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Gonzaga Legends: Kelly Olynyk happy to take a break from South Beach for a trip back to Spokane, Hoopfest

UPDATED: Sat., June 22, 2019, 9:27 p.m.

Kelly Olynyk’s description of Hoopfest is hyperbolic, but nothing a few of his ex-Gonzaga cohorts wouldn’t agree with.

The Miami Heat forward has tried illustrating the world’s largest 3-on-3 basketball tournament to some of his less-familiar NBA teammates, but he insists it’s something they’d appreciate with their own eyes.

“You really have to be there. It’s hard to just explain it,,” said Olynyk, who will be celebrating Hoopfest’s 30th anniversary in Spokane next weekend. “It’s the eighth wonder of the world.”

Olynyk and fellow former Gonzaga greats Steven Gray (2007-2011), David Pendergraft (2004-2008) and Heather Bowman (2006-2010) will share their favorite Zags memories Thursday night at the Martin Woldson Theater at the Fox as part of the “Gonzaga Legends” event, a kickoff to Hoopfest weekend.

Much has changed for Olynyk since the last time his 7-foot frame and long locks were spotted downtown at Nike Center Court.

Olynyk, who last returned for Hoopfest in 2014 following his All-Rookie season with the Boston Celtics, has since developed into a solid veteran.

He averaged 10 points and five rebounds in four seasons off the bench for Boston before inking a four-year, $50 million contact with Miami in 2017.

The native of Kamloops, British Columbia, started about half the Heat’s games the past two seasons, averaging just over 10 points, five rebounds and two assists a contest.

Olynyk, the 13th overall pick in the 2013 NBA draft, has enjoyed the South Beach lifestyle.

“Miami is an awesome place to live, a tropical paradise,” Olynyk said. “And with (Heat president) Pat Riley and (head coach) Erik Spoelstra, it’s great playing for a first-class organization.”

Miami Heat’s Kelly Olynyk, right, shoots as he gets past Philadelphia 76ers’ Dario Saric, left, of Croatia, during the first half in Game 1 of a first-round NBA basketball playoff series, Saturday, April 14, 2018, in Philadelphia. (Chris Szagola / Associated Press)
Miami Heat’s Kelly Olynyk, right, shoots as he gets past Philadelphia 76ers’ Dario Saric, left, of Croatia, during the first half in Game 1 of a first-round NBA basketball playoff series, Saturday, April 14, 2018, in Philadelphia. (Chris Szagola / Associated Press)

A contrast climate-wise from his former, chillier homes in the Northwest and Northeast corners of North America.

Olynyk was a relatively unknown commodity his freshman and sophomore seasons at Gonzaga before opting to redshirt his junior year to help spur his physical development.

When he returned for the 2012-2013 season, Olynyk had become a bona fide inside and outside threat, earning first-team All-American and West Coast Conference Player of the Year distinction.

He also helped Gonzaga earn its first No. 1 Associated Press ranking.

“It’s fun to think back about everywhere you’ve come from,” said Olynyk, who left school a year early. “My career at Gonzaga didn’t start out the way I envisioned, but I developed and improved. Now I’m heading toward my seventh NBA season.”

There’s been an uptick in NBA-level big men from Gonzaga since the Olynyk era.

Former Gonzaga forward Domantas Sabonis was picked 11th overall in the 2016 NBA draft after his sophomore season. Sabonis averaged 14.1 points, 9.3 rebounds and 2.9 assists for the Indiana Pacers last season.

Seven-footer Zach Collins, who helped the Bulldogs reach the 2017 NCAA title game, was drafted 10th overall by the Sacramento Kings but was quickly dealt to the Portland Trail Blazers. He averaged 6.6 points and 4.2 points last year.

Johnathan Williams, a 6-9 forward, went undrafted in 2018 but ultimately signed a two-way contract with the Los Angeles Lakers, logging time in 24 regular-season games last season.

Gonzaga also made program history Thursday when two players were selected in the first round of the draft: 6-8 junior forwards Rui Hachimura (ninth overall to Washington) and Brandon Clarke (No. 21 to Memphis through a trade with Oklahoma City).

“There is something to be said how Gonzaga develops players and how they let them flourish and grow,” said Olynyk. “It’s been awesome to see more players from Gonzaga getting drafted high.”

Olynyk said he still chats with many of his old Gonzaga teammates, but none more than his best friend, former Bulldogs forward Sam Dower, who has played overseas since exhausting his eligibility in 2014.

A former Gonzaga team manager lived with Olynyk at his Boston home.

“It’s a big family community,” Olynyk said of Gonzaga. “I’m looking forward to being back in Spokane and seeing old friends. It’s been a while.”

Gonzaga's Kelly Olynyk and Sam Dower (35) celebrate their 70-65 victory over Brigham Young on Feb. 28, 2013, in Provo. (Rick Bowmer / Associated Press)
Gonzaga's Kelly Olynyk and Sam Dower (35) celebrate their 70-65 victory over Brigham Young on Feb. 28, 2013, in Provo. (Rick Bowmer / Associated Press)

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