Prior to the Old Spice Classic, the last time Kelly Olynyk played in an official Gonzaga basketball game was during a loss to BYU in Denver at the 2011 NCAA tournament.
He didn’t wait long to make an impact in his return. The 7-foot Canadian forward earned all-tournament honors by averaging 11.7 points and 5.7 rebounds in three GU victories. He started in the opener against Clemson and started the second half against Davidson in the title game.
Olynyk showed little rust after roughly 20 months between games. He averaged 23.3 minutes.
“At the start it was a little tough because you haven’t done it in so long, but you get into the flow pretty quickly,” said Olynyk, who redshirted last season and missed the first three games this season for violating the student conduct code. “It’s what you do your whole life. It’s what you live for.
“We’ve focused on conditioning a little more as a team this year so that helps, but the first time out there it was way different in a game. It was a little tough and I was sucking wind a bit.”
Olynyk’s versatility was on display. He made one jump shot from just barely inside the 3-point arc. He scored on a runner from about 12 feet. He went to the free-throw line 12 times, converting nine. He guarded mobile, athletic power forwards and centers. He had a key block on Davidson forward De’Mon Brooks and drew two charging fouls.
“Our bigs thought they could just take Olynyk because they see a 7-footer on the perimeter,” said Wildcats coach Bob McKillop, who wasn’t endorsing the plan. The strategy worked a few times, but more often Olynyk held his ground.
“He’s big and we keep trying to encourage him to play big but for a 7-footer he moves his feet pretty good,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said.
Olynyk made four starts and played in 69 games, averaging about 13 minutes, in his first two seasons. He made 57.4 percent of his field-goal attempts, including 12 of 27 3-pointers (44.4 percent) as a sophomore. His role figures to be bigger, if the Old Spice is any indication.
“He did a tremendous job,” said forward Elias Harris, who was the tournament MVP. “I’m not surprised at all. I practiced against him the whole time so I know what he’s capable of and he really showed it. He can play way better than that, too, so I’m looking forward to seeing more out of him.”
Olynyk has been growing his hair out since August 2011.
“I just grew it at the start, but I think I’m going to cut it for cancer (patients), maybe Locks of Love,” he said. “I’m still looking into it. I know it has to be pretty long.”
Olynyk said it was tough to sit out the first three games, but the way his teammates cruised to three victories made it more tolerable as he watched from the bench. He declined to discuss his code violation.
“I kind of want to get through it,” he said. “It’s in the past and it’s been dealt with. I’m moving forward and looking forward to a great season.”
Former Gonzaga forward Ryan Spangler didn’t attend the Old Spice Classic with his Oklahoma teammates. According to NCAA rules, he would have had to pay his own way as a transfer sitting out this season.
Spangler is fitting in just fine with his new program.
“He’s been terrific in practice,” Sooners coach Lon Kruger said following a 72-47 loss to GU in the semifinals. “He loved the staff out there, everything about it. It was just too far from home. I think he’s really going to help us.”
The 6-foot-8 Spangler, who played in 22 games as a true freshman, announced his transfer from Gonzaga in April. Roughly three weeks later, 7-foot-1 Polish center Przemek Karnowski committed to Gonzaga. Had Spangler stayed at GU, he probably would have redshirted, considering the front-court options of Olynyk, Karnowski, Harris and Sam Dower.
Normally division championships are celebrated with champagne showers in the locker room. The Spokane Indians settled for cheering and high fives on a crowded bus.
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