CHICAGO – Fresh on the job, Tom Thibodeau and Scott Layden already have been to meet many of the June draft’s top prospects and brought some of the unsung ones to see them, too.
The Timberwolves coach/president of basketball operations and GM are in Chicago this week for the NBA’s annual draft combine. It’s a five-day rite of spring during which they have interviewed candidates for what likely will be a top-six pick as well as players they could select if they trade down in the first round or acquire a second-round pick.
Among them is Providence sophomore Ben Bentil, a 6-8 forward who declared for the June 23 draft but will keep his name in consideration for it only if he believes he will be a first-round pick. Bentil averaged 21.1 points and 7.7 rebounds last season.
Bentil said Thursday that he and others considering their draft possibilities worked out for Thibodeau and Layden last week at the team’s Mayo Clinic Square practice facility. He said he interviewed with the Wolves both in Minneapolis last week and Chicago this week.
Bentil and the new Wolves coach apparently hit it off.
“I see myself as a defensive player,” Bentil said, “and he’s a defensive coach.”
He was a teammate of projected lottery pick and star Friars guard Kris Dunn, whom the Wolves also interviewed in Chicago. The Wolves interviewed California’s Jaylen Brown — a potential pick if the Wolves select fifth, sixth or seventh — and more than a dozen others in Chicago. Duke’s Brandon Ingram, Kentucky’s Jamal Murray and Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield all came to participate in parts of the combine and all are considered potential top-five pick.
Dunn could be drafted among the top five picks, too, but Bentil at times this season looked every bit as much of a star as his more heralded teammate because of his toughness, work ethic and ability to score from all over the floor.
“I don’t get overshadowed at all,” Bentil said. “He’s a person of his own. I’m a person of my own.”
Bentil also is a big fan of Wolves star Kevin Garnett. He has modeled some of his game after Atlanta’s Paul Millsap and Golden State’s Draymond Green, but also has considered Garnett his favorite player.
“I put all three together and try to be like them,” he said.
Bentil didn’t meet Garnett when he visited Minneapolis for the day — he also has worked out in New Orleans so far — but could feel his presence at the Wolves’ practice facility.
“No,” he said when asked if he met Garnett, “but I was blessed to see his locker.”
Bentil also walked the same hallways and worked out on the same court as the former league MVP whom Bentil admires for Garnett’s “attitude” and “his preparation on the court.”
“I always see myself like that,” Bentil said.
Bentil said he worked out for the Wolves along with fellow underclassmen and fellow forwards Abdul-Malik Abu from North Carolina State, Abdel Nader from Iowa State and Trevon Bluiett from Xavier, all of whom are testing their draft possibilities, as well as Pitt senior guard James Robinson.
It’s no surprise that Bentil said Thibodeau seeks players who are mentally strong.
“They just want to learn if you’re a mature player, if you’re a player who’s ready and willing to work,” Bentil said. “That fits into their organization. That’s what he talked about a lot. He just said you’ve got to be mentally tough. When he’s talking to you and things are not going your way, how are you going to take it? But he’s a coach. That’s every coach’s mentality.”