WALTHAM — Kelly Olynyk had quite the summer as he tried to get himself ready for the 2015-16 season with the Celtics.
The third-year big man out of Gonzaga starred for his home country Team Canada in the both the Tuto Marchand Cup (a preliminary to the FIBA Olympic qualifying tourney) and the FIBA tourney itself. Olynyk had 34 points and 13 rebounds in a 79-78 loss to Venezuela in the semifinals of the Olympic tourney, outshining fellow Canadiens Andrew Wiggins and Anthony Bennett (both young stars for Minnesota). Had Canada won, they would have directly qualified for the 2016 Olympics in Brazil, along with the U.S., Argentina and Venezuela.
Instead, Canada must now qualify in the 2016 FIBA World Olympic Qualifying Tournament. A lot was at stake but Olynyk looks at the loss as good experience, from a team and personal standpoint.
“It was definitely a tough game, especially for us,” Olynyk said. “We had gotten better every game as a team. We played so well, really night-in and night-out pretty much dominated that tournament. So it’s really a tough break for us to go out like that. Credit to Venezuela. They played a great game. They played tough, they played strong. They made shots. Unfortunately, that was pretty much the only game we didn’t make very many shots. They showed up and played and then they went back to back night and beat Argentina. It was something pretty special for them. Right now, we’ve got another chance next summer and we’ve got to look forward to that and make sure we’re ready to play.”
Olynyk averaged 11.5 points a game in 10 games in the FIBA Americas championship. There was a scary moment when he dinged his left knee in an 85-80 win over Argentina on Aug. 23 in the Marchand Cup in Puerto Rico. But Olynyk bounced back quickly and was able to play at full strength in the Olympic qualifying tourney, which involved playing 10 games in 12 days in Mexico City.
“A lot. I think it’s a great tournament. A lot of talent,” Olynyk said. “It’s a really physically demanding tournament. Talking about it with some of the people there, there’s really not another tournament in the world where you’re playing 10 games in 12 days, full-length, high level, high emotion games with something huge riding on the line. It’s definitely a tournament where you can take away a lot. You learn. You grew. You got better as a player and as a team. I think there’s definitely a lot to take from that, whether it’s confidence, skill, just experience in general.”
How does all of that translate to getting ready to play for the Celtics? Olynyk comes to camp this fall as the third-longest tenured player on the roster. Only Avery Bradley (19th overall in 2010) and Jared Sullinger (21st in 2012) have been with the Celtics longer.
“I haven’t really stopped to think about that a lot but I guess you are right, especially being in the coach’s system in the last couple of years,” Olynyk said. “I definitely know what’s coming down the pipe. For me, it’s about that leadership and just helping these young guys along their way after being through it.”
The reason Olynyk feels a bond with coach Brad Stevens is that both he and Stevens came to Boston at the same time, both entering the NBA before the 2013-14 season.
“Brad’s a real team-oriented guy,” Olynyk said. “He’s all about the team. He wants everybody to experience individual success as much as he does team success, which is pretty special. Brad’s a great guy and a great coach. I was just telling these guys, he’s going to help you on his way. He has supreme confidence in not only you but in everybody else in this room and the whole team as a whole. I think that’s something that’s really special. Just relax and come ready to learn every day. Feel free to make mistakes because mistakes are going to happen. Don’t play nervous or scared or try to play mistake-free. Go out and play the game the game you know and love and let things happen. You’ll learn and grow.
“You’re going to make mistakes. You can’t play in fear of making mistakes. You’re going to have the opportunity to play through mistakes. That’s something that really helps you.”
Last year, Olynyk was hurt when he landed on the foot of Portland forward Thomas Robinson in the fourth quarter of the Celtics’ 90-89 win. After being projected to return soon after the All-Star break, Olynyk didn’t show signs of being ready to return, and subsequently missed 18 games. Then there was the nasty elbow to his left eye brow from teammate Shavlik Randolph in April in a shootaround before a game with the Pacers.
Olynyk has plenty of battle scars. Now he hopes those make him a tougher, more prepared leader for the nightly wars of the NBA.
“With the run we had at the end and going into the playoffs, we definitely hit a stride,” Olynyk said. “We’re trying to keep running and keep that stride going. Talking to a lot of guys in the summer and as they’ve been back, we’re definitely a really close-knit group right now. Hopefully, we can continue that throughout the season and start off with a bang.”