Any of this nation's night owls who were in search of a basketball jones-induced bliss got it Thursday, thanks to GCB (Good Canadian Boy) Kelly Olynyk. The Gonzaga Bulldogs centre's season has already been called a "perfect storm" and well, the 7-foot NBA prospect had a perfect shooting line during a big gut-check win over BYU.
Try 9-for-9 from the floor and 8-for-8 on free throws for 26 points in the 10th-ranked 'Zags' 83-63 win over BYU. The Kamloops, B.C., native also had nine rebounds, a team-high five assists (he was a point guard growing up, remember), a blocked shot and wasn't even whistled for a single foul, a far cry from his first two seasons at Gonzaga. Plus he had a good hair day while affirming he's front-runner to be West Coast Conference player of the year, a honour a certain point guard from Victoria earned twice in the mid-1990s.
That late contested foul-line jumper at the end of the Sportscenter recap preserved the perfect night. Gonzaga coach Mark Few, with a high double-digit lead, got Olynyk off the floor moments later. There is much more to it than hey! look! This Canadian guy can play basketball! though. Dedicated Gonzaga watchers have become accustomed to seeing this from Olynyk (the blog The Slipper Still Fits merely noted, "Olynyk did what Olynyk does"). How Olynyk got to this point is quite remarkable. While he has a great basketball bloodline — his father Ken Olynyk is a former national team coach and head coach of the University of Toronto who is now director of athletics and recreation at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops, B.C. — his transformation is inspiring.
Kelly Olynyk struggled in 2009-10 and '10-11 at Gonzaga. He was a perimeter player in a post man's body, who came out of South Kamloops Secondary School at 6-foot-10 and 205 pounds.
Coming into 2011, the 'Zags had fellow B.C. native Robert Sacre, now a Los Angeles Lakers teammate of Steve Nash, in the low post. Olynyk faced a choice between transferring and sitting out a season or redshirting at Gonzaga to avoid burning a year of eligibility as collecting table scraps of playing time. As Jim Meehan of the Spokane Spokesman-Review outlined last week, Olynyk and Gonzaga strength coach Travis Knight basically spent the year transforming him from the ankles up.
Olynyk put in the gym hours, refining his game.
“One of the managers would come in with him every night, mornings, nights, weekends,” senior forward Mike Hart said. “Everything he’s getting now he deserves because he put in the time.”
Meanwhile, Knight put together a program consisting of 50 percent weight training and 50 percent “trying to get his mind and body to move at a faster pace, to process things at a faster rate. He was prone to charges and bowling into guys and picking up cheap fouls. We focused on helping him get more agile.”
Knight, a former Gonzaga baseball player, borrowed drills once used by Edgar Martinez and Kirby Puckett. Knight marked tennis balls with letters or numbers to signify Olynyk’s right or left hand and right or left foot.
“Then we began throwing in a lot of different factors, throwing tennis balls while doing footwork exercises,” Knight said. “We experimented constantly to get his feet and hands to work in all these different combinations so the second he was ready to do something, his body was ready to do it.”
Olynyk called it “functional agility, improving my overall athleticism. Anything he said, I did. It was his project and I was the experiment.”
Knight constantly changed the exercises to keep Olynyk’s creative mind engaged. To enhance Olynyk’s vertical explosion, Knight tossed a medicine ball off the backboard and Olynyk from a standing start would jump up and tip the ball at the rim. Using an assortment of cords and cables, Knight pushed and pulled Olynyk, “doing anything to get him off balance so he would get better at fighting that tendency to be off balance.”
In the weight room, Knight focused on “strength you can apply. We tried to do as much weight work with him standing up (because) you don’t play basketball on your back.”
The results were impressive. Olynyk’s body fat dropped by 2 percent and he’s added lean muscle mass. Unable to do a pull-up when he arrived, Olynyk now belts out 15. His running vertical tested at 32 inches, pretty good for a 7-footer. About three weeks later, Olynyk had made a 7-inch improvement.
“When he came in he had no upper body and an undeveloped lower body. He looked almost upside down,” Knight said. “Now he has more shape to his lower body and his upper body looks really good.” (Spokane Spokesman-Review)
Now he's a beast who demurs from taking credit and spreads it to his more unsung teammates. Since Olynyk plays on the west coast and most of the Canadian media will be focused on hockey 24/7 before doing a drop-in on college hoops come NCAA tournament time, his perfect shooting night might have stayed under the radar. It was a window into why he could be following Sacre's path from the B.C. high school ranks to the NCAA D-I mid-major in Spokane to the NBA.
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet. Please address any questions, comments or concerns to firstname.lastname@example.org.