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Boston's Kelly Olynyk proud to be part of Celtics' Canadian connection

10/10/2014 02:06 EDT | Updated 12/10/2014 05:59 EST
TORONTO - Kelly Olynyk posted a photo of himself on Twitter this week, arm-in-arm with Boston Celtics teammates and fellow Canadians Joel Anthony and Dwight Powell.

Underneath Olynyk wrote, "The true north strong and free! @CanBball".

While the 23-year-old continues to work on his NBA game in his sophomore season in Boston, his national allegiance is solid.

"Definitely," Olynyk said when asked if he feels a sense of responsibility in representing Canada. "It's national pride, pride for your country."

The seven-foot centre, his long hair held back by a headband, was speaking before shootaround at Ryerson University's Mattamy Athletic Centre, where curious students peered through the glass doors.

Hours later, Olynyk would score eight points and grab five rebounds in the Celtics' 116-109 pre-season loss to the Toronto Raptors at the Air Canada Centre.

Olynyk arrived back in Celtics camp after playing for Canada on the team's 11-game summer European tour, using the experience to help springboard him into his second NBA season.

"I put in a lot of work this summer through the summer league, then with the national team, just trying to get in competitive situations, just trying to better myself any way I can to help the team," Olynyk said. "I worked on a lot of stuff, worked on pretty much every aspect of my game, just trying to get better at everything I do, in terms of trying to get my body as NBA ready as I could. Then just trying to be more consistent."

Olynyk, taken 13th overall in the 2013 NBA draft, averaged 8.7 points and 5.2 rebounds a game in his rookie season in Boston. This pre-season, he's started at centre in all three of Boston's pre-season games — he finished with 26 total points and 13 rebounds in the previous two.

"He's a big part of our team," said Celtics coach Brad Stevens. "The way that we're wanting to play, his skill-set ... he's not necessarily a traditional centre from a skill-set standpoint and he's not going to weigh more than most centres, but he is a matchup problem for most bigs because he can play on the block. But he's really good facing the basket."

Olynyk was born in Toronto and spent 12 years in the Ontario capital before moving to Kamloops, B.C., with his family. He grew up a fan of the Raptors, and his mom Arlene was a scorekeeper for Canada's lone NBA team. Father Ken coached the University of Toronto's basketball team for 13 seasons, and also worked for the Raptors one year.

"He's really good," Olynyk said on having his dad as a constant resource. "He's been there my whole life, teaching me stuff, telling me what to do, what to work on, how to evaluate my game, which is really helpful, especially with the knowledge and experience he has."

While the Canadian men's team didn't qualify for the FIBA World Cup this past summer, Olynyk and Anthony said they both followed the national women's team at the recent world championship. The women went into the tournament ranked No. 8, and finished fifth.

"They did a great job, came fifth which is unbelievable for them, finished higher than their ranking which is good," Olynyk said.

"I have a good friend who plays for the team, so I was definitely rooting for the women to be able to do well," said Anthony, a 32-year-old centre from Montreal. "I was definitely proud about how the women played and carried themselves on the court."

It's time for the men to step up and produce some strong results as well, Anthony said.

"We've shown a lot of pride on the men's side, but now with the young talent that's coming in (such as Andrew Wiggins and Tyler Ennis), we're looking forward to having a lot better results in competition."

Ryerson's new gym was a fitting venue for the Celtics' Canadian contingent Friday — it's the basketball venue for the 2015 Pan American Games in Toronto. Canada is expected to field its top teams in men's and women's basketball, as a warm-up to their respective FIBA Americas Olympic qualifying tournaments.

"Having the Games here in Toronto, that's huge," Anthony said. "It's very rare that we get a chance to play on home soil, so I think that's a great opportunity and a great stage for this team to be able to showcase the new talent that's here."

Still, Anthony isn't sure yet what his summer will hold.

"Obviously it's going to be big, with them looking to qualify for (the Olympics)," Anthony said. "I'll just see how I feel, first off, physically. It's been a lot of years playing with the national team and with all the years in the NBA, it starts to catch up. So I want to be smart about everything, but I definitely would want to be able to help out that team in any way I can."

Anthony, who's been limited this pre-season by a groin injury, averaged a point and 1.5 rebounds in seven minutes a game last season after he arrived in Boston in a trade with the Miami Heat. He didn't play Friday.

Stevens was asked about stockpiling Canadian big men.

"You know what, they've been good," the coach said. "All three are great guys, easy guys to coach. Joel is a veteran that's gone from starting on a runner-up team to not seeing much action on a championship team to being traded and seeing spot action here. And he's been nothing but a great leader and veteran and guy we want around."

The Heat honoured Anthony when the Celtics travelled to Miami a few days after the Canadian was traded last year.

"You noticed. . .how much the Miami team and organization respected and liked him, you could tell that by the way he was approached," said Stevens. "They did a thing honouring him after the first quarter, that doesn't happen with everybody. He's a guy that you like to have around the locker-room."

Powell, meanwhile, was taken 45th overall in this year's draft by the Charlotte Hornets. The Stanford University grad was first traded to Cleveland in July and then to Boston late last month.

"I like him, he's a very live body, he's active, he's long, he's aggressive, I think he's got a future in this league," Stevens said of the Toronto native. "Right now, he's getting a lot thrown at him, fair or unfair."

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