A Diamond in the Rough: The Rise of Kelly Olynyk

Gonzaga's Kelly Olynyk (13) looks up in the second half during a third-round game against Wichita State in the NCAA college b
Gonzaga's Kelly Olynyk (13) looks up in the second half during a third-round game against Wichita State in the NCAA college basketball tournament in Salt Lake City Saturday, March 23, 2013. Wichita State defeated Gonzaga 76-70. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

Kelly Olynyk is the shining example of how patience truly is a virtue.

After coming to Gonzaga as a freshmen in 2009, Olynyk had aspirations of becoming one of the best players in college basketball and to eventually lead the Bull Dogs to a national championship.

After two seasons with Gonzaga, he was not able to earn consistent playing time on the court and averaged an unassuming 4.8 points per game and 3.25 rebounds in only 12.9 minutes.

No one saw the potential that laid within his 7'0", 238 pound Canadian frame, besides Olynyk himself.

Olynyk made the conscious and mature decision to redshirt in the 2011-2012 season, in the hopes of mitigating his weaknesses and enhancing his strengths in an attempt to lead Gonzaga to a national title.

With a full year away from the game, Olynyk was poised to blossom. Olynyk was paired with Gonzaga's strength and conditioning coach, Travis Knight, and Knight saw the vast potential which Olynyk possessed. Knight noted earlier this season about Olynyk, "We all knew something special was coming."

And so did Olynyk, since he always believed in his abilities.

At the start of the 2012-2013 season, four Gonzaga players were selected to the preseason first, second, or third teams for the West Coast Conference. However, Olynyk was omitted from that list.

To say that Kelly was underrated is an understatement. Since there was no pressure on him to perform at a high level -- besides the pressure he put on himself to succeed -- there was no where to go but up.

Olynyk led the Zags to a #1 Associated Press top 25 ranking for the first time in school history with a record of 31-2.

The Canadian made a case for an All-American spot and consideration for National Player of the Year with averages of 17.8 points and 7.3 rebounds per game with just under 27 minutes played per game.

Olynyk proved that by having patience and a clear calculated plan for the future, things seem to inevitably work out.

A native of Toronto and Kamloops, a district in interior British Columbia, Olynyk has catapulted himself into the NBA lottery with his stellar performance in the 2012-2013 college basketball season.

What seemed unfathomable just a few months earlier, Kelly Olynyk could be something special at the next level, playing alongside other NBA caliber players.

So how does Olynyk's skillset and talent translate to the NBA?

At first glance, Olynyk may be the most fluid big man, in terms of athleticism and agility, I have seen in recent years. He was a point guard his entire life until he grew seven inches in his junior year of high school.

Like the 2012 No. 1 overall draft pick, Anthony Davis, Olynyk essentially is a guard thrusted into a big man's body.

However, in the case of Olynyk, he is not slight of frame and a finesse player by any means. He is a solid bruiser in the paint and has the ability to stretch the floor with his shooting ability as well as his comfort level on the perimeter.

The 7'0" center from Canada could be a steal in this upcoming NBA Draft. Most mock drafts have him ranked between the 11th pick and 15th pick. But I would not be surprised if a team drafted in with a top seven pick.

No one can discount the potential of a Ben McLemore of the Kansas Jay Hawks, shooting guard extraordinaire. His ability to shoot the ball and attack the rim with unbridled athleticism makes him a viable option as the number one overall pick come June.

Then you have the reliable Marcus Smart from Oklahoma State University, who has the potential to be a dominant defensive lead guard with athleticism currently unmatched -- besides a Derek Rose or a Russell Westbrook -- in the Association.

Other top prospects in the draft include Georgetown's Otto Porter, the wing player with all of the offensive tools and a vast defensive range, Cody Zeller and Victor Oladipo, the Indiana Hoosier standout's, and perhaps UCLA's Shabazz Mohammed and Kentucky's Nerlens Noel, who is recovering from a devastating knee injury.

This list of college players all could have a bright future in the league, and perhaps even live up to All-Star expectations that will be placed on them due to their high draft position. Players like McLemore and Smart could be stars the moment they step onto an NBA court. Yes there will be growing pains, but they should be successful in the league.

But there is a player in this draft who could have the highest ceiling, or in other words, the highest worth to a franchise. And that player is Kelly Olynyk.

He only averaged 2.3 fouls per game, so it is apparent that he does not get in foul trouble, the way most uncoordinated big men usually do. In 26.4 minutes a night, Kelly Olynyk produced at a rate that was truly outstanding.

How Kelly Olynyk's Skills Transfer to the NBA


Every NBA team is in need of a 7'0"-er. Do not tell the Miami Heat, but a capable 7'0"-er is capable of changing the fortunes of a franchise.

Olynyk, as stated above, has guard-like skills. He can dribble with both his left or right hand, and can drive to the basket from 18 feet out with speed, agility and power. He is also extremely crafty around the rim and can finish with both hands. Olynyk has range from 18 feet out, stretching to the three-point mark. His shooting form is fantastic for a player his size and he is an extremely capable free throw shooter.

On top of his shooting prowess, Olynyk is able to find all of the necessary angles on the low blocks to score, and is able to position himself consistently for open layups and fadeaway baseline jumpers.

One may think that a 7'0" center fading away from the basket is a terrible shot, but with his balance, coordination, and shooting touch, he reminds me of a Dirk Nowitzki with his patented fadeaway.


If you just break down the film of the second round loss to Wichita State in the NCAA tournament, you see that Olynyk is one of the most talented passing big men in college basketball. He can make pinpoint passes from the high post as well as from block to block. Since he was a guard for the majority of his life, Olynyk has incredible court vision and a feel for the game that is unmatched by any center in college basketball and even the NBA.

The only player one could compare Kelly Olynyk to as a passer in the league today would be Andrew Bogut. Bogut was the number one overall pick in the 2005 draft by the Milwaukee Bucks and has had a relatively productive career, but nothing that would warrant an All-Star selection.

Olynyk is a rich man's version of Golden State Warrior's center, Andrew Bogut. He may be slightly larger, but he is a better shooter, and is a fantastic passer.

Olynyk is one of the most intriguing stories in college basketball.

Out of nowhere, a star was born through dedication and patience. Olynyk may have set a trend by sitting out a year to work his game. Perhaps others will follow in his footsteps.

Olynyk potentially could be the best player in this draft five years from now.

He is NBA ready in terms of his skill-set and his size.

Again, a Ben McLemore or a Nerlens Noel may have superstar potential, but Olynyk is a safe, and even sexy pick.

On the high-end of the spectrum, Olynyk could have a ceiling of Hall of Famer Bill Walton. He is a dynamic scorer and a terrific passer. Walton was saddled by injuries throughout his career, but his peak was arguably as great as any other center in league history. Walton won a title in 1977 with the Portland Trail Blazers so Olynyk has a lot to live up to, but the physical and mental tools are certainly present.

On the low-end, Olynyk would be a rich man's Vlade Divac. Divac could shoot the ball and pass with the best of them. He was never a franchise player, but was a key cog on countless of Sacramento Kings teams' at the turn of the millennium that made deep runs into the postseason.

The ball is essentially in Olynyk's court. He has the potential to be one of the best 7'0"-ers the game has seen since Shaquille O'Neal; since Dwight Howard is merely 6'10" and maybe even 6'9". When watching him on the court adjacent to other 6'10" players, such as Earl Clark, he looks smaller.

Kelly Olynyk was a diamond in the rough and hopefully an NBA team can reap the fruits of Olynyk's labor. He took the time to shine his proverbial diamond, and now he can only thank himself for his national acclaim.

We know he can take time off to work on his game, but now that being an NBA player will be his full-time job, it is apparent that he will work non-stop to achieve greatness.

Because that is what the greats do, and have always done.