Gonzaga star forward has style, versatility
“His personality is kind of like his basketball game. He plays different. He’s a different kind of player. He’s definitely a guy that has his own style.” Roman banks, Southern coach on Gonzaga’s Kelly Olynyk
Watching film of the Gonzaga men’s basketball team this week, Southern coach Roman Banks had little trouble spotting Zags star Kelly Olynyk.
For one thing, Olynyk was everywhere he looked: shooting from the outside, posting on the inside, everywhere.
But Olynyk is the kind of guy who would get noticed standing still.
A junior center from British Columbia, Canada, the 7-foot Olynyk (o-LINN-ik) wears a navy headband and long brown hair that stretches to his shoulders.
“I like to say that a player’s personality fits their game,” Banks said. “I definitely think that’s the case with him.”
Like the player’s physical appearance, Banks said Olynyk’s game has a style all its own.
“His personality is kind of like his basketball game,” Banks said. “He plays different. He’s a different kind of player. He’s definitely a guy that has his own style.”
Finding a way to slow Olynyk will be a key for Southern, the No. 16 seed in the West Region, when the Jaguars face No. 1 seed Gonzaga on Thursday in the NCAA tournament.
Very much an unknown when the season began, Olynyk has emerged as a finalist for the John R. Wooden Award and the Oscar Robertson Trophy.
While leading Gonzaga to the first No. 1 ranking in school history, Olynyk averaged 17.2 points, 7.2 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per game. He was named the West Coast Conference player of the year.
“I don’t think it happened all of a sudden,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “I think he’s slowly positioned himself (for national awards) over the course of the year.”
Olynyk’s explosion on the national scene comes a year after he agreed to take a redshirt season to help develop his game.
Olynyk had made little impact on the Zags as a freshman and sophomore, and Gonzaga entered the 2011-12 season with Robert Sacre, who was drafted by the Los Angeles Lakers after his senior year, leading a logjam of talent on the interior.
Olynyk, who hit a growth spurt around his junior year of high school, had played guard most his life.
Few wanted him to stop spending so much time on the perimeter and become more aggressively engaged in banging down low. So he pitched the idea of a redshirt.
Olynyk and his family agreed.
“It was just a matter of him getting his body up to speed, and I think the redshirt year really helped him mentally for understanding just how effective a player he could be both inside and outside instead of just on the perimeter,” Few said.
The way he has played this season, Olynyk could soon become the poster child for midcareer redshirts.
“My development last year — not only developing my body, but developing my game — has attributed to that comfort and that confidence,” Olynyk said when asked about his confidence entering the tournament.
“But my teammates have done a great job in believing in me and in giving me that confidence to go and do the things that I do.”
With his out-of-nowhere success and his unique, easy-to-spot appearance, it’s easy to see why Olynyk has begun to command so much national attention.
It helps, of course, that Gonzaga is riding high.
Once known as any high-seeded opponent’s March Madness nightmare, Gonzaga was ranked first nationally as the regular season ended and enters the NCAA tournament as a No. 1 seed for the first time.
But nobody knows better than the Zags, with their stockpile of upsets from years gone by, to beware the underdog.
“There are a lot of great teams in this bracket, a lot of teams that won a lot of games this year,” Olynyk said. “We just have to come out and play our style of basketball and just be ready every night. Even Southern is going to be ready to play. They won their conference, their conference tournament, this year. So we can’t look past that.”
Banks said Olynyk’s versatility is one reason Gonzaga enters the Big Dance this year in a favorite’s role.
“He’ll be the first big man we’ve played all year that has the versatile game he has,” Banks said.
“He can play with his back to the basket. He can step away and hit shots from the outside. He runs the floor very well in transition.”
In other words, there is more to like about Olynyk than his big frame and long hair.