At Gonzaga, where Olynyk would grow two more inches, topping out at 7 feet, he was expected to play in the post. "I had never done it," he says. "It was like telling a quarterback to go kick a field goal." In his first two years his body couldn't keep up with his intentions. "Fifty percent of his drives would end up as charges," says Few.
After two frustrating years playing behind fellow Canadian Robert Sacre (who was drafted by the Lakers in the second round last summer) and producing just 4.8 points in 12.9 minutes a game, Olynyk took a mid-career redshirt year to strengthen his body and learn to think like a post player. It was a characteristically offbeat decision: Olynyk is given to vibrantly colored and often mismatched outfits, and his signature 'do hangs long and straight in the style of Spanish soccer star Sergio Ramos, circa 2011.
As a redshirt Olynyk spent hours with trainer Travis Knight, lifting weights to exhaustion, working on his balance, and doing hand-eye coordination drills with tennis balls that were designed to take his mental processing "from dial-up to broadband," says Knight. The plan worked brilliantly. "In practice he was dominating," says Few. "We could see what was coming."
This year, the 238-pound Olynyk is a strong, agile and versatile post player who is averaging seven rebounds, 1.2 blocks and 17.3 points on 65.5% shooting, including 37.5% from behind the three-point line, in less than 26 minutes a game. That makes him the most efficient high-usage player in the nation. Olynyk's transformation has moved him from high-potential scrub to West Coast Conference player of the year and elevated Gonzaga from a very good team to a national title contender. "What I have now [in Olynyk] is a guy I trust," says Few. "He's a guy we can pitch the ball to, who can make free throws at the end of games, who I can put on their best big guy or switch onto a guard at the end of a game because he's smart. He brings a lot of different things that you don't face with a traditional big."
Another linchpin of Gonzaga's success is Pangos, who was also born into a basketball family. His mom, Patty, played at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ont., and his dad, Bill, just finished his 26th year as the women's coach at Toronto's York University, where years ago he coached games that Arlene Olynyk refereed. ("Basketball is a small world up here," says Bill.) Kevin played hockey, soccer, volleyball and badminton before giving them up midway through high school to focus on basketball. Like Olynyk, Pangos didn't play a lot of club ball or go to a U.S. prep school. But at 16 he became the youngest player to suit up for the Canadian senior national team. At training camps he paid special attention to stories about Nash, the player after whom he modeled himself. "Someone would say, 'Steve Nash would make 500 shots a day,'" says Pangos. "I figured I had to make 500 shots a day."
To that end he would find a gym to shoot with his dad, or he'd move a portable basket into position under a light on his street, securing it with a pile of bricks. Then he'd mark off the foul line and the three-point line (high school, then international, then NBA) with duct tape. He'd shoot for hours—or until 10:30 p.m., when Patty insisted he come inside so the neighbors could sleep. "I took a different path: I did a lot of my training and skill development on my own," Pangos says.
When Trey Burke took the scholarship Michigan had offered to both him and Pangos on a first-come, first-served basis, Pangos, who had heard rave reviews about Gonzaga from the Olynyks, signed with Few. As a freshman Pangos led the team in scoring (13.6 ppg) and assists (3.4) to earn WCC newcomer of the year honors. "He was supposed to hit a freshman wall," says Few. "He never did."
With the emergence of Olynyk and senior forward Elias Harris (14.8 ppg), Pangos has a lighter scoring load this year (11.8 ppg through Sunday), though he has sharpened his three-point shooting (to 42.7% from 40.1%) and his assists-to-turnovers ratio (to 2.29 from 1.85). "He's very meticulous about everything he works on," says Few. "If you say, 'I'd like to see you do this a little bit better,' he's in the gym, working on runners, working on his left hand."
Stauskas can relate to Pangos's gym-rat wiring. Indeed, he's partly responsible for it. For years the two attended the same basketball camp near Toronto. When the other boys took a break from the hardwood to swim or sail, Stauskas and Pangos stayed in the gym, going one-on-one. Stauskas had fallen hard for the game at age nine, when he was pulled out of the crowd at a Raptors open practice to play a shooting game with Vince Carter. "I made a free throw and a three-pointer," says Stauskas. "[Carter] ended up winning the game, but that was the moment when I thought, Wow, I really want to do this with my life." He became so single-minded that, according to Michigan coach John Beilein, "he doesn't know anything about hockey, he doesn't know anything about football. The other day we had him try to throw a baseball pass as a press breaker. And he had never thrown a baseball."
When Nik was 11 his parents installed a court in their Mississauga backyard so he and his older brother, Peter, could play at all hours, in all weather, including a severe 2006 storm that left the court, rim and backboard encased in ice. "The ball couldn't hit the backboard without slipping off, but we didn't care," says Nik. At Loyola Catholic Secondary School, few people shared his passion for the game. Before Nik's 10th-grade season, no teacher volunteered to coach basketball, which meant there could be no team. Nik's dad, Paul, a computer consultant, offered to take charge, but school policy required a teacher to supervise play. Desperate, Nik went around school begging faculty members. Finally a French teacher who was fond of Nik agreed to sit in the gym and grade papers while Paul conducted practices.