As the Celtics plow forward in the NBA Finals, much attention is on the usual suspects and their star power: Dallas Mavericks stars Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving, and the Celtics’ Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown.

By comparison, Celtics forward Svi Mykhailiuk, who averaged four points in the 41 regular season games he appeared in for Boston, is likely not a household name for most.

But to Celtics head coach Joe Mazzulla, he’s one reason why the team has gotten this far: Mykhailiuk is an integral part of Boston’s bench known as the “ stay-ready group.”

“When I talked to Svi..during the process of him deciding if he wanted to come here, I just said, ‘Listen, the thing about our team is we need everybody and we’re gonna play guys,’” Mazzulla said. “And you don’t get to where we’re at right now and win a lot of games unless you have great depth.”

Mykhailiuk, a 6'7“ player from Ukraine, is an inspiration to ballplayers from his home country. This month, he has a chance to become only the second Ukrainian to earn an NBA ring.

Mykhailiuk’s basketball life has taken him from Ukraine to the University of Kansas to now the NBA Finals. And, as he told GBH News, it’s been a long journey.

“It’s an honor, it’s a lot of hard work and a little bit of luck,” he said. “And I feel like I’m just blessed to be in this position and just keep playing basketball.”

To Boston...via Kansas

Kurtis Townsend’s first interaction with Svi Mykhailiuk was tricky.

The longtime University of Kansas assistant coach met Mykhailiuk at the Nike Hoops Summit, an international basketball expo hosted by the sneaker and athletic giant.

Mykhailiuk, who was 16 years old at the time, had a lot going for him after playing in Ukraine.

But when the KU folks went to have a conversation with him, they needed a little help.

“Well, I say we had a conversation. He didn’t understand or speak very good English and neither did his dad or his coach, so we kind of had an interpreter. So, it was a long conversation, going back and forth,” Townsend remembers. “[He] ended up liking it and came to visit here with his dad and we ended up getting him to come with us at 16 years old.”

His recruitment was notable for the Jayhawks. As Townsend tells it, they’ve rarely sought someone directly from overseas.

But the decision paid off as Mykhailiuk eventually left Lawrence as one of the best shooters in the school’s storied basketball history. During his senior season, he set a program record with 115 made three-pointers.

That kind of shooting touch is rare. But what stands out the most to Townsend is Mykhailiuk’s work ethic.

“He knows he can go overseas and be the star of the team and score 25 points. But I think he’s the kind of kid that always wants to challenge himself and play against the best competition at the highest level,” Townsend said.

That work ethic, Townsend said, has followed Mykhailiuk throughout his career—including during his time with the L.A. Lakers and the Detroit Pistons.

During this Celtics run, Mykhailiuk has been able to work his way into a few playoff minutes, including during the end of Game 1 of the Finals, where he hit a floater to officially get on the board of history. And according to SB Nation’s Celtics Blog, he’s played a key role in helping the Celtics prepare for the singular force that is Luka Doncic.

But the Celtics have benefitted from the contributions of Mykhailiuk and the rest of the stay-ready group long before these playoffs.

“Throughout the season, because it’s such a long season, what those guys do kind of gets lost in the shuffle,” Mazzulla said. “But there’s moments where Svi helped win us games. Second night of back-to-backs, four and fives, whatever it is, [Neemias Queta] and those guys starting, so their ability to just lock in and stay professional and impact winning is very important.”

A Ukrainian fan club

Aliona Nikulina is one of the biggest Svi Mykhailiuk fans around.

Nikulina, like Mykhailiuk, hails from Ukraine. She was part of a Ukrainian girls basketball team that came to the Boston area last summer as the war with Russia continued in their homeland.

Some of those players, including Nikulina, have found homes in the U.S. Today, she attends school and plays basketball at Rocky Hill Country Day School in Rhode Island. She says Ukrainians keep an eye on Mykhailiuk.

“Like, he worked so hard, he deserves it,” she said. “Like, he worked all season, all his life when he started to play basketball, he worked so hard. He deserves it. I’m so happy for him, I’m so proud of him.”

Being a role model isn’t something Mykhailiuk takes lightly.

“I feel like it’s not just for me. I feel like that’s every basketball player’s goal and dream,” he told GBH News. “Obviously, to win, make your own legacy. But just make people believe that anybody can make it and you’re leaving the path behind you that people can follow, and people [are] gonna try to reach. Which is really humbling.”

Representing your country in the NBA Finals is a uniquely exciting experience. But it comes at a difficult time as Ukraine’s fight against invading Russian troops stretches into its third year.

But Mykhailiuk hopes his contributions to this elite squad can bring some happiness at a much-needed time.

“But I feel like me just being here and being part of a team to make it to the Finals, I feel like it gives people joy back home who supports basketball, who follows basketball,” he said. “I feel like just giving a light to look up to something and make them happy in any way. Just knowing that I’m from Ukraine and I made it out here.”