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On the Wolves

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Tyus Jones headlines Wolves caravan

Training camp is still two months away, but Timberwolves rookie Tyus Jones is getting busy.

He will throw out the first pitch at Thursday night's Twins-Seattle game at Target Field and headline the team's annual caravan tour that will visit Alexandria, Mankato and Rochester next week.

Assistant coaches Sam Mitchell and Ryan Saunders will join Jones on the three-day trip. So, too, will Crunch, of course.

They'll make appearances and give clinics for ages 5-18 at the Alexandria Area YMCA on Tuesday, Bresnan Arena Taylor Center in Mankato on Wednesday and the Rochester Family YMCA on Thursday. The events are scheduled from 9:30 a.m. to 11 a.m. each day.


* Wolves center Gorgui Dieng is in South Africa this week making appearances and preparing to play in the first NBA game ever held in Africa. It'll be shown on ESPN at 8 a.m. Twin Cities time Saturday. Dieng, Luol Deng, Bismack Biyombo, Luc Mbah a Moute, Al-Farouq Aminu, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Nicolas Batum and others will play for Team Africa coached by Gregg Popovich. Chris Paul, Bradley Beal, Trey Burke, Kenneth Faried, Marc and Pau Gasol, Jeff Green and others will play for Team World coach by Lionel Hollins.

* And we're still waiting on the release of the NBA schedule, which seems to come out later and later each year. Last year, it didn't arrive until August's second week, presumably delayed by reconfiguring needed after LeBron James decided to leave Miami to go back home to Cleveland.

This time? Well, expect it either next week or the week after even though the NHL schedule has been out for weeks and weeks already.

Bjelica happy to finally join the Timberwolves

It was five years ago that Nemanja Bjelica, just drafted by the Timberwolves, came to Minneapolis to have his picture taken with the rest of the team’s draftees.

Five years. Seems a lot longer than that, at least to Bjelica.

“That five years was like 100 years for me,” he said Wednesday, back in Minneapolis, getting his picture taken. This time though, it’s different. When Bjelica was first drafted the Wolves viewed him as a part of their future. Five years later, he’s a part of the team.

Recently-signed by president of basketball operations – and coach – Flip Saunders, Bjelica is coming to Minnesota ready to be a regular part of Saunders’ rotation. This is something that, frankly, he felt he was ready for in 2010. At least now the Wolves completely agree.

“To his credit, with what he’s been able to do these last five years  in developing his game, he’s put himself in a situation to not only come to the NBA, but have a huge impact within the NBA and within our organization,’’ Saunders said.

To Saunders, Bjelica has been ready to come over for a couple years. But it was important, he felt, that Bjelica needed to come to Minnesota and get right on the court. Two years ago the Wolves were a different team, more veteran, and playing time would have been hard to come by. Now he is joining a team filled with youth. Bjelica brings years of professional experience.

And if it meant paying dues in Europe? OK.

“I’m very excited to be here, finally,’’ he said. “I was drafted five years ago, finally I’m here. I’m very happy and honored to be here, be a part of the Minnesota Timberwolves.  … My dream finally came true, and I will become an NBA player.’’

But don’t pigeonhole him. Saunders went out of his way not to label the 6-10 Bjelica as either a small forward or power forward. Saunders is trying to build a team with players with position flexibility, and Bjelica is a prime example.

“The big thing is he’s different than our players,” Saunders said. “He can handle the basketball, he can shoot the three. He can move around the floor, run pick and rolls. We don’t have anyone with his size who can do that.’’

That said, there will be a learning curve. Bjelica will have to learn to defend at the NBA level. He will likely have to put more muscle on his frame. But he come to Minnesota having played in big games in Europe and for the Serbian national team -- a team he will play for this summer. He knows how to move the ball, create flow.

“What I like about Nemanja is that he knows how to make other people better,’’ Saunders said. “He can really pass the basketball. ‘’

And Bjelica? He’s just happy to finally be here. A kid who grew up with Allen Iverson as his idol is now thrilled to be Kevin Garnett’s teammate. Actually he’s just happy to finally be in the NBA.

“I’m very happy to come to the NBA this way, because I know it was very tough and difficult,’’ he said about the dues he paid in Europe waiting to get to the NBA. “I wanted to show everybody I deserved to be here. This is a great opportunity for me.’’

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