It took some traveling, including an extended stay in Spain, but Mike Muscala finally made his professional home debut Wednesday at Target Center.
Muscala is a 6-11 center who played for Roseville High School before going to Bucknell, where he finished with a school-record 2,036 points to go with 1,093 rebounds and appeared in two NCAA tournaments in four seasons.
A second-round pick (44th overall) by Dallas in last year’s draft, he quickly was traded to Atlanta. But he wound up signing to play in Spain. That’s where he was when a slew of injuries to big men prompted the Hawks to bring him back with a multiyear deal that is at partly guaranteed.
Muscala made his NBA debut March 2 and has played sparingly in 10 games, although he had career highs of eight points and 24 minutes in Atlanta’s 107-83 loss.
“This brings back a lot of memories of watching KG [Kevin Garnett] and Wally [Szczerbiak] — that was my favorite player growing up,” Muscala said.
As a player who didn’t reach his full height until relatively late, Muscala played a lot of small forward growing up, and he has a nice mid-range shot to show for it. With the Hawks he has been asked mostly to provide defense and energy.
“I think, on the court, he’s somebody we’re excited about,” Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “He’s someone who is going to grow and improve and starts with simply how hard he plays. He’s versatile for a young guy.”
For Muscala, this is really a second homecoming. While with Bucknell, he played the Gophers at Williams Arena in his junior year.
Muscala said he expected about 50 fans and friends to be at Target Center. What his friends and family saw was a player learned the NBA ropes.
“I’m trying to get adjusted as quickly as I can,” he said. “I’m just trying to find a role. I’m not playing many minutes, but when I come in I just bring energy.”
J.J. Barea, Gorgui Dieng and Ricky Rubio attended the Gophers’ NIT victory over Southern Mississippi on Tuesday, sitting behind the Gophers bench at Williams Arena.
Gophers coach Richard Pitino was an assistant at Northeastern during Barea’s senior season there. Dieng played for Pitino’s father, Rick, at Louisville.
Rubio and Dieng attended a few Gophers games this season. But it was Barea’s first time. And he was impressed by the Barn’s raised floor.
“It’s different,” he said. “But I think for the players, and for the fans, it’s kind of cool.”
Center Nikola Pekovic missed his sixth consecutive game because of ankle bursitis. But he has been ramping up his on-court workouts and has been responding well to them. Wolves coach Rick Adelman said there is a chance Pekovic could return to practice as early as Thursday, with the hope he plays Friday or Sunday.