Olynyk ready to do what it takes for Celtics

Olynyk ready to do what it takes for Celtics
June 28, 2013, 12:30 pm
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Kelly Olynyk’s life changed in an instant when the Boston Celtics traded up in the 2013 NBA Draft to acquire him with the 13th overall pick. One adjustment he will face doesn’t have anything to do with basketball – the Canadian seven-footer with recognizable locks will need to find a salon in Beantown.

“He's never cut his hair in the USA,” Gonzaga University assistant coach Tommy Lloyd shared. “He's only had (haircuts) in Canada and he hasn't had one in a long time.”

Selecting a new spot for a cut and blow dry is nothing compared to adaptations Olynyk has made to get to this point in his career. He joined the Gonzaga Bulldogs men’s basketball team in 2009 coming off a seven-inch growth spurt in high school that transformed him from a guard to a big man.

Olynyk had the skills of a perimeter player that needed to be honed for the frontcourt and a body he had to physically strengthen. While he was committed, his opportunities to improve in game action was limited his first two seasons by the depth on the Bulldogs squad. He averaged under 14 minutes per game as a freshman and sophomore.

Olynyk had potential, though, and there was a way to maximize it. He redshirted his junior year, spending the season working on his body and overall game to be ready when more minutes became available at his new position.

“Kelly's first two years at Gonzaga he was a backup,” Lloyd told CSNNE.com in a telephone interview Thursday evening. “He wasn't playing more than 15 minutes a game, but he had flashes of brilliance and it was just a matter of time to where his physical development caught up with his skill set a little bit. To his credit, most guys who play on the perimeter like him, that's all they do, they're afraid of contact. Kelly was never afraid of contact but he wasn't strong enough to deal with it. Once he got strong enough, he really embraced being able to be an inside player as well.”

During the day Olynyk could be found shooting with coaches or putting in extra weight lifting sessions. He committed himself to the team even when he wasn’t playing and came back to the court after hours to fit in additional training.

“Kelly was a guy who was squeezing every bit of work out of himself … Some guys do it for a week, Kelly did it every night religiously and he's reaped the rewards,” said Lloyd, also noting, “His redshirt year he started to put together a consistent string of practices over a month or two-month period where you were like, ‘Wow, this guy is really showing something.’ I think going into this season I was pretty comfortable with the thought that Kelly was going to be an NBA player. It happened pretty fast at a pretty high level for him to be a lottery pick.”

The results of Olynyk’s hard work were obvious last season when he returned to the court. He averaged 17.8 points, 7.3 rebounds, 1.1 blocks in 26.4 minutes per game, earning All-American and West Coast Conference Player of the Year honors. Olynyk also ranked third in the nation in field goal shooting at 62.9 percent.

He thrived off the court, excelling in the classroom. Olynyk graduated from Gonzaga in three-and-a-half years and began his MBA last season. He was also named to 2013 Academic All-America Team. Lloyd says Olynyk is very process-oriented and sees his intellect translating into basketball.

“Kelly has the ability to learn and adapt,” he said. “He's going to have certain struggles in the NBA and I think he's going to have the ability to overcome them because he's a very motivated hard worker but he's also very smart. He can understand what his shortcomings are and try to adjust them, he can understand what the coaches are telling him and the reasons why they want him to do those things, so he's a really good learner.”

Olynyk, 22, will begin learning about the NBA on a team learning about itself. The Celtics will send veterans Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Jason Terry to the Brooklyn Nets, ushering in a new group of teammates. Lloyd considers playing within a team, regardless who the players are, one of Olynyk’s biggest strengths.

“He's a great team player,” said Lloyd. “He's going to be dependent on his teammates to play well and he'll help them play well. He can drive, he's a good passer, he can play the high-low game, and he can also score inside with a pick-and-roll. (He can) lead and assess situations on the floor and make decisions most people would usually expect guards to make.”

Lloyd compares Olynyk’s game to that of Pau Gasol, noting his inside-out game and passing abilities – “They have great size and great instincts and a high level of understanding how to play the game so they don't have to rely on athleticism,” he assessed.

Yet Olynyk sets himself apart in his own ways, for far more than just his hair.

“Kelly is every coach's dream, every parent's dream,” said Lloyd. “He's a high achiever in everything he does, whether it's basketball or school or socially. He's somebody who's not motivated by money or prestige or fame—he’s motivated by being the best at whatever he's trying to do. He comes with a pretty genuine, wholesome approach to being an NBA player. He was raised to strive for success and understand there's a process and you have to work for it.”