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UCLA's Zach LaVine (14) goes up for a layup against Florida's Casey Prather (24) during first-half action in the Southern Region semifinal of the NCAA Tournament at the FedEx Forum in Memphis, Tenn., on Thursday, March 27, 2014.

Joshua C. Cruey, Mct - Mct

Wolves draft prospect: Zach LaVine

  • Article by: JERRY ZGODA
  • Star Tribune
  • June 25, 2014 - 8:25 AM

Amid the swirl of endless Kevin Love trade rumors, you might have forgotten something: There’s an NBA draft to be held Thursday night, live from Brooklyn’s Barclays Center.The Timberwolves, barring a trade that deems otherwise, will select 13th overall in a draft that — rightly or not, we won’t immediately know — has been proclaimed as the deepest in years.

It’s a night that could proceed unexpectedly because of Kansas center and potential top pick Joel Embiid’s broken foot and European prospect Dario Saric’s decision to stay over there for at least the next two years.Wolves President of Basketball Operations and coach Flip Saunders suggests his team needs to be particularly nimble this year, probably both of the unknown and potential Love trade talks.

Depending how the evening unfolds, here’s three potential players — two of whom Saunders knows well because of his Big Ten allegiances and friendship with Michigan State coach Tom Izzo — who could wear a Timberwolves cap Thursday.

Zach LaVine

On draft night, prospective NBA players stand on the podium wearing a ball cap that represents their newly designated team and speak in generalities about how they have waited all their lives for this moment.

When UCLA freshman guard Zach LaVine gets there Thursday night at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center, he can speak in specifics.

LaVine remembers riding along in the car when he was a mere child while his father tossed out questions and he’d provide answers, as if his dad were an NBA general manager in a draft-preparation interview.

“Just getting me prepared,” LaVine says now. “I was probably 6, 7, 8. He said if we’re going to go through this process the way we are, we’re going to work really hard, so he prepared me for every aspect of it. He’d give me a lot of different questions and correct me on them, and I would just answer anything that came into my head. I feel like I’m really prepared now.”

Now NBA executives and scouts must answer the big questions: Just how prepared is a 19-year-old who might be the draft’s fastest and most athletic specimen? Even his freshman season at UCLA provides as much mystery as evidence.

He split time with Bryce Alford, son of Bruins coach Steve Alford, during a single, inconsistent collegiate season, but now has intrigued scouts with athleticism and a skill set that includes the ability to run the 100-yard dash in 10.9 seconds and hit a softball 355 feet.

A springy 6-5 combo guard with loads of what they call “upside” in the industry, LaVine considers himself part Russell Westbrook, part Steph Curry, part Jamal Crawford.

At least he doesn’t think too highly of himself …

“I’m not saying I’m there yet, I’m not saying I’m close to their games,” said LaVine, who grew up in Washington state. “But I feel like I have a little of Russell Westbrook’s driving ability and athleticism, Stephen Curry’s ball-handling skills and ability to shoot off the dribble and then Jamal Crawford’s shiftiness. I feel if I put those three people in my game and continue to work on my game, I’ll have a really good career.”

© 2014 Star Tribune