Oleynick still has flair for game
Seattle Times staff reporter
His short, dark brown hair may be fading to gray, but Frank Oleynick, 46, still walks with a pop — wrists cupped backward and a rhythmic glide that flows to his own inner beat. And when he speaks, man, the kids listen, you dig? Because their youthful minds tell them this cool dude knows what he's talking about.
See, long before his present gig as executive director/co-founder of Future Stars Basketball Academy that brought Oleynick back to Seattle this week, he was givin' the shakedown to the way that basketball was played in the city. A former Sonics player (he was a first-round draft pick in 1975) and an All-American at Seattle U., Oleynick played like the court was his own disco and he had an intensity that could set fire to the area's rain.
"This cat was brass, very cocky and very sure of his game," said Ron Howard, a former teammate at Seattle U., former Seahawks tight end, and current assistant football coach at Rainier Beach High School. "He was doing things that we hadn't seen out here, but he let his game do all the talking. When you've got game like he had, you don't need to do any talkin' anyway. He was all that, man."
Oleynick hailed from Bridgeport, Conn., which is about 50 miles outside of New York. He learned the game playing in the infamous Rucker Park League in Harlem. A vanilla scoop in a bowl of chocolate, he developed an alley cat persona that complimented his playground ball-handling skills.
A scholarship and vivid NBA dreams brought him to Seattle U., which played Division I basketball at the time. Midway through his freshman season of 1972-73, he became a starter.
"I remember we were sitting at IHOP and he says, 'I should be starting, I know I'm good enough to be starting,' " said Rob Silver, Oleynick's former college roommate and a walk-on from the Bay Area. "It was Herculean hearing him say that, but I'm thinkin', 'You're not going to start.' They had just let freshmen play varsity. But a third of the way through the season, he was starting.
"He had a confidence and work ethic that made an impact on my life. I thought I was working hard, then I met him and realized I wasn't working at all."
Oleynick went for daily runs before his 7 a.m. breakfast. He practiced after practice, ate dinner with his team and practiced before lights out.
He lived at Connolly Center and knew every groove in those rickety rims.
And it paid off. He was the West Coast Athletic Conference co-freshman of the year, the league's scoring leader in 1973-74 (averaging 25.1 points a game) and MVP the same season. As a junior, he averaged 27.3 points and was an All-American.
He was nicknamed "Magic" before Magic, scoring game-winning baskets as the buzzer sounded in three straight games.
He was one of four early-entry players to enter the 1975 NBA draft and was taken with the 12th pick, by the Sonics. He signed a three-year contract for $500,000 and showed up at his introductory news conference in a sleeveless T-shirt.
It was classic Oleynick.
"That's nothin' today," said Oleynick, who bought an authentic NBA ball and a Mercedes with his first check. "It was about $150,000 a year; that's what Vinny Baker makes for a game. The 12th pick today signs for about $9 million.
"But to be single and makin' that money ... I was not a good kid to handle the money or the amount of playing time I was getting, which led to an attitude problem."
Sonics teammate Slick Watts took it personally that the Sonics would draft a guard — his position. So, while Oleynick was back in Connecticut, Watts was working on his game to make sure a rookie was not going to take his starting spot.
"I was in the gym every day that summer," Watts said. "It was nothing against Frank, but he was a threat and I was trying to get my thing on. In practice, I played against him like it was my last game. But Frank was cool, real cool. He had a nice little bounce in his step and did some cute things with the ball."
All the behind-the-back-passes, dribbles between the legs and guaranteed jump shots didn't cut it in the NBA, though. Ticked that he was on the bench, Oleynick didn't live up to expectations, averaging 5.0 points and 1.1 assists in two seasons with the Sonics.
Knee surgery in his rookie season made things worse. Oleynick missed 30 games and didn't even hang around the team. As a result, teammates voted to give him just a half-share of the $10,000 share from the Sonics' trip to the playoffs.
Oleynick was waived in 1977 and tried out for the Indiana Pacers. When that didn't pan out, he tried a startup league in Hawaii, then played in Italy before giving up on basketball.
"I didn't know what was going to happen to him when he washed out," said Silver, who lived with Oleynick for three years. "I was worried about him, but he's a self-made man."
Oleynick, then 28, went into computer marketing. After 13 years of wingtips and business trips to Waterloo, Iowa, he ditched the lucrative corporate world to start a basketball academy.
Monday, about 30 students at Cooper Elementary will complete a six-session course that whisked them through basketball and academic skills from a guy who's been there, done that, and has the scars to prove it. About 2,200 elementary students have been through the growing program over the past six years.
"It brought me back to basketball," said Oleynick, who has been married for 28 years and has two teenage sons. "I've come full circle. I'm a little more refined now, and the best thing about basketball is the relationships and friendships I made.
"Because when you stop playing, that's all you have left."
Right on, right on.
• For more information about Future Stars Basketball Academy, the Web site is www.fsbba.com. The phone number 203-367-1673.