By Jim Meehan The Spokesman-Review
SPOKANE — Kelly Olynyk returned from a three-game suspension to make his season debut at the Old Spice Classic in November. He was roughly 20 months removed from his last official Gonzaga game, thanks to a redshirt season.
Olynyk offered a sample of what was to come by averaging 11.7 points and 5.7 rebounds in three wins, earning all-tournament honors.
“I’m not surprised at all,” senior forward Elias Harris said at the time. “I practiced against him the whole time so I know what he’s capable of. He can play way better than that, too.”
Harris couldn’t have been more correct. Olynyk emerged as a dominant force, posting back-to-back 30-point games and scoring in double figures in Gonzaga’s last 26 contests. WCC coaches on Tuesday rewarded the 7-foot junior with conference player of the year honors.
Olynyk is the 11th Zag to receive the award, the first since Matt Bouldin in 2010.
“It was unbelievable, definitely a rocky road and it wasn’t as smooth as it looks on the court, but it’s a great honor,” Olynyk said of the journey. “There have been great guys that have won this honor before me, but this is all about our team. We’re team-first people.”
Senior guard Mike Hart was named defensive player of the year, one season after ex-Zag Robert Sacre won the award. Mark Few earned coach of the year honors for the ninth time in his 14 seasons.
“I’m a little surprised,” Hart said. “It definitely felt good, but I almost wish I was sharing it with my other backcourt mate (Gary Bell Jr.). We kind of tag-teamed it the whole year, switching off on who had the (key) guy on the other team.”
Olynyk, Harris and sophomore guard Kevin Pangos were voted to the 10-member All-WCC team. It was Harris’ third selection and Pangos’ second. Harris was honorable mention as a sophomore. Pepperdine freshman Stacy Davis was newcomer of the year.
Bell made honorable mention, along with Portland’s Ryan Nicholas (Gonzaga Prep). Center Przemek Karnowski was on the five-player All-Freshman team.
Olynyk averages 17.7 points and 7.0 rebounds. He made nearly 67 percent of his field-goal attempts to rank second nationally. Hart played an important role on a defense that limited WCC foes to 60.1 points and 38.5 percent shooting.
“Mike’s impact is felt in so many ways. For the coaches to see that and reward a guy that doesn’t score a lot is really nice,” Few said. “Kelly had a phenomenal year, such an efficient year.”
Gonzaga is 179-21 in conference in Few’s 14 seasons. His 80.1 winning percentage is first nationally among active coaches.
Harris contributes 14.6 points and a team-high 7.5 rebounds. Pangos, the only Zag to start all 31 games, averages 11.7 points and 3.3 assists. Bell made 50 3-pointers and averaged 9.3 points. Karnowski averaged 5.7 points.