family," Komarniski said. "I saw a dream come true for them. I saw tears in his sisters' eyes and I saw pride and joy in his parents. I saw 100 per cent support for his family from people around him.

"I don't think we could have a better ambassador for our town."

mhunter@kamloopsnews.ca


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