UCLA basketball coach Steve Alford said in a conference call Friday that when guard Zach LaVine came to the Bruins last summer, he had no idea the player would be a lottery pick after only one season of college basketball. He was taken No. 13 overall by the Timberwolves in Thursday’s NBA draft.
“I don’t think you ever think that,” Alford said. “The NBA, it’s a whole different level and mind-set. I know that when we saw him last summer and worked him, he had incredible athleticism, working into his role and what he wanted to do, somebody who wanted to run the floor and play that shooting guard position. This is something that he really wanted to do, and we felt like he could do it really well because of his ability to shoot the basketball, and he did that. He really did that well for us until late into the season. Other than that, he was really, really consistent for us. But to say that we saw him being a lottery pick last summer, no.”
Alford said he thinks one specific player can help LaVine’s transition to the Wolves: former UCLA forward Kevin Love.
“That’s somebody who can help him immediately,” Alford said. “I don’t know their roster and organization as well as I know Memphis and San Antonio [who also selected UCLA players in the draft], but I know that would be a person that I would reach out to.
“Because for one, [Love has] been at UCLA and he is a West Coast guy. He knows kind of what the feel has been in college. Staying one year in college and then going to the NBA and now being with Minnesota, I think there are a lot of things that he can share with Zach that are going to help him.”
Alford also touched on the idiotic media reaction that came when LaVine uttered a profanity after being selected, with many people wrongly assuming he was being disrespectful to the Wolves selecting him.
“He was in awe,” Alford said. “He’s a 19-year-old that, you know, two months ago was finishing up his freshman year at UCLA. … Now, all of a sudden, when it is your name being called, you are just — not only are you overjoyed, but this feeling of ‘I can’t believe my name is being called’ — it was a very humbling thing. I think that people read into it differently. But in my opinion and knowing Zach, that was a very humble reaction by Zach. And he is extremely fired up to be with Minnesota and get his career going.”
Saunders kept tabs on LaVine
Flip Saunders, Wolves coach and president of basketball operations, said the team had pegged LaVine as a potential draft pick when he came out of high school and followed him throughout last season.
“We knew about him coming out of high school. We knew about his athleticism as a player,” said Saunders, who has now overseen two drafts for the Wolves since returning to the team in 2013. “We followed him a lot. Saw him earlier in the year at UCLA and we had people see him, we just kind of followed him. We just thought that he would be a great fit.”
Saunders added that one of the things that impressed him was that when LaVine came to interview with the Wolves, he was reminded of a young Kevin Garnett.
“What I liked about him, when I interviewed him when he came here, he reminded me of KG in that he sat in the front of the chair, he has great work ethic, great respect for the game, great respect for players,” Saunders said. “When you take a player that has that, is willing to learn and has great athleticism, he has the chance to be a special type of player.”
Saunders described seeing LaVine play in person.
“I was impressed with not just his athletic ability but I was impressed with his skills,” Saunders said. “He could shoot the ball really well, he has the ability to put the ball on the floor, so when you take those and put that together with the athleticism and put that together with the right attitude and the work ethic, that’s when you have the chance to have someone special.”
Impressed by Robinson
Saunders also talked about the Wolves’ second-round pick, Michigan small forward Glenn Robinson III, who several draft analysts thought could go in the first round but fell to the Wolves at No. 40.
“We had him at, I think, No. 25, 26 or 27 on our board,” Saunders said. “I saw him as a freshman. [In] preseason, I watched him work out, really liked him. A lot of preseason people had him picked as a lottery pick this year and he had a pretty good year.
“It’s one of those things that sometimes you fall off a little bit from some of the scouts and they kind of forget about you a little bit. … But he has great upside. You can see talking to him that he’s an intelligent young man, he has a pedigree [as the son of one-time No. 1 overall draft pick Glenn Robinson Jr.], he knows what it is to play in this league. We’re excited to get him and we feel we got two first-round picks.”
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