03/18/2013 04:39 EDT

Kelly Olynyk Of Kamloops Leads Gonzaga Into March Madness

Gonzaga's Kelly Olynyk reacts after Saint Mary's called time out during the second half of the West Coast Conference tournament championship NCAA college basketball game, Monday, March 11, 2013, in Las Vegas. Gonzaga won 65-51. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

A seven-foot-tall basketball player from Kamloops, B.C. is leading his U.S. school into March Madness, but observers wonder how long his team can keep up its success.

Kelly Olynyk has led the Gonzaga University Bulldogs to a No. 1 seed in the annual NCAA basketball tournament, but the team faces an uphill battle against the Pittsburgh Panthers, an elite team they face in the round of 32, Yahoo Sports reports.

Olynyk is a dominant presence on the court but Pittsburgh's seven-foot centre Steven Adams could prove to be a "physical match," wrote blogger Jeff Eisenberg.

Even if the Bulldogs go out against the Panthers, it will still cap off a successful season for Olynyk, who rebounded from a disappointing two seasons to be named the West Coast Conference player of the year, The Spokesman-Review reported.

None of that success has come easy. Olynyk grew seven inches between Grade 10 and 12, and he struggled with his new frame when he got to university, the Globe and Mail reported.

Olynyk played no games last season but spent mounds of time training off the court. He lifted weight to build strength, and his coach threw tennis balls at him to teach him quick moves, the newspaper reported.

The practice paid off. Olynyk has the best per-minute point production of any player in his division and he's on track to get its highest shooting percentage in a decade.

There may be serious ground to cover when Gonzaga, located in Spokane, Wash., faces Pittsburgh on Saturday, but Olynyk has more than earned his way into the spotlight.

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