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Gonzaga's Kelly Olynyk reacts after Saint Mary's called time out during the second half of the West Coast Conference tournament championship NCAA college basketball game, Monday, March 11, 2013, in Las Vegas. Gonzaga won 65-51. (Julie Jacobson/AP)

Gonzaga's Kelly Olynyk reacts after Saint Mary's called time out during the second half of the West Coast Conference tournament championship NCAA college basketball game, Monday, March 11, 2013, in Las Vegas. Gonzaga won 65-51.

(Julie Jacobson/AP)

David Ebner

How Gonzaga's Kelly Olynyk became a big man on campus Add to ...

“I started to notice the difference about halfway through the year, that I could start to do stuff that I couldn’t before,” Olynyk said. “I wasn’t getting pushed around as much, more athletic, stronger, you could just see it building and building.”

The player who has emerged is a guard in a centre’s body. While his defence is hardly perfect, and he isn’t the greatest rebounder, Olynyk can burn opponents in myriad ways. He has the best per-minute statistical production of any player in Division I, which comes from his laser-precise shooting touch: he is on pace to have the highest true shooting percentage of any Division I player in more than a decade. Olynyk’s always moving, with or without the ball. His feel for the game, his instincts, so long imbued, are remarkable. When he is on the court, Gonzaga’s game flows through him.

Most impressive, for a young man who loved to play from the perimeter his whole life, Olynyk has so quickly adapted to the post, back to the hoop. “Unusually polished post skills for a college player,” observed nbadraft.net, who described his game as “textbook.” Draftexpress.com called him “one of the most fluid and co-ordinated big men” in college and said he had “amazing” agility and dexterity for his size.

“He had to fight his way, prove that he could play – and then he proved that he could play,” Ken said. Asked if he is surprised at how high Kelly has leaped, Ken is quick with an answer: “No.” He paused a couple of seconds. “Not at all. When he’s comfortable – and he’s comfortable right now on the court – it allows him to play without fear of making mistakes.”

There had been flashes of what was coming. In September, 2011, playing an Olympics qualifier against Argentina, whose roster was stacked with professionals, Canada was crushed but Olynyk scored 19 points and grabbed 12 rebounds. It felt like a turning point. But a couple months later, he was in a red shirt.

Now, Olynyk’s biggest moment is at hand, a Canadian in the middle of the mayhem of March Madness. Gonzaga stands at No.1, nearly unanimously, but critics charge the team hasn’t really played tough competition. If Olynyk plays well and drives Gonzaga deep – and he has a history of delivering his best in big games – his potential as an NBA lottery pick grows ever-stronger. Whether he declares for the draft, or returns for a senior year, is a decision for April. There’s basketball to play, and Olynyk will play it in the singular style he has hewed, much like his sartorial tastes.

“Everyone’s trying to fit in. It’s not that I’m trying to stand out. I’m trying to be myself,” he said of his clothing. “I’m not trying to imitate anyone else, I’m not trying to be part of a social norm or anything. I wear bright colours, I wear stuff that doesn’t match, because I like that kind of stuff. Everyone wears jeans and white shirts. If you’re comfortable and have confidence with whatever you want, that’ll get you far.”

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