Wittman feels for former Hoosier teammate Thomas

  • Article by: JERRY ZGODA , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 5, 2007 - 12:08 AM

NEW YORK - Timberwolves coach Randy Wittman gave former college teammate and the evening's opposing coach, Isiah Thomas, a heartfelt hug in a hallway underneath Madison Square Garden and, arm in arm, led him to a back area where he offered encouraging words before Sunday's game.

The two men played together on Indiana's 1981 NCAA championship team and have been in the NBA and been in touch with each other pretty much ever since then.

Thomas is the embattled New York Knicks president of basketball operations and coach who's trying to clean up a mess he helped create by saddling the franchise with too many bloated contracts and too few good players in his four seasons as personnel boss. At the same time, he is back on the bench after he and the Knicks last month lost a sexual harassment lawsuit brought against him by a former team marketing executive.

Thomas assumed the coaching job before last season after Larry Brown was fired following one lousy season.

"I'm here as a friend," Wittman said. "He's going through some tough times, absolutely. I just told him he can pick up the phone at any time and call me. ... Isiah's got to remain who he is. He's got to get that smile back on his face. That's who he is."

Where's that résumé?

Wittman said he "can't even imagine" the pressure his pal Isiah is under as both the Knicks' GM and coach. Asked if that means he doesn't want to be the Wolves' personnel boss as well.

He laughed and said, "Well, ask me in another month."

Welcome back

Wolves forward Ryan Gomes grew up in Waterbury, Conn., and played three seasons with the Boston Celtics. But a bit of his heart has been left in Madison Square Garden ever since he was a freshman at Providence College.

"This is home," he said before the game. "Even when I was in Boston, I said this is where it started for me, in college. This is the first NBA arena I ever played in. I used to watch all the games from here on the MSG Network on our local cable, and we played a lot of big games here in college. I'm not going to jinx myself, but I usually play well here."

About 20 family members and friends made the trip to the big city and watched Gomes lead the Wolves with a 19-point, seven-rebound, three-assist night.

Watching

The Wolves placed the injured Randy Foye and Mark Madsen and rookie Chris Richard on their inactive list for the game. Madsen has practiced with the team fully for almost a week and Wittman said his game return from summer shoulder surgery is "around the corner."He's another guy who brings energy," Wittman said.

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