Sports

Kamloops kid enjoying breakout season

Kelly Olynyk of Kamloops is enjoying the best season of his college basketball career with the Gonzaga Bulldogs. - Torrey Vail photo
Kelly Olynyk of Kamloops is enjoying the best season of his college basketball career with the Gonzaga Bulldogs.
— image credit: Torrey Vail photo

It takes a village to raise a child.

That’s what Arlene Olynyk always says — and it holds true for her own son, Kelly, who is fast developing into a basketball star at Gonzaga University in Spokane, Wash.

“It’s tough when we start naming people because there is going to be someone who says, ‘Well, I had a lot to do with Kelly’s basketball career and upbringing, too,’ and they’re exactly correct,” said Ken Olynyk, Kelly’s father.

The seven-foot forward leads Gonzaga in scoring this season, averaging 18.2 points per game for the Bulldogs, who, at 19-2,  hold seventh spot in the  NCAA Division 1 rankings.

Kelly is fielding more media requests than ever, especially after being named West Coast Conference player of the month for December.

It’s flattering, Kelly said, but the big man feels reporters might be giving him too much credit.

“It’s not just me,” he said.

“It’s more the team right now and how good of a season our team is having. Our team is having the best season Gonzaga’s ever had right now.

“With the way I’m scoring, a lot of it is because of what other people on the floor are doing.”

True.

It also has a lot to do with the people who helped him get to where he is today.

Kelly lived in Toronto — where Ken, now the athletic director at TRU, coached the University of Toronto Varsity Blues  — before moving to Kamloops in Grade 7.

Glen Grunwald, current GM of the New York Knicks and an Olynyk family friend, was among Kelly’s mentors back east.

In Kamloops, the list includes Del Komarniski, head coach of the senior boys at South Kamloops secondary, and Russ Ferguson, Kelly’s coach with the Titans in his junior years.

“Del, he worked with me a lot,” said Kelly, who is being pegged by some experts to go late in the first round or early in the second at this summer’s NBA Draft.

“Even now when I go back home, I still work out with him. He was a huge influence in my development.

“In Kamloops, there are a lot of people that helped me. People at TRU . . .  a lot of people helped me. Too many to name.”

The towering forward, who has gained 50 pounds since moving to Spokane in 2009, is also a product of Basketball B.C. and its coaches, including Paul Eberhardt and Rich Goulet.

Greg Francis, who coached Kelly with the National Elite Development Academy and with the junior national team for two summers, also deserves credit for the 21-year-old’s blossoming career.

The coaching staff at Gonzaga, former Canadian senior men’s team head coach Leo Rautins . . . the list goes on.

Kelly got off to a decent start with the Bulldogs in his freshman year, but struggled to get minutes in his sophomore season playing behind NBA prospects Robert Sacre, a fellow Canadian, and Elias Harris.

“There was some frustration for him early,” Ken said.

“He started four of the first five games and, after that, he didn’t start. His minutes went up slightly from his freshman year, but not to the extent that he would have liked.

“He had to make a decision.”

Kelly chose to redshirt during the 2011-2012 campaign, meaning he would practise with the team, but wouldn’t play and the season would not count against his college eligibility.

It turned out to be a prudent decision.

“He grew up and his game grew up,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few told the Associated Press.

“In the past, he was a little out of control and made a lot of turnovers. Now, he is in control and his game is more mature.”

Kelly needed to improve his inside game before he could emerge as a starter and that’s exactly what he did during the redshirt season.

“I got into the weight room and worked on my body and worked on my skills,” he said.

Now, with the help of their starting junior centre, the Bulldogs are poised to make noise when March Madness rolls around.

“Right now, the goal at Gonzaga is to make the Final Four and see how far we can take this,” Kelly said.

“After Gonzaga, the goal is to play in the NBA, as it is for every kid who plays basketball.”

The former Titan grew up emulating his favourite Toronto Raptors — Doug Christie, Alvin Williams, Jerome Williams and Vince Carter, to name a few.

When he moved to B.C., Kelly followed the Phoenix Suns and MVP guard Steve Nash.

The Kamloops product has become recognizable for his long hair, like Nash once was, but what do his parents think about the new style?

“I don’t care and his mother doesn’t care,” Ken said.

“It’s a bit of an identifier for him. Everybody knows that long-haired kid from Gonzaga.”

Opposing fans certainly know who he is, as evidenced by the “Get a haircut!” chants.

The plan is to cut the long locks and raise money for cancer research, but the shears are not coming out any time soon.

“I’m not trying to change it right now in the middle of the season,” said Kelly, who scored a career-high 33 points against Santa Clara on Jan. 5.

“Give it to the end of the season before I do anything drastic.”

Kelly is barely old enough to legally enjoy a Budweiser in the U.S., but he is already a role model for young basketball players in the River City.

“It’s great that they can see a guy from their small town and have someone to look up to and have someone to model their game and their path after,” Kelly said.

“Once you see that it’s possible and that it’s happened, it gives hope and direction for all these young aspiring kids.

“I think it’s a great thing for basketball in Kamloops.”

Most tend to agree.

 

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