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Jeff Eisenberg

Gonzaga's Kelly Olynyk stars for Canada at World Championships

Jeff Eisenberg
The Dagger

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Of the three Gonzaga players participating in the World Basketball Championships, Canadian forward Kelly Olynyk was probably the least likely guy to emerge as a breakout star.

Whereas Germany's Elias Harris averaged 15 points and 7 rebounds as a freshman last season and fellow Canadian Robert Sacre was a productive starting center for the Zags, Olynyk rarely saw significant playing time. The floppy-haired sophomore-to-be tallied 3.8 points and 2.7 rebounds in 12.3 minutes a game last season as a true freshman and had more fouls than points in Gonzaga's two NCAA tournament games.

Based on Olynyk's performance for Canada this week, however, the Zags can expect Olynyk to make a far more significant contribution next season. He averaged 11 points per night the last three games, doing his best work against the top two teams in Canada's group with 13 points on Tuesday against France and 14 on Thursday against Spain.

The 6-foot-11 Olynyk's perimeter skills and agility have made him a centerpiece of Canada's basketball future and a potential contributor at Gonzaga later in his career, but few thought the 19-year-old was ready to make an impact at this level. Canadian coach Leo Rautins didn't think enough of him to give him more than 30 seconds playing time during the team's opening two losses.

"I was kicking myself in the rear end, we didn't bring him here to sit him on the bench," Rautins told the Toronto Star after the France game. "This kid's a big part of what I think our future is going to be. He's a talented kid; he plays with balls.

"He's not afraid and there's not been one game where I've put him in and he's been timid, and we've had some other guys who've been timid at times."

If Olynyk can play with this level of consistency and aggressiveness for Gonzaga next season, it could give the Zags one of the deepest and most versatile front courts in the nation. The 6-foot-8 Harris is a legit NBA prospect and the 7-foot Sacre averaged 10 points and 5 rebounds as a sophomore.

Sacre tallied eight points and three rebounds against Spain on Thursday but managed just four points and seven boards in Canada's other four games combined. Harris had a combined 10 points in Germany's opening two games but went scoreless in the next two entering Thursday's group stage finale against Jordan.

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