Lucky No. 13 for Kelly Olynyk

Celtics take Kamloops kid in NBA draft

MARK HUNTER / Kamloops Daily News
June 27, 2013 01:00 AM

Kelly Olynyk speaks to media at the Tournament Capital Centre in Kamloops.

Somehow, they crammed 45 people into the basement of the Olynyk household to watch Thursday night's NBA draft on television.

You can bet every single one of them went nuts when NBA commissioner David Stern announced the 13th overall pick: "Kelly Olynyk, from Kamloops, Canada, and Gonzaga University."

"It was a special time to spend it with all the people who have supported (me) and been there for (me my) whole life, and got me to where I am today," Olynyk said during a news conference at the Tournament Capital Centre last night. "It was real nice to be able to celebrate that with them and share that moment with them."

Yes, it was a magical evening for Olynyk and his family and friends, who sat on pins and needles for about an hour and 20 minutes before Kelly's name was called. The pick originally belonged to the Dallas Mavericks, but they wound up trading Olynyk to the Boston Celtics for the 16th overall selection and two second-round picks.

"Hard work, dedication, sacrifice - that's what gets you to something like this," Olynyk said. "The people around me growing up really instilled work ethic and they allowed me to pursue my dreams and I can't thank them enough."

All of those things, and having a dream. Olynyk's father, Ken, talked about how his son was always willing to work, at any time, in hopes of becoming a better basketball player.

"When he was seven years old, we asked him what he wanted to do," Ken Olynyk said. "He said he wanted to play in the NBA. I said, 'You'd better have a backup plan.' He said, 'Well maybe I'll be a farmer.' I thought, 'Kelly, we live in Toronto, you've never been to a farm. . . .'

"That's been his goal since he was seven years old, and he never lost sight of that. That's a testament to him as an individual and how hard he's willing to work."

Kelly Olynyk, a 7-foot-0 centre, has said all along that he would be happy wherever he ended up. But Boston, with its rich basketball heritage and terrific fans, looks to be an ideal spot.

The Celtics are starting a rebuild, with head coach Doc Rivers traded to the Los Angeles Clippers and rumours flying about Thursday that Boston is looking to trade stars Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to the Brooklyn Nets.

This means that Olynyk could slide right into a relatively big role with the Celtics, who have won 17 NBA titles, the most recent in 2008.

"We didn't talk too much about that," said the 22-year-old South Kamloops grad, recalling the phone call he received from the Celtics. "I'll be there Monday for press conferences so I'm sure we'll talk more when I'm out there.

"They're rebuilding, and maybe that will give me an opportunity and hopefully I can go out there and make the most of it."

As exciting as the future is for Olynyk, it was an emotional night for his parents, Ken and Arlene.

They brought him up in a basketball household - first in Toronto, where Ken was head coach of the U of Toronto Varsity Blues, and then in Kamloops, to where the family moved in 2003. Kelly starred for the South Kamloops Titans, leading them to provincial bronze in 2009, before moving on up to the Gonzaga Bulldogs in Spokane.

Kelly was a two-sport star at South Kam, at least until he broke his left arm playing quarterback for the Titans in his Grade 11 year. He dropped football before Grade 12, but the Celtics knew of his pigskin pedigree.

"I don't know too many players who played quarterback in high school as a 7-footer," Celtics general manager Danny Ainge said, according to the Associated Press.

Even Olynyk's basketball career wasn't always smooth sailing - he played sparingly in his first two seasons at Gonzaga, and then sat out the 2011-12 season, redshirting in hopes of improving. It worked, as Olynyk broke through in 2012-13 for the Bulldogs, who earned their first No. 1 ranking in program history, thanks in large part to the West Coast Conference's MVP, Olynyk.

He averaged 17.8 points and 7.3 rebounds while shooting 63 per cent from the field, and was a finalist for the Wooden Award, given annually to the NCAA's top player. He declared for the draft in April, and went through the paces with numerous NBA teams over the past month or so.

It was pretty stressful for his family.

"The whole last while, and especially the last month and last couple of weeks, it's all-consuming," Ken Olynyk said. "You try not to think about it, but you're always thinking about it . . ."

The work doesn't stop now - in fact it gets tougher.

"(I'm) trying to get ready for summer league," Kelly Olynyk said. "I'm going into summer league with an open mind and really try to get off on the right foot."

It turned out to be a great day for Canadian basketball.

The Cleveland Cavaliers used the first overall selection on UNLV forward Anthony Bennett of Brampton, Ont., making him the first Canadian to be selected first overall. When Kelly Olynyk was taken at 13, it also marked the first time that two Canadians were lottery picks in the same draft.

"For Bennett to do that, that was amazing," Olynyk said. "I almost got just as excited to hear his name at No. 1 as mine. It's great for Canada Basketball. . . . Canada Basketball's really on the rise."

And Olynyk should be a part of that for years to come. He already has competed with the national men's team, and may possibly have another opportunity to do so again this summer.

And for the superstitious, Ken Olynyk thinks it's only fitting that Kelly went with the No. 13 pick.

"I said, 'He wears No. 13, Dallas picks 13th in the 2013 draft - it's gotta happen,' " Ken said. "We're really pleased that it did happen."

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