Wolves wowed by crowds in Turkey

  • Article by: CHUCK CULPEPPER , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 9, 2007 - 1:37 AM

While the team practiced Monday in London, where it will play the Celtics, a fulfilling trip to Istanbul was still strongly on the players' minds.

LONDON - Now that they will always have Istanbul, the Minnesota globetrotters have flown westward to this smallish town over here, held one practice and marveled at how so very, very many people occupy the metropolis back there in Turkey.

"Those people," new Timberwolves forward Ryan Gomes all but gasped. "There were so many."The people," Wolves coach Randy Wittman all but shouted. "The vastness of the population."

Eyeballing a Wednesday exhibition with the Boston Celtics, the post-Kevin Garnett Wolves have two types of impressions from their previous weeklong stopover: They have some first basketball impressions from their exhibition victory over the Turkish professional team Efes Pilsen, and they have some deep life impressions from a country more exotic to Americans than most foreign-exhibition destinations.

While players participated in charity and business appearances in Turkey -- and John Edwards and Mark Madsen visited such famous sites as the former mosque-turned-museum Hagia Sophia and one of the city's noted blue mosques -- everybody on the trip was amazed by the multitudes.

"Just 17 million in one area, or it's almost like one area, and you're driving, and the stoplights change, and it's like ants," Wittman said, adding, "No crosswalks ... that, to me, was just, 'Wow.' I don't see that very much."

Said Gomes: "I was talking to our interpreter, and he said there's 16 million people there," as it's clear you can lose about a million in such crowds. "People are out and driving everywhere, fishing in the river."

He had seen Americans standing in median strips selling roses before, just not "people selling bottled water -- on the highway."

Wittman's highway memory involves a sole driver who clearly lost something off his truck and got out to run back and retrieve it. As he ran, Wittman said, "Somebody was coming down his lane, and he wasn't moving over. It was like a game of 'chicken' with no vehicle. He was gonna get killed to get whatever it was."

The 13-year NBA veteran Juwan Howard's prevailing memory involved the Wolves' distribution of hearing aids to children through the Starkey Foundation, which Wolves owner Glen Taylor supports. It afforded views of, in some cases, children hearing well for the first time.

"That was very touching," Howard said. "That's something I'm going to always remember for the rest of my lifetime."

Howard said the game audience also stood out, what with North American NBA audiences not known for the just-thrilled-to-be-there vibe

"The fans at the ballgame, they were excited about NBA basketball," he said. For din, it'll almost certainly beat East London's O2 Arena, where two NHL regular-season games sold out two weeks ago with fragmented allegiances that minimized noise.

In the louder exhibition in Istanbul, the Wolves got a primo game from Al Jefferson, the most promising of the five-pronged acquisition for Garnett. Jefferson grabbed 17 rebounds to go with 11 points in a zone-defense festival Wittman found not conducive to high rebound totals. "One thing I know, he can rebound," Wittman said.

A team under construction also seems to have an outlook under construction, if not the freshest one. It seems there's not a lot of respect going around for the post-Garnett Wolves, and it seems they've noticed.

"Of course, we've been hearing that," said the 22-year-old Jefferson, one of eight players younger than 25. "We don't care. Part of the business."

In fact, belittle them more, he said. "Yeah, it helps a lot," he said.

When an English reporter used calm English realism to inquire about this being a "dead period" in Wolves history, Wittman said: "It's not a dead period. It's a new-beginning period for this team. ... We're gonna compete in this league."

Garnett's 'most fun' camp

"This is by far the most fun I've had in camp," Garnett -- of the Celtics -- said Monday, while claiming he'd not spent a whole lot of recent hours reminiscing.

"You know what's crazy?" he said, referring to this hasty reunion with all things Wolf. "The players, coaches and a lot of people I grew up alongside in Minnesota, a lot of those players are gone now."

The people he "didn't really know are still there. It makes it a little easier, knowing that the people I grew up with are not there."

Adjusting to changes

Reunions go every which way in East London. Jefferson said it "felt just like last year, just being in the hotel with these guys [the Celtics]. More like a family. We did everything together. That's the bad thing about it. But it's business."

As for Garnett, Wittman said, "We've all, I think, moved past that. We've got a new team here, and they've got a new team and it'll be good to see Kevin Garnett."

Howard: I'm a Wolf

Wittman calls Howard's relocation requests "a little bit blown out [of proportion], from a media standpoint. He's not demanding to be traded; he just wants the opportunity to win."

Said Howard, brought in six weeks before Garnett moved out, "I'm a Minnesota Timberwolf, not going to complain about it, and if I end up staying the entire year, I'm going to work hard."


    Up next: vs. Boston at London 1:30 p.m. Wednesday • ESPN2

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