February 29th, 2024

Homecoming: Kelly Olynyk and Ochai Agbaji happy to join Toronto Raptors

By John Chidley-Hill, The Canadian Press on February 9, 2024.

TORONTO – There was no need for Kelly Olynyk to plug Scotiabank Arena into his GPS before coming to his first-ever game as a Toronto Raptor. He grew up around the arena with both of his parents working for the team.

Olynyk, who was born in Toronto but raised in Kamloops, B.C., was traded along with guard Ochai Agbaji from the Utah Jazz to the Raptors ahead of the NBA’s trade deadline on Thursday. Olynyk’s mother Arlene worked for the Raptors from 1995 to 2004 as the first female scorekeeper in the NBA and his father Ken was an observing coach for the team during the 2002-03 season.

“It’s a full circle moment,” said Kelly Olynyk on Friday, finally wearing a Raptors jersey as a player and not a fan. “It’s really cool to look back at your life and everything that you’ve done up till now and how monumental the Raptors have been in my life.

“I used to fall asleep at night with a little alarm clock radio listening to the FAN590 and Chuck Swirsky. To be putting on this jersey and these shirts and hats and stuff, it’s something that you can’t even put into words.”

The 32-year-old Olynyk is expected to become a veteran presence in Toronto’s locker room, with his 11 years in the NBA making him one of the most experienced players on an increasingly young Raptors roster that is now fully committed to a rebuild. He hopes that he can teach his new teammates how much the Raptors mean to the city and arguably all of Canada.

“The support and love that this city, country, and everything has given to me, it’s been phenomenal through my whole career,” said Olynyk. “Now to come here and give back to them, play in front of them, and give your all to this organization is something that I’m really blessed with this opportunity.”

Olynyk is averaging 8.1 points, 5.1 rebounds, 4.4 assists this season. Agbaji, the 14th pick in the 2022 NBA draft, is averaging 5.4 points, 2.5 rebounds and 0.9 assists.

The 23-year-old Agbaji said that it was also a homecoming of sorts for him, even though he grew up in Milwaukee. His father Olofu is friends with Raptors president Masai Ujiri, as both grew up in Nigeria.

Ochai Agbaji said that Ujiri was direct when he called him after the trade was completed.

“He basically said ‘you’re with family now,'” said Agbaji. “I’ve known him for five or six years now and he’s really close with my dad.

“They grew up together and having those relations before being on the team and knowing him was good. Now being here and I see he’s right. It’s like being with family.”

Both players were available to play against the Houston Rockets the next night but head coach Darko Rajakovic said that they would not play.

“We want to be smart with how we’re incorporating them into the team and the system and getting them up to speed in what we’re trying to develop, how we want to play, style of play – offensively and defensively,” said Rajakovic.

Olynyk was the captain of Canada’s bronze-medal winning team at the FIBA World Cup this past fall. Aside from Agbaji, Olynyk is most familiar with the game of new Raptors teammate RJ Barrett.

Olynyk and Barrett, who is from Mississauga, Ont., are part of the core of players who have committed to play for Canada at the Paris Olympics in July.

“What are the chances of that? That we both would get traded to the same team,” said Olynyk, referring to Barrett’s arrival with the Raptors on Dec. 30. “I play with RJ for a month every summer but now you get to do it full time and I know what he’s capable of and now I can keep pushing him to be the best he can be.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 9, 2024.

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