Key Decisions Led Olynyk, Iverson to Boston

BOSTON – Kelly Olynyk and Colton Iverson are two rare birds. You don’t find too many people who can turn a red shirt into green jersey.

Allow us to explain.

The newest members of the Boston Celtics took similar, yet painfully unique paths to the NBA. They did it the hard way, by battling through tough decisions that eventually paved their way toward arriving here in New England.

Kelly Olynyk and Colton Iverson pose with Celtics jerseys

Colton Iverson and Kelly Olynyk were presented with their Celtics jerseys at Monday's press conference in Mattapan, Mass.
Steve Babineau/NBAE/Getty Images

Olynyk and Iverson each took one-year sabbaticals during their collegiate careers. And they didn’t do so by virtue of injury. Instead, they did so by choice.

The NCAA allows its athletes to use what is called a “redshirt” season during their collegiate careers. A redshirt season allows players to remain in school while not losing a year of eligibility, provided that they do not participate in a single minute of game action that season.

Most redshirt seasons are used by incoming freshman who aren’t in line for much playing time, or by players who have suffered a serious injury. Things were slightly different for Olynyk and Iverson.

Olynyk, who played three seasons at Gonzaga, made the decision to redshirt following sophomore year. He had finished that season with meager averages of just 5.8 points per game and 3.8 rebounds per game.

Those numbers didn’t satisfy Olynyk in the least bit. He went to Gonzaga to be a difference-maker, not to be a role player. Something needed to change, so he took the following year off.

“I didn’t really have to worry about getting ready for games and resting,” Olynyk said of his redshirt season. “So it really gave me 18 months of just hard work.”

He made those 18 months pay off by attacking his basketball deficiencies head-on. Olynyk was able to develop his skills while building his frame.

“During that redshirt year, it really gave me an opportunity to develop not only my game but my body as well,” said Olynyk. “I definitely needed to make a stride in improving my body, physically, and I got the opportunity to do that. I also tried to develop an inside game and really compliment my outside skills.”

Olynyk came back for his junior season with about 15 pounds of muscle packed onto his body. He also showcased a lethal offensive arsenal. Those improvements helped him average 17.8 points per game and 7.3 rebounds per game as a junior, all while garnering a First Team All-American selection.

Iverson’s turnaround was of a similar status, but his redshirt season was used in a different fashion.

Iverson began his collegiate career at Minnesota, where he played his first three NCAA seasons. According to Danny Ainge, that’s where Iverson popped onto the Celtics’ radar. However, the radar wasn’t exactly sounding off for Minnesota’s coaching staff.

The Golden Gophers’ coaches never gave Iverson a true opportunity to strut his stuff. He never averaged more than 18.4 minutes per game during his three seasons at Minnesota and started in only 32 of his 98 games there.

Similar to Olynyk, Iverson believed something needed to change. For him, it was his scenery.

Iverson transferred to Colorado State following the 2010-11 season. He redshirted during the 2011-12 season, which provided him with ample time to develop his game and physique, much like his newest teammate.

“That year off, I really improved my body, my offensive game, my quickness, my mobility… everything,” Iverson said. “I’m a completely different player than I was my first three years at Minnesota and it really showed this last year.”

Iverson, who claims to have “completely transitioned as a player,” has plenty of proof to back up those comments. He starred for the Rams last season, leading the team to a 25-8 record and an NCAA tournament birth. Behind 13 rebounds from Iverson, Colorado State knocked off Missouri in the first round before falling to the eventual champion, Louisville, in the Round of 32. Iverson finished his senior season with averages of 14.2 PPG and 9.8 RPG. Clearly, whatever the Celtics had seen in Iverson back in 2008-09 was on full display in 2012-13.

Stellar seasons by these dual 7-footers convinced Ainge that they needed to become Boston Celtics. On Monday it was made official, as Olynyk and Iverson were presented with their freshly embroidered Celtics jerseys.

Getting to that point wasn’t an easy process for either of them. They had to put their basketball careers on hold for their own greater good. Years removed from the biggest decision in their respective basketball lives, Olynyk and Iverson can now look back and know that their decisions were fruitful.

One redshirt season has landed them both an opportunity in green and white.