NEW YORK – Whether missing an “e” or not, Karl-Anthony Towns and Marques Townes won a New Jersey high school state championship together before they took divergent roads toward starring on the NCAA tournament stage.
Towns did it for one fleeting freshman season with a fearsome Kentucky team that went 38-0 before it lost in the 2015 NCAA Final Four semifinal.
A college senior, Townes took Loyola (Ill.) back to the Elite Eight for the first time since 1963 when his clutch three-point shot put away former Timberwolves assistant coach Eric Musselman’s Nevada team for good Thursday night in Atlanta.
“Just a heck of a player that I was fortunate enough to play with, a fellow Dominican as well,” Towns said. “It’s going to be great to see his career progress, watching him make a run in the NCAA tournament. I’m really happy for him.”
Towns, Townes and guard Wade Baldwin all played for a St. Joseph’s high school that won New Jersey’s 2014 Tournament of Champions. The Wolves selected Towns first overall in the 2015 draft. Memphis drafted Baldwin 16th overall in 2017.
Both would still be seniors — Towns at Kentucky, Baldwin at Vanderbilt — if they had stayed in college, as Townes did. Seeded 11th, Loyola plays No. 9 seed Kansas State on Saturday and the winner goes to the Final Four in San Antonio.
Towns watched Thursday’s game with his parents and they all watched a Loyola guard penetrate Nevada’s defense before he passed the ball out beyond the three-point line.
“We were all saying, ‘Marques, hit the shot,’ and he hit it,” Towns said. “He had his one shining moment.”
Wolves guard Derrick Rose did not travel to New York because of a sprained ankle sustained Tuesday against the Clippers. Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau continues to call Rose “day to day” and he’s expected to miss Saturday’s game in Philadelphia as well.
Rose played for the Knicks last season. Asked before Friday’s game by the New York City media if signing him as a free agent was an easy call, Thibodeau said, “Yeah, we needed to add talent. We’re heading down the stretch and Jimmy [Butler]’s out, so it was a good fit for us.”
All the Garden’s a stage
Nine years in the league and Wolves veteran Taj Gibson still finds it “weird” every time he plays at Madison Square Garden, which is just across the river from where he grew up in Brooklyn.
“It’s that glow,” he said, referring to the arena’s theatre lighting. “I don’t know how to say. When you get here, it brightens up, like it only shines on the court and it makes it like a big opera stage.”
• On Sunday, Butler called this week’s rehabilitation crucial to his recovery from knee surgery. On Friday, Thibodeau said Butler continues to progress, but he wouldn’t set a timeline. Gibson said Sunday he intends to play before the regular season ends. “When he’s ready, he’s ready,” Thibodeau said.
• Wolves veteran Jamal Crawford hasn’t called Madison Square Garden home since he last played for the Knicks in 2009 after five seasons there. But he still recalls playing there fondly, especially hitting game-winning shots in consecutive games once. “To do it here, nothing else tops it,” he said.
• Celebrities out at the Garden on a Friday night: actor Liev Schreiber, comedian Jon Stewart, actress Jackie Cruz and rapper Dave East.
• Gibson watched the Knicks all the time when he was growing up but remembers attending only three games: two with the Boys and Girls Club and once when his father took him.