Kelly Olynyk, Celtics centre, boosts Canadian university basketball
Kamloops native to be face of men's Final 8 at UBC
He may not exist in the dizzying fame stratosphere of Drake, but as basketball ambassadors go, Kamloops, B.C., native Kelly Olynyk has a lot more street cred than Mr. Hotline Bling.
That's why organizers of next month's Canadian university men's Final 8 at the University of British Columbia have recruited the bruising Boston Celtics centre to be the face of the tournament.
"It's basketball. It's Canada," said Olynyk Wednesday morning at UBC, en route to Salt Lake City where the Celtics resume playing Thursday.
"Anything I can do to promote the tournament, get the word out, get people excited," he said. "I want to notify people that this is happening, that this is great basketball and something you want to be a part of."
Repping the CIS
Repping the Canadian Interuniversity Sport competition (CIS) brings Olynyks full circle in his hoops journey, back to the province where he got his start at South Kamloops Secondary before heading south to the big time college program at Gonzaga and on to the NBA.
More importantly for the CIS though, is the profile the likable seven-footer brings to the tournament as it returns to B.C. for the first time in 25 years.
"Kelly lending his name to us and to the tournament is huge," says Len Catling of UBC Athletics. "And he's been so great, doing interviews with everyone in town and shooting a whole bunch of PSAs (public service announcements) that we'll be rolling out."
Olynyk says he didn't think twice when presented with the opportunity.
"I grew up watching CIS basketball, more than NCAA," he said. "I used to watch game film with my dad. The talent here is growing by the second. It's not far off that a player from the CIS goes to the NBA."
Unfortunately, Olynyk's playing schedule means he won't be able to make a physical appearance during the March 17 to 20 tournament. But he says he'll be there in spirit, keeping tabs on former South Kam teammate and friend Dave Wagner, a fifth-year forward for UBC.
Cheering for Kamloops
And while he hopes the T-Birds do well, his sentimental pick to win it all is hometown Thompson Rivers University, where father Ken is the sports director.
I'm from Kamloops," he said. "If TRU gets in it will be tough to root against them.
UBC plays its opening game of the Final 8 tournament on March 17 against a yet-to-be determined opponent.
The last time UBC played a CIS championship game at home was in 1972, which was also the last time the T-Birds won the title.