Jerry Zgoda missed the entire Kevin Garnett era, but he's back covering the Timberwolves after working the beat for their first four seasons two decades ago. In between, he covered a bit of everything: Gopher men's and women's basketball and NCAA athletics, golf, outdoor recreation, sports media and a little Vikings and Twins.
Day 3 -- and the last of two days of two-a-day practices -- is over for the Wolves at training camp in Mankato and they've come through the opening five practice in relatively good shape, save for Glenn Robinson III's minor ankle sprain.
Nikola Pekovic didn't practice Thursday morning -- the major workout in a day when the Wolves just went for about an hour's walk-through at night -- but Flip Saunders called it a precautionary measure intended to limit the wear-and-tear on Pekovic's ankles.
He said they'll continue to do the same throughout the season, whenever the Wolves encounter a heavy game or practice portion of their schedule.
Saunders talked Thursday about what he has seen so far, mentioning vets Chase Budinger and J.J. Barea as among the camp's best performers so far and newly acquired Anthony Bennett as perhaps its most surprising.
Budinger, of course, is coming back from two injury-filled seasons when he underwent two knee surgeries twice in a span of 10 months.
"He's starting to get his legs under him," Saunders said. "He really hasn't had a training camp in two years. The last training camp he had was the lockout year, which was seven day. So this is a whole process for him to get to where he wants to get."
Actually, Budinger participated in 2012 training camp, after he was acquired that June for the 18th overall pick Houston used to take Terrence Jones.
Saunders has kept three separate teams together during these first three days of camp and Budinger and Barea have been on the same team.
That team, Saunders noted, has won a bunch of scrimmage games.
(Don't tell that, though, to those Wolves fans who have been counting the days until the team trades or buys out Barea).
"He and JJ, they've played really well," Saunders said. "They've bought in what we're doing and their teams have been winning a lot of games. So they've done some really good things."
Before camp started, Saunders said Barea probably was the best player in last season's camp.
"He was," Saunders said. "Like I told him, he just has to keep doing things in the system, and not get carried away too much. He has shown good leadership, gotten guys into plays, hasn't tried to do too much."
Saunders went out and signed veteran Mo Williams in July because he wanted a stable combo guard he could play late in games, game situations last season when the Wolves struggled mightily.
Presumably, that leaves little room for Barea. We'll see if Saunders can figure out how to find time for all of 'em: Barea, Williams, Ricky Rubio and Zach LaVine.
Look for Saunders to use Budinger at both wing spots and maybe some power forward, too.
"I think he can play some 4 against certain teams," Saunders said. "Like how New York used (Steve) Novak and Houston used (Matt Bullard). He's long, athletic and can put a lot of pressure on you by being able to spread the floor, if that's something you want to do."
The Wolves will practice once on Friday and Saturday and then will scrimmage Sunday afternoon -- closed to the public -- before they break camp and head back to the Twin Cities to get ready for their preseason opener at Indianapolis on Tuesday.
Day 2 of training camp -- well, Day 2 1/2 if you count Monday night's midnight madness - is over in Mankato and the Wolves have come through two intense, competitive days relatively healthy, except for some cramps and Glenn Robinson III's tweaked ankle.
My Wolves Daily videos are back for another season and W.D. Thursday is up with a snapshot look of my impressions from these first two days.
Here's the video if you prefer someone else to do your reading for you.
If you prefer to do it yourself, here, in written word, is some of my takes from players I've seen:
* Chase Budinger/ He doesn't look much like the guy you saw last year, or the year before. That means he finally looks healthy and his knees and legs look like they will take him where he wants to go.
He got to the basket with some elevation during Monday night's scrimmages and looks to be getting good lift on from his lower body on his shots.
He's played some shooting guard from the bits of practices they let the media see. It'll be interesting to see how Flip tries to find room and roles for all the wing players the Wolves have.
* Andrew Wiggins/ Just like he did for Cleveland in Vegas Summer League, there have been a couple moments so far when he's exploded from nowhere and you just say, well, my goodness.
It's obvious the guy is a thoroughbred and a uniquely gifted athlete. His second leap after he already has jumped once is ridiculous.
Like in Vegas, I've only seen those moments fleetingly. His best step forward will be to put together more and more of them, but you can already see he'll impact the defense with his length and sudden shot-blocking helping from the weak side.
* Zach LaVine/ He took off his shirt after a practice and it only emphasized how skinny he is.
He obviously has to get much much stronger and he'll get beat up plenty in his rookie season. When he can get out and run, he looks special. Trying to fit into a half-court game so far, well, you can see he'll probably be a bit of project.
Don't expect too much too soon.
* Gorgui Dieng/ Fresh off his impressive World Cup experience for Senegal, he's shown these two days that Flip Saunders is going to have to figure how to get him on the floor more.
Pek is tough, but he doesn't have the intimidating lane presence that Gorgui has with his shot blocking. Pek also does have the ability to step out on the floor and shoot like Gorgui has done so far here in camp.
* Shabazz Muhammad/ Yep, he's lost 20 pounds and you can sure tell. Even owner Glen Taylor remarked how different even Shabazz's face look, but you really see it when he charges down the floor or bulls his way to the basket.
He's obviously quicker and stronger and can get up off the floor like he couldn't last year after spending weeks working with a rather unconventional trainer out in San Francisco.
* Anthony Bennett/ He has struggled some adapting to goggles he has to wear the next two to three weeks to protect his eyes after Lasik surgery and I'm not sure yet quite where he fits on this team, other than a backup role at power forward.
But he looks like a guy who initially is going to have to earn his way being a garbage man, picking up his points and rebounds on second chances under the basket, if though he can, and obviously likes, to shoot it from range.
He looked nothing like the guy who was injured and overweight most of last season when he exploded for one dunk with that body that he reshaped like Shabazz did with that training program out in California.
* Corey Brewer/ He'll move back to the bench, probably sooner rather than later, to make room for Wiggins at small forward. But that just might be the perfect place for this energy guy who will continue to run tirelessly even with Kevin Love's outlet passes long gone.
He's also been the leader so far in amping practices up with his constant chatter and infectious good cheer.
* Thaddeus Young/ I'll simply say you can tell he'll score a lot for this team -- inside mostly probably -- and he gets his hands on a lot of balls. Guess there was a reason he was third in the league in the steals last year, although I haven't gotten a good handle yet on just how good -- or how much a liability -- he is as an individual one-on-one defender.
That's it for now. Blog at you later.
I think Wolves president of basketball operations and head coach Flip Saunders as a future as a concert promoter.
“I don’t know about that,” Saunders said after 90 minutes of “Dunks after Dark,’’ the official kickoff of Timberwolves’ training camp. “But it was a good show.’’
That it was. This idea of having a college-styled midnight madness-like opening to the Wolves training camp here in Mankato at the stroke of midnight Tuesday was nothing if not well-attended and….
By 10 p.m. hoards of fans – almost entirely students – were gathering outside the Taylor Center on the Minnesota State-Mankato campus, waiting to get in. At 11 p.m. the doors opened and, with extraordinarily loud music blaring, those fans rushed the arena to grab their seat and a free T-shirt. The Wolves opened camp with some warmups, a few drills, a handful of scrimmages and a short display of dunking.
“Hey, great energy and support from the fans here in Mankato,” Saunders said. “It’s nice when they come out. Glen (owner Glen Taylor) has been such a big supporter of this city, it’s nice to have people come out. Our team came down and put on a little show for them.”
By the time the clock struck midnight there had to have been at least 3,500 people, and perhaps more, in Bresnan Arena, which holds something north of 4,500.
At midnight, with music, smoke and lights, Ricky Rubio led the Wolves onto the court for warmups, with Thaddeus Young and Zach LaVine wearing Minnesota State-Mankato warmups honoring Isaac Kolstad.
After a dunk-heavy warmup period, Young spoke briefly with the crowd (“Are you ready?’’ he asked. “We’re ready, too. We’re ready to take on the season.”) Then the three teams were announced:
Team 1: Rubio, Chase Budinger, Andrew Wiggins, Robbie Hummel, Nikola Pekovic and Kyrylo Fesenko.
Team 2: Mo Williams, LaVine, Corey Brewer, Young, Gorgui Dieng and Brady Heslip.
Team 3: J.J. Barea, Kevin Martin, Shabazz Muhammad, Glen Robinson, Ronny Turiaf and Anthony Bennett.
Then the scrimmages:
In the first Heslip’s three-pointer in the final minute gave his team a one-point victory over Rubio’s team in a session that included some nice play by Wiggins and a bunch of hoops by Brewer.
In the second scrimmage Martin hit all four of his three-pointers and scored 14 of his team’s 28 points in a one-point victory over LaVine’s team.
In the third scrimmage Rubio’s three-pointer with 1.9 seconds ended the scrimmage in a 22-22 tie.
Team 3: 1-0-1
Team 2: 1-1-0
Team 1: 0-1-1
And, then, finally, a few dunks. Among the highlights: a 360 by LaVine; a windmill by Wiggins; a through-the-legs by LaVine.
--It was interesting that the first points in the first scrimmage tonight was a Wiggins dunk from Rubio’s alley-oop pass.
-- Martin is in mid-season shooting form.
-- Muhammad not only looks like a new person, he runs and jumps line one, too.
--Not sure how it will translate to victories right away, but this is a very, very athletic team.
And early Tuesday morning there was a lot of energy in Bresnan Arena.
“I didn’t know it would be that crazy,” Saunders said. “When they first came running in it was quite a sight. But it was good. Our guys got into it, got in a good sweat. ‘’
Said LaVine, just months removed from college: “That was a lot of fun. That was back in my environment.’’
The Timberwolves today made it official, with training camp now just five days away: They have hired L.A.-based Mike Penberthy as a shooting coach to work with a team, particularly Ricky Rubio, who has struggled in that area in recent years.
A former Laker who played 56 NBA games more than a decade, Penberthy worked with Rubio, Chase Budinger and others over the summer. He will move back and forth from his Los Angeles-area home to work with players.
"I don't even want to pigeon-hole him as a shooting coach because i think there are other things he'll be able to help us with," Wolves coach/president Flip Saunders said. "That will be his main emphasis. Ricky enjoyed working with him, even though it was only for a week. I think if Ricky had a chance to spend a month with him or six weeks, I believe we could have seen some good changes. We'll let his role evolve. It's important for him to see how we want to play and where guys are going to get shots and how he can incorporate that into our shooting."
The Wolves also hired former Detroit director of basketball operations Jason Hervey -- no, not the Wonder Years kid -- as a scout who will work both colleges and NBA personnel.
They also announced they are promoting scout Derek Pierce from general scout to advance scout.
Here's the scoop on the Wolves' "Dunk After Dark" -- their professional version of college basketball's Midnight Madness -- set for late Monday night at Minnesota State-Mankato's Bresnan Arena:
For starters, it's free and open to the public but you need a ticket: Season-ticket holders can reverse a space in a VIP section by contacting their ticket reps. Tickets are limited to two each for Mankato-State Mankato students and four each for everybody else. They're available Thursday beginning at 11 a.m. at the university's Student Union Center and two U.S. Bank locations in Mankato, 312 Raintree Rd. and 115 E. Hickory Street.
A limited number will be available at the event.
Doors open at 11 p.m. and the Wolves will take the floor at 12:01 a.m., just after the stroke of midnight and the first legal minute they can, according to NBA rules, begin practice.
The team will play three 12-minute scrimmages starting at 12:15 a.m. and a 10-minute "freestyle" session that will include all players but you can bet will feature a dunk-off between Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine follows that.
NBA TV will carry the event live, starting at 11:30 p.m. Greg Anthony and Isiah Thomas are coming to town for it. The timberwolves.com web site also will stream it live.
The Wolves will begin full training-camp practices Tuesday afternoon. They report Monday for their annual media-day obligations at Target Center.
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