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Former Gonzaga standout Kelly Olynyk embracing his veteran role with Miami Heat, Canadian National Team

By Stephen Hunt For The Spokesman-Review

DALLAS – This season marks Kelly Olynyk’s third in Miami and seventh in the NBA, and the affable big man is drawing on his previous experiences to help younger teammates acclimate to life in the league.

“Yeah, definitely more of a vet now,” Olynyk said prior to a recent Heat road win in Dallas. “This is my seventh year in the NBA, which is crazy to think I’ve been out of college for seven years. It’s a long time. When I came into the league, I had some guys that brought me along, showed me the way, taught me the ins and outs. That’s what you want to do. You want these kids to succeed and have great careers. (You want to) help them find a niche and stay in the league, helping them do whatever they can to reach their potential.”

A great example of his positive mentorship is Tyler Herro, the 13th pick in the 2019 NBA draft out of Kentucky who has turned heads as a rookie. Herro credits his quick acclimation to the professional ranks to the great tutelage of veterans like Jimmy Butler and Olynyk.

“He’s a great teammate, definitely someone who is easy to talk to, especially me as a young guy,” Herro said of Olynyk. “He’s been in the league for a while, so he’s shined some light on me, especially being on that second unit together. We play a lot together. It’s great, being able to play with him. He definitely spaces the floor with his shooting ability, but he’s much more than just a shooter.”

Olynyk, 28, was the 13th overall pick in the 2013 NBA draft by Dallas, who then dealt his rights to Boston on draft night. He was a Zag between 2009 and 2013, leaving Spokane after his junior season.

And as he looks around the league now, he likes seeing the contingent of ex-Bulldogs in the NBA, a fraternity bolstered by the recent arrival of Rui Hachimura and Brandon Clarke, continuing to grow.

“There’s a lot more now. They’re coming,” Olynyk said. “There’s obviously him (Hachimura), BC (Brandon Clarke), I know (Damontas) Sabonis is playing phenomenal. Unfortunately, Zach (Collins) got hurt early in the year. He was poised to have a really good season too. He was poised to start I think and make a jump, which is too bad for him but hopefully he can rehab, get better and come back. Every couple of games, you’re seeing a guy from Gonzaga, which is pretty cool. It’s fun.”

And speaking of fellow former Zags, Olynyk is one of several ex-Bulldogs who figure to be part of the Canadian national team in their quest to qualify for the 2020 Summer Olympics next year.

“We could have four (Gonzaga guys on that team), you never know. It would be great,” he said. “Gonzaga’s done a great job opening that pipeline to Canada and it’s worked out well so far. (Kevin) Pangos has been obviously a great player his whole career overseas. He’s had injuries these past years, but when he’s healthy, he’s a great basketball player with a high, high IQ.

“Brandon Clarke’s come out of nowhere the last couple years. He’s just learning and growing. An unbelievable person and high-character guy, salt of the earth. Just one of those guys you want on your team, plays super hard, so it will be cool to see him come back and play for Canada. I don’t think he has for a while. And then, if Kyle (Wiltjer) gets healthy, Kyle can really, really score. He’s super, super skilled in a lot of facets of the game and he’s demonstrated that at basically all levels. You always have a chance to make a team with that.”

For the rest of this season, Olynyk is focused on helping the Heat win as many games as possible and make a deep run into the NBA playoffs.

Of course, he also realizes that a shot of a lifelong dream of being an Olympian is in his future, a process which will culminate with the qualifying tournament in British Columbia, where he grew up.

“We still got to qualify, but we got the qualifying tournament in Victoria, which is huge for us,” Olynyk said. “It’s a goal and a dream to play in the Olympics. To be Olympians, it’s big time. Just want to help Canada get back on that world stage is something that’s always been a goal of mine, a dream of mine and something I’m passionate about. It’s something that I’m looking forward to this summer for and I’m hoping we get that opportunity.”

For much of his NBA career, Olynyk has come off the bench. So far this season, he has helped bolster a Miami second unit that is among the league’s best. One reason he continues to make a positive impact is because his years in the NBA have taught him that flexibility in terms of his role and what his coach, Erik Spoelstra, asks him to do, is key.

“You’re just trying to go out there and help the team win whatever that role may be. Obviously, roles change year-to-year, month-to-month and game-to-game,” Olynyk said. “Whatever the team needs of you is what you put together, whether it’s some spacing or shooting, mismatches, facilitation, screening, whatever. That’s what I’ve embodied and bring into this role now. It’s different game-to-game, but just making sure, whatever it is, it’s helping the team win.”

Stephen Hunt is a freelance writer based in Frisco, Texas.