New Timberwolves stars Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns know well how opposites can form an abiding partnership.
Each has seen it almost daily the past two decades.
Towns’ parents are so different, they won’t sit together at their son’s games. Karl Towns Sr. is the more introverted, analytic one, a man who likes to sit quietly and analyze games from above. Jacqueline Cruz-Towns is the extrovert, a foot-stomping, selfie-taking and, during some University of Kentucky games, pom-pom waving fan who likes to be courtside so she can cheer her baby boy.
“My mom is loud and my dad is not as loud as she is,” Karl-Anthony Towns said. “But it works.”
Conversely, Wiggins’ father, Mitchell, is the outspoken one in his family. “My mom, she’s more like me,” said Andrew Wiggins, a young man seemingly of few words.
Together, the two young men from disparate parents are the Timberwolves’ future, a pair of consecutive No. 1 overall picks with enough individual talent and shared history to conceivably carry a beleaguered franchise back to the playoffs and maybe well beyond in the coming years.
In this partnership, both players, too, are in many ways opposites.
One is quiet, the other gregarious.
One is Canadian, the other is from New Jersey.
One played at Kansas, the other at Kentucky.
“I’d say he talks more than me,” Wiggins said. “He’s louder.”
And yet here they are, brought together through a trade and the draft by Timberwolves president of basketball operations and coach Flip Saunders, who died Sunday at age 60.
Perhaps, in some small way, a man who became synonymous with Minnesota basketball will live on through the consecutive No. 1 picks he brought home to a franchise that hasn’t made the playoffs since 2004.
“I think his legacy surpasses me and Andrew by leaps and bounds,” Towns said. “His legacy is based off of so much more, even without the basketball.”
Wiggins and Towns have been friends since they roomed together with the World team at the 2013 Nike Hoops Summit, when they discovered two players headed for different powerful college programs can share a similar sense of humor and love for the video game “Call of Duty” as well as the drive to be their sport’s best.
“You never would have thought then that a Kansas Jayhawk and a Kentucky Wildcat would soon find each other on the same team playing for the same goal, in Minnesota,” Towns said.
They are the Wolves’ most promising pair of young prospects — with their whole careers, seemingly together, ahead of them — since Kevin Garnett and Stephon Marbury laced up their sneakers together nearly 20 years ago.
And looking back now, every Wolves fan knows how that turned out.
Partly stung by an NBA salary structure remade after Garnett’s league-shaking $126 million contract, Marbury forced a trade home to New Jersey in his third season, denying the franchise the opportunity to discover what might have been had the two stars stayed together. The Wolves were 45-37 in the last full season Garnett and Marbury were together (1997-98), then slid to .500 the season of the trade.
The kind of future Towns and Wiggins build together might well depend on the relationship they build, one that Towns calls “built to a high standard already” these past 2½ years.
Garnett has some history with things like that.
“What you want is each guy respecting the other,” Garnett said. “You want them to grow into what they will be. Everybody’s different. Guys are different, guys coming from different places in the world. Wigs is a little laid back. KAT’s full of energy. One’s talkative, one’s a little quiet. It doesn’t mean one’s less than the other in any event.”
Without naming names, Garnett brings up the concept of “ego” when discussing the dynamics of a team’s best players existing and growing together. It’s a concept and a life experience he says he has shared with the new two young Wolves.
“There were times I thought ego came into the equation and messed our whole kind of plan up,” he said. “Try not to fall into that. You guys enjoy playing with other good players. Enjoy being young. Enjoy playing with each other. Your younger days are days you can’t get back. I give those experiences to them. I watch how they interact with each other.”
Something in common
The two differ in personality, but share some of the same attributes that made each a talked-about sensation since they were in middle school. Each has a father who is rooted in basketball: Wiggins’ father, Mitchell, played six NBA seasons; Towns’ father, Karl Sr., was a longtime high-school coach and one of the nation’s leading rebounders when he played for New Jersey’s Monmouth University once upon a time. Each player has a family that made sacrifices and supported them.
“For us to be the No. 1 pick back-to-back years, there’s something that made us more driven,” Towns said. “For us, it wasn’t about being the No. 1 pick, but we both strive to be great. We both want to be the best players we possibly can be and we both want to win championships. I remember having this conversation with him weeks ago, about us winning a championship and how me and him are going to do it.
“I’m like my mom in some sorts. Once I get something in my head, I can’t get it out. Once I got this love for the game and the idea I wanted to be the best to ever play and win championships in my head, I couldn’t do anything to get it out.”
Wiggins excels through his play rather than personality and says he aspires to be basketball’s best, but in a quiet way like his mother, two-time Olympic sprinter Marita Payne-Wiggins. “That’s just me,” he said. “She’s like that, too.”
Towns believes Garnett can show him the little things required to win those championships he so covets, although the rookie admits their styles differ. Garnett has done it for 21 NBA seasons with an intensity that sometimes borders on rage. At age 19, Towns so far has done it with a smile.
“You know what they say?” Towns asked. “You don’t have to roar to be a lion. KG is very ferocious in the way he plays. That’s just the way he is, that’s just his game. I think I play a more joyful, happy-to-be-playing-this-game type of style. I play with a lot of passion. I may not scream or yell the way KG does, but never, ever mistake my kindness for weakness. I go out there always and play tremendously hard.”
Building a brotherhood
Garnett might not see his exact kind of fire in Towns, but he said it didn’t take long watching Towns’ pre-draft workouts at the Wolves’ new practice facility in June to determine he’s a unique player with “a motor that’s very, very above average” and an advanced feel for the game.
Garnett has played in the NBA since 1995. He knows those kind of guys don’t come around often.
“You can’t just go to the store and get a six-pack,” Garnett said. "That's in you. Know what I’m saying? Don’t take his smile for a weakness or something different. He’s enjoying being young. He’s enjoying playing basketball. This is his dream.”
Towns calls his friendship with Wiggins an already strong one, built upon “just really talking to each other about life and basketball.” It’s one that Wolves interim coach Sam Mitchell said he’ll let grow naturally and let time takes its course.
“That’s something between them,” Mitchell said. “These guys are in the locker room, on the bus, on the plane. They will do that on their own, in their own time, but we’re not going to force it. That’s not what we’re here for.”
Garnett, however, believes it is one of the things for which Saunders brought him back to the franchise that drafted him long ago. It is a part he wants to play.
“Chemistry is what you want them to build,” Garnett said. “I promote that. I promote them not only to hang out, but sit, talk with each other, open up to each other. You’re forming a brotherhood here for life. The experience we get here as brothers will be forever. I talk to them straight up, raw and make sure they understand what I’m saying. So far, so good, man. Our young guys are really good guys. They work really hard. They push each other. At the same time, they’re kids and they’re enjoying their youth. It’s good. It’s refreshing.”
The two young stars share a similar youthful sense of humor and a championship desire that Wiggins defines as “playing basketball with a purpose.”
They won’t play a regular-season game together until Wednesday night in Los Angeles against the Lakers. It’s the official professional start of a personal relationship already being built, a partnership Towns likens to a marriage he saw daily growing up built from “mutual respect that translates to love.”
“As time goes on, as years go by, our feel for each other will grow even stronger,” Wiggins said. “We’ll know what each other likes to do: Where he’ll be on the court, what his favorite hobbies are. I’m going to know him and I’m going to be on him so much. We know whatever we’ll do, we’ll do it together.”