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Mike Muscala grabbed a rebound away from the Gophers' Elliott Eliason during a game last season. Muscala could be a first-round NBA pick.

, Star Tribune file

Muscala still proving himself

  • Article by: JERRY ZGODA
  • Star Tribune
  • June 11, 2013 - 11:07 PM

Now a fully grown 6-11 center, Roseville’s own Mike Muscala is headed for the NBA because he still retains a small man’s shooting touch.

The same guy who says he models parts of his game after professional big men Pau Gasol and LaMarcus Aldridge also admits that he has patterned himself after Kobe Bryant and his favorite Timberwolf going to games at Target Center all those years when he was a kid was…

Wally Szczerbiak?

That’s right.

“Hands down,” said Muscala, who returns to Target Center on Wednesday for a pre-draft big man’s day that also will include Indiana’s Cody Zeller, Pitt’s Steven Adams and French center Rudy Gobert.

“That was my position, good shooter, white guy, so I could relate to him a little bit.”

Not that long ago, Muscala was what he now calls an “awkward” perimeter player who began ninth grade measuring 6-1 and graduated high school standing 6-10.

“I grew three inches every year,” he said. “I was even skinnier than I am now.”

In the meantime, he transformed from Roseville High School small forward into a slender big man who left Minnesota for little Bucknell in the Pennsylvania hills four years ago after the Gophers filled their two available scholarship spots that year with highly-acclaimed recruits Royce White and Rodney Williams.

Now there’s a chance some NBA team will take a chance on him with a late first-round pick — or second-round pick, for sure — in the June 27 draft, hoping his lower-body strength and defense someday will catch up with offensive skills that have impressed talent evaluators during pre-draft workouts.

If Muscala finds his way in the pros, it will be the same way he succeeded in high school and then in college.

“Hard work, somebody who’s really a hard worker,” he said. “I’ve had to work hard my whole career. I’ve always been doubted, even coming into Bucknell, and now I guess I’m what you might call a draft ‘sleeper.’ I suppose it’s natural coming from a small school.

“I like that challenge of proving people wrong. That kind of motivates me every day.”

Bucknell’s all-time leading scorer, who led his school to the NCAA tournament last spring, Muscala now must prove he’s ready to move beyond Patriot League competition.

He must do so by convincing NBA scouts he’s ready for their league’s physical nature, despite a 4-for-17 shooting performance in a first-round tournament loss to Butler.

“Really disappointing,” he said. “Especially coming from a small university, you want to play well on that big stage. It was definitely frustrating, but I watched the game film the next day, saw what I did wrong and got past it.”

On Wednesday, he comes to Target Center to work out against Adams and Gobert while Zeller will work out for Wolves officials by himself after the other three big men are done.

“I grew up watching the Timberwolves my entire life,” Muscala said. “My dad has season tickets now — the last three years — and he sits right behind the bench so tells me everything he hears and sees … You never know about the future, but I wouldn’t mind playing with Ricky Rubio and Kevin Love.”

Etc.

• The Wolves will play Boston in an Oct. 20 preseason game in Montreal as part of the NBA’s second-year Canada Series, an attempt to grow the game in Canada beyond Toronto and the Raptors. Toronto played New York at Montreal’s Bell Centre and the Wolves played Detroit in Winnipeg last fall in the series’ first year of games.

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