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Sports >  Gonzaga basketball

With Utah, Kelly Olynyk continues to prove he can play an important role in the NBA

March 13, 2023 Updated Thu., April 13, 2023 at 3:26 p.m.

Utah Jazz forward Kelly Olynyk and Dallas Mavericks guard Spencer Dinwiddie battle on Nov. 2 at the American Airlines Center in Dallas.  (Tribune News Service)
Utah Jazz forward Kelly Olynyk and Dallas Mavericks guard Spencer Dinwiddie battle on Nov. 2 at the American Airlines Center in Dallas. (Tribune News Service)
By Stephen Hunt For The Spokesman-Review

DALLAS – On paper, the Utah Jazz are the fifth different team Kelly Olynyk has suited up for since being drafted 13th overall by Dallas in the 2013 NBA draft. However, the affable Gonzaga product, who had his number retired by the Zags in 2022, is quick to point out that calling him an NBA journeyman is a bit misleading.

“Yeah, it’s weird because the first eight years, I was only in two spots. It feels like I’ve bounced around a lot, but really, I was on four teams the past two years and a half,” Olynyk, 31, said before a recent road game in Dallas. “That’s really where the bounce has been. I’ve been traded for twice now, signed new deals in different places.”

Prior to Utah, he has also played in Boston, which acquired his rights on draft night from Dallas, Miami, Houston, and Detroit, which traded him to Utah last fall. In 56 games with the Jazz, all starts, he is averaging 12.1 points, 5.6 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game, and his impact is being felt in various ways. “Yeah, it’s been a great opportunity for me coming to a spot where there’s an opportunity for me to contribute and help this team in different ways,” Olynyk said.

“I’m one of the guys with the most years on the team. I think it’s Rudy Gay and me. We’re just teaching these young guys how to be professional, how to approach the game, how to play basketball at a high level, keep working, keep getting better, keep taking steps forward and just enjoying it in the process.”

However, maybe the highlight of this season came on Dec. 5, when he saw his No. 13 jersey raised to the rafters at the McCarthey Athletic Center, the fourth Zag to be so honored. It was a fitting if somewhat unexpected honor for a player who named a consensus All-American, West Coast Conference Player of the Year, and first-team All-WCC in his final season with the Bulldogs.

“Definitely surreal. It’s something you don’t really think about and growing up you don’t really dream about seeing your jersey retired,” Olynyk said. “You think about playing the game, making shots, going to the tournament, playing in the NBA, so it’s like something that comes with the territory. It’s a symbol of your hard work, dedication, and your impact on the program. It was pretty cool to see. It was definitely a surreal moment but looking back, something I’ll cherish forever.”

Former Gonzaga standout Kelly Olynyk, who now plays for the Utah Jazz, reacts during a ceremony to hang his no. 13 jersey before the start of the first half of a college basketball game on Monday, Dec. 5, 2022, at McCarthey Athletic Center in Spokane, Wash.  (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)
Former Gonzaga standout Kelly Olynyk, who now plays for the Utah Jazz, reacts during a ceremony to hang his no. 13 jersey before the start of the first half of a college basketball game on Monday, Dec. 5, 2022, at McCarthey Athletic Center in Spokane, Wash. (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review) Buy this photo

Returning to Spokane for such a special event only reinforced how grateful he is for being part of the Gonzaga family. “Yeah, I loved my time there. Obviously, you wish we could have gone farther and won a couple more games, but just the community, the program, the fan base, the teammates, coaches, people you meet along the way, lasting friendships, that stuff is irreplaceable,” he said.

“I love meeting up with guys you played with or went to school with or coaches, just reliving those moments and sharing those stories, knowing that you’ll always have those memories. It’s fun to look back on them. It’s awesome. I wouldn’t change that. I’d go do it again.”

Olynyk is now in his 10th NBA season and throughout his career he has thrived in five different organizations, playing under several different coaches, and being asked to fill various roles, both as a starter or coming off the bench, no matter where he’s been.

Some of his NBA colleagues might complain about being traded and changing teams several times, coming to a new organization is a challenge he views with the proverbial glass half-full and an experience he welcomes. “You feel like these teams want you, want you to come and make an impact or have an impact on their team or organization. You feel like you can help them in some sort or fashion and that’s what it’s all about,” Olynyk said. “I enjoy moving, being fluid, and being able to adjust to whatever new team or new situation I’m in.”

“That’s what helps you learn, grow, and get better in life. That’s kind of what it’s all about. Obviously, it’d be awesome to stay in one place and be a lifer with one organization, but to have that fluidity, learn and grow, network, and meet new people is something that I think is a huge aspect of life that I guess some people miss out on.”

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

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