As someone who receives a lot of credit from his teammates for his high basketball IQ, Kelly Olynyk didn’t have a lot of criticism to offer Cavs guard J.R. Smith in the wake of his critical mental hiccup in Game 1 of the NBA Finals on Thursday night.
Instead, he sort of came to his defense.
“I feel like I’ve forgotten the score before,” Olynyk said Friday morning on a conference call with Miami Heat beat writers from Delhi, India, where he’s serving as a coach for the Basketball Without Borders camp. “You’re down one and you think you’re up one. Then you realize it and it’s too late. That happens all the time. It’s human. Everybody is human.”
Olynyk, 27, is too nice a guy to pile on. He has also been away from the court as a competitor for over a month now.
Since the Heat’s season came to an end with a Game 5 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers in late April, Olynyk, who donated more than a foot of his long blond hair last month to an organization (Wigs For Kids) that makes wigs for children who have lost their hair due to cancer or other medical conditions, hasn’t spent a lot of time in Miami.
He has been on the road enjoying life. A couple of weeks ago he was in Boston, his former NBA home, to cheer on his former teammates and coach in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals. For the past week, he has been in India, visiting places like the Taj Mahal and coaching high school-aged players from Asia in a camp he once participated in himself.
“The experience has been awesome,” the Canadian-born 7-footer said. “You know, any time that you get to experience another culture, another country, it's a great experience. It's a life-changing experience. It's something that you can learn from, grow from and take back to wherever you're from.”
A year ago, before he signed a four-year, $50 million deal with the Heat, Olynyk was playing deep into the playoffs with the Celtics. It has been a bit of an adjustment this summer being away from the game. It’s why he was in Boston to watch the Celtics and why he’s in India now.
“It's definitely different,” Olynyk said. “When you're playing that deep into the playoffs, it takes a toll on your body and you really don't have much time. Last year, we were in the kind of the beginning of June and then it was basically three weeks until free agency, so there wasn't much downtime at all. This year, obviously, unfortunately, we had a little more downtime, but it gives you a little more time to do some more things, experience more things in life and kind of take a mental break from the game and refresh yourself.”
But the mental break will be coming to an end soon. After another night in India, Olynyk said he would be back in Miami, where he hoped to reunite with a few Heat teammates for workouts before joining the Canadian National team in mid-June. He will be among 18 players training this summer with the team as it attempts to qualify for the 2019 World Cup.
“It’s always a debate people have — guys should play, guys shouldn’t play,” Olynyk said of playing for the Canadian team. “I think it’s really to each their own. A lot of guys have different needs and wants and a lot of people’s bodies are different. Some people need more time or more rest. Some people don’t like that side of it. Other guys just want to play basketball.
“For me I love giving back to my country that raised me and gave me all the opportunities to be where I am today. That’s something that’s really special to me. Anytime I have the opportunity to put on that jersey and fight for my country I’m welcoming that opportunity to step up to the plate.”
For now, though, there’s still a little free time to enjoy. There’s also the relief of knowing he won’t have to spend any time worrying about free agency this summer. He’s found a home he likes and one he expects to be in for awhile.
“Last July was pretty chaotic and a little bit hectic to say the least,” Olynyk said. “To be able to go through the summer without that on your mind and to be able to focus on yourself and improving yourself, helping yourself and in turn help the team next year that’s what it’s all about. I’m really looking forward to that part of it and just kind of getting out there, getting with the guys and the team and bettering ourselves and hopefully taking one step forward every single day.”