Kelly Olynyk returned from a three-game suspension to make his season debut at the Old Spice Classic in November. He was roughly 20 months removed from his last official Gonzaga game, thanks to a redshirt season.
Olynyk offered a sample of what was to come by averaging 11.7 points and 5.7 rebounds in three wins, earning all-tournament honors.
“I’m not surprised at all,” senior forward Elias Harris said at the time. “I practiced against him the whole time so I know what he’s capable of. He can play way better than that, too.”
Harris couldn’t have been more correct. Olynyk emerged as a dominant force, posting back-to-back 30-point games and scoring in double figures in Gonzaga’s last 26 contests. WCC coaches on Tuesday rewarded the 7-foot junior with conference player of the year honors.
Olynyk is the 11th Zag to receive the award, the first since Matt Bouldin in 2010.
“It was unbelievable, definitely a rocky road and it wasn’t as smooth as it looks on the court, but it’s a great honor,” Olynyk said of the journey. “There have been great guys that have won this honor before me, but this is all about our team. We’re team-first people.”
Senior guard Mike Hart was named defensive player of the year, one season after ex-Zag Robert Sacre won the award. Mark Few earned coach of the year honors for the ninth time in his 14 seasons.
“I’m a little surprised,” Hart said. “It definitely felt good, but I almost wish I was sharing it with my other backcourt mate (Gary Bell Jr.). We kind of tag-teamed it the whole year, switching off on who had the (key) guy on the other team.”
Olynyk, Harris and sophomore guard Kevin Pangos were voted to the 10-member All-WCC team. It was Harris’ third selection and Pangos’ second. Harris was honorable mention as a sophomore. Pepperdine freshman Stacy Davis was newcomer of the year.
Bell made honorable mention, along with Portland’s Ryan Nicholas (Gonzaga Prep). Center Przemek Karnowski was on the five-player All-Freshman team.
Olynyk averages 17.7 points and 7.0 rebounds. He made nearly 67 percent of his field-goal attempts to rank second nationally. Hart played an important role on a defense that limited WCC foes to 60.1 points and 38.5 percent shooting.
“Mike’s impact is felt in so many ways. For the coaches to see that and reward a guy that doesn’t score a lot is really nice,” Few said. “Kelly had a phenomenal year, such an efficient year.”
Gonzaga is 179-21 in conference in Few’s 14 seasons. His 80.1 winning percentage is first nationally among active coaches.
Harris contributes 14.6 points and a team-high 7.5 rebounds. Pangos, the only Zag to start all 31 games, averages 11.7 points and 3.3 assists. Bell made 50 3-pointers and averaged 9.3 points. Karnowski averaged 5.7 points.
Back to work
Few said it was an honor for Gonzaga (29-2) to be ranked No. 1 when both major polls were released Monday. “It seems to be a lot of hysteria around town, but this team is pretty grounded,” Few said. “Everybody is honored by this and feels great about it, but our greatest motivator is we want to keep playing together as long as we can.”
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