Commentary

Olynyk eyes future with Stevens

Celtics rookie was burned at Gonzaga by new coach's Butler squad in January

Updated: July 6, 2013, 9:34 PM ET
By Chris Forsberg | ESPNBoston.com

WINTER PARK, Fla. -- Forgive Boston Celtics rookie Kelly Olynyk if the name Brad Stevens makes him shudder.

Olynyk thinks the world of Boston's new head coach and believes he has an amazing basketball mind. It's just that Stevens represents one of the more forgettable moments in Olynyk's college career.

Back in January, Olynyk's eighth-ranked Gonzaga visited Stevens' 13th-ranked Butler. Up one with 3.5 seconds to play, all the Zags needed to do was inbound the ball and ice the game with free throws. Instead, a lob pass to Olynyk fizzled and Butler's Roosevelt Jones stole the ball before connecting on a frantic, buzzer-beating floater over Olynyk for a 64-63 victory that left Bulldog fans storming the court in celebration.

[+] EnlargeKelly Olynyk
Brian Spurlock/USA TODAY SportsButler's Roosevelt Jones, right, got the last laugh on Gonzaga's Kelly Olynyk in January.

(Quick tangent: Watch the video of that final play and keep an eye on Stevens. His team just pulled off a minor basketball miracle and Stevens is already walking to shake hands with Gonzaga's staff as soon as the ball passes through the cylinder. As one of the commenters playfully suggested of his demeanor, "I think I have dry cleaning to pick up.")

"I haven't really talked to him too much yet," Olynyk said of Stevens on Saturday before Boston's summer squad practiced at Rollins College. "I'm sure he'll bring it up once or twice this year."

Before diving into some team drills -- one of which, ironically, was a similar sideline inbounds situation -- Olynyk spoke highly of Stevens and the brand of basketball his teams played at the collegiate level.

"They are so disciplined; execution is sound," said Olynyk, the 13th pick in last month's draft. "They really execute, they really take game plans and put them into play and a lot of that has to do with him. It's kinda like, when we were playing, you think you know what's coming, but you really don't. You think something's coming, then all of a sudden they have a counter to the counter. It's unbelievable. Like I said before, he's got a basketball mind that has really developed into great coaching."

Olynyk, who arrives with the reputation as a high-IQ player, believes playing under Stevens will bring out the best in his game. Boston's top draft pick last year, Jared Sullinger, can concur on that point, noting that Stevens' style allows big men to fire away from the perimeter, which is a big part of Olynyk's offensive game.

Sullinger has a bit of a college connection as well, as Stevens served as an assistant under Sullinger's former Ohio State coach, Thad Matta.

"Coach Stevens is a great coach," said Sullinger. "You see what he did at Butler and hopefully what he's going to do with us. ... [Stevens is] one hell of a coach; gets all his players working hard and I think that's the best thing about Coach Stevens."

Olynyk said Boston's summer squad was in the air when news came down that the Celtics had hired Stevens. Olynyk found out when the team landed in Orlando on Wednesday evening. His reaction?

"I'm excited," said Olynyk. "He's a great coach. I really respect him, I think he's a great basketball mind, absolute-genius kind of thing. I really respect him because he knows the game, and know he's a student of the game. He's a real smart guy, I'm really looking forward to working with him. And really excited about the opportunity."

Sullinger said he wasn't surprised by the choice, believing the team was going to go young with a roster being steered in that same direction in the aftermath of a swap that will soon send veterans Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Jason Terry to Brooklyn.

How will Celtics players react to a 36-year-old head coach?

"I think [Stevens is] going to let us know," said Sullinger. "He's going to let us know what he wants from us, what he will take from us, and what he's expecting from us. I think that's how we're going to judge it. But I know one thing: He's going to have us all working hard."

One player who doesn't have nearly as bad collegiate memories of Stevens as Olynyk is Nolan Smith. A former Duke standout, Smith lifted the Blue Devils past Butler in a nail-biter during the 2010 NCAA title game.

Smith, the 21st pick in the 2011 draft who appeared in 84 games over two seasons with the Portland Trail Blazers, is auditioning for a job this summer. He joked he's going to implore Stevens not to hold that title game against him, quipping, "We can share it."

He called those Butler teams "hard-nosed, defensive teams that played hard and played together." Smith noted that, while the 2010 team had the NBA-caliber talent of Gordon Hayward and Shelvin Mack, Stevens got a lesser-talented Butler squad back to the title game a year later.

Smith walked away from the 2010 title game with a lot of respect for Stevens.

"I had a chance to talk to him a little bit before the game and got to know him a little bit. He seems like a very nice guy, great person and, obviously, a great coach," said Smith. "I know [Duke] coach [Mike Krzyzewski] speaks very highly of him, and when [Stevens] got the [Celtics] job, Coach K called me and said, 'You have an opportunity to play for a great guy and a great coach.' So just hearing that from Coach K, it really got me excited."

But maybe it's best for everyone involved if they just talk about the future.

Chris Forsberg

Celtics reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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