SALEM, N.H. -- Only about 50 days had passed since Kelly Olynyk was last in Boston, but, boy, had expectations grown.
Dubbed a complementary role player by Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge on draft night, all it took was a stellar five-game performance at his pro debut at the Orlando Pro Summer League for some Boston fans to ready Olynyk for the Hall of Fame.
On a pristine late-August morning, the 22-year-old Olynyk stood in the lot of a New Hampshire Park and Ride off Interstate 93 as a police escort assembled to deliver him -- and 30 children from the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children -- to a nearby amusement park for a Shamrock Foundation event. Just days after league MVP LeBron James received an unauthorized police escort to a Justin Timberlake and Jay Z concert in Miami, there were wisecracks about all this attention going to the rookie's head.
Olynyk just smiled when asked about the escort. Truth be told, it wasn't even the first one of his basketball career. An officer noted that traffic on I-93 would soon be back to the New Hampshire border; the escort was the only way this crew was getting to the park anytime soon.
The 7-foot Olynyk, with his long hair and a green Celtics shirt, towered over the motorcycles around him and could be seen by cars crawling to the park's access road. Alas, the line of traffic was there for the roller coasters, log flumes and end-of-summer fun, not for Boston's top draft pick.
Asked about the wide-ranging spectrum of expectations -- from Ainge seemingly underselling Olynyk despite moving up three spots to snag him at No. 13 in June's draft, to those who want him in the starting lineup on opening night -- Olynyk smiled again and shook his head.
"I just want to help the team any way I can," he said. "Whether it's as an asset on offense or defense, whatever I can do. Just try to bring energy and excitement, and a work ethic every day to help this team get better. That's all you really can do. The pieces will fall where they will, but if you bring the attitude and effort, then good things will happen."
Keeping with the expectations theme, a reporter asked Olynyk whether he got a chance to talk with Kevin McHale at summer league. Olynyk seemed momentarily puzzled as to why he would have been fraternizing with the coach of the Houston Rockets.
The reporter explained that, in Boston, a player is invariably compared to those who came before him and the slick post moves Olynyk displayed in Orlando, along with a polished offensive skill set, had triggered some comparisons to McHale, a Hall of Famer who helped bring three NBA titles to Boston.
No pressure, kid. Your two most popular summer comparisons have been McHale and childhood idol Dirk Nowitzki.
"To be compared to [McHale], man, that's a pretty good comparison, just to be in the same sentence with a guy like that," Olynyk said. "Or Dirk, for that matter. Those are two great names. And any time you're in a sentence, or in the same breath, as one of those guys, you have to feel humbled and honored to even be in that position. I would only hope that my career goes as well as those two."
Olynyk had been back in Boston only one day before last week's community event, but he was ready for the ramp-up to his rookie campaign. The offseason had become a blur of activity since draft night, which he still counted as the most exciting day of the summer.
"The draft was really exciting; that probably topped it off just because of the feeling and emotion, the friends and family that were surrounding me," Olynyk said. "Being drafted by Boston, a storied franchise, so much history, tradition, that was probably the most fun and exciting day of the summer so far. Orlando was really fun to get my feet wet, then I went back to Canada to run a camp, which was really fun, to give back to the community, and help kids back in my hometown."
The only downside: a flare-up of plantar fasciitis. It prevented Olynyk from working out with the Canadian men's basketball team this summer, but he still spent a week with the program hoping to foster chemistry for the future.
A month before training camp opens, Olynyk is confident the plantar fasciitis is improving and that he'll be ready to go when the team begins preparations for the 2013-14 season.
But basketball went on the back burner for a couple of hours in New Hampshire as the police escort rolled out, delivering Olynyk and the children to Canobie Lake Park. The rookie and co-owner Steve Pagliuca gleefully joined the kids on the log flume and the Boston Tea Party, Olynyk still smiling as he got soaked on the water rides.
Later, a Celtics staffer told Olynyk he was free to go, a cue that often encourages players to race for the nearest exit at these sorts of events. Not Olynyk. He stayed for another hour, signing autographs and hanging out with the kids.
All those expectations clearly haven't gone to his head yet.