Wolves rookie Wes Johnson has picked up much from the Lakers star; now he'll try to guard him.
Timberwolves rookie Wes Johnson's newfound confidence will get a test Tuesday night at Target Center against the Lakers' Kobe Bryant. But it won't be their first go-round.
Johnson met Bryant during last spring's playoffs, when the former Syracuse star was in Los Angeles for a predraft workout. The two players share an agent, Rob Pelinka, who helped put Johnson in touch with Bryant. The two swapped phone numbers, and when Johnson decided to train last summer in L.A., the two worked out a couple of times before Bryant had offseason surgery.
It started one day when Bryant phoned Johnson with instructions to meet him. Johnson got there at 8 a.m. and Bryant already had finished lifting weights. The two went out on the court, where Bryant gave Johnson some pointers on the triangle offense.
"Ever since then, I've looked to him for advice," Johnson said.
That advice might not help Johnson slow down one of the league's best players Tuesday night, but ... "I'll do my best to make all his shots tough, make every catch tough for him," he said. "Really, I'll just try to slow him down."
Even during the season, Johnson said, Bryant has watched some Wolves games. He has called and given Johnson advice, things to work on. For a young man who grew up idolizing Bryant's game, this is pretty big stuff.
"It's a great blessing," Johnson said. "I can't put into words what it says about him, just looking out for me, giving me words of advice, his opinion on things I need to work on. I appreciate it."
The Lakers coming to town coincides with Johnson playing as well as he has all season. Johnson struggled badly heading into the All-Star break. But a weekend in L.A. for the Rookie Challenge (and the rest of the All-Star festivities) was the perfect tonic. Not only did Johnson play well in the Rookie Challenge, he also got a first-hand view of how the game's best players handled themselves.
"The whole atmosphere and energy and excitement of All-Star weekend, in general, it really just opened my eyes," Johnson said. "I came back from there fresh. You come back to your team and you bring a different vibe."
And a different role. Corey Brewer, who had spent much of the season starting at guard, was traded to New York. Martell Webster, a veteran coming off the bench, was hurting because of a bad back. That left Johnson to play big minutes. He has responded, scoring 39 points in the past two games, his highest total in back-to-back games this season.
Even better, Johnson has begun to show some potential on defense. He picked up 17 points with seven rebounds, three assists and four steals against Golden State on Sunday. He also had two blocks, including a game-sealing one on Monta Ellis late in the game.
"I think he has started to see what he has the potential to become as a player," Wolves coach Kurt Rambis said. "We're asking him to do more things, in terms of handling the ball, attacking the basket, being a passer off his driving opportunities."
Johnson's defense has improved, in starts and stops, as well. There have been times when defensive lapses have forced Johnson to the bench. But there he was Sunday with the game on the line, stopping Ellis, one of the league's most accomplished scorers.
Next up: Bryant. One thing he learned from his summer workouts with the Lakers star was don't talk trash.
"He was trying to get the ball and I stole it," Johnson said. "And he yelled out to the ref, and I was laughing. He came up and shook his head, threw the ball at me. Just a little fun. But you don't want to wake him up, just keep him controlled."
The mentor/student relationship temporarily ends during the game. Johnson said he is most impressed with the killer instinct Bryant shows on the court. It's an attitude he's trying to mimic. Johnson said even his mother has been on him about that.
"She wants me to get back to my old ways of being out there, yelling," Johnson said. "It will happen soon enough."
Johnson said he plans to work out with Bryant next summer. But first, he will try to slow down Bryant on Tuesday night.
"I plan on him coming out aggressive from the start," Johnson said. "Soon as the tip, I expect him to come out full-speed."
|Atlanta||2||Bottom 8th Inning|
|Houston||3||Bottom 8th Inning|
|NY Mets||1||Bottom 8th Inning|
|Pittsburgh||10||Top 8th Inning|
|Miami||6||Top 8th Inning|
|NY Yankees||9||Bottom 8th Inning|
|Chicago Cubs||5||Bottom 3rd Inning|
|Los Angeles||1||Bottom 3rd Inning|
|Cleveland||3||Bottom 4th Inning|
|Kansas City||0||Bottom 2nd Inning|
|Seattle||9||Bottom 3rd Inning|
|Arizona||0||Top 3rd Inning|
|Arizona||3||Bottom 3rd Inning|
|Oakland||1||Top 3rd Inning|
|New York||6:30 PM|
|St. Louis||0||2nd Prd 14:34|
|Mount St Marys||77||FINAL|
|Boise State||58||1st OT 0:50|
|Oklahoma State||70||2nd Half 0:08|
|Connecticut||45||2nd Half 2:26|
|Georgetown||56||2nd Half 3:53|
|UMBC||43||2nd Half 6:40|
|Bowling Green||42||2nd Half 10:15|
|Siena||44||2nd Half 10:58|
|Va Military||47||2nd Half 11:20|
|Northeastern||53||2nd Half 12:07|
|Western Carolina||58||2nd Half 5:39|
|Western Ky||39||2nd Half 9:15|
|Utah||51||2nd Half 5:40|
|Missouri State||23||2nd Half 11:15|
|San Diego||26||2nd Half 15:55|
|Seattle||19||1st Half 3:58|
|Army||22||1st Half 6:15|
|Nicholls||6||1st Half 6:46|
|Arkansas||5||1st Half 16:06|
|Pittsburgh||2||1st Half 18:30|
|South Carolina||16||1st Half 15:00|
|Oral Roberts||0||1st Half 19:15|
|Auburn||9||1st Half 16:04|
|Oklahoma||9||1st Half 15:33|
|Texas||4||1st Half 16:39|
|Incarnate Word||3:00 PM|
|Colorado State||3:05 PM|
|Seton Hall||3:30 PM|
|George Washington||3:30 PM|
|Ball State||3:30 PM|
|Arizona State||3:30 PM|
|New Orleans||3:45 PM|
|Sam Houston St|
|Weber State||4:05 PM|
|Southern Ill||4:05 PM|
|Holy Cross||4:30 PM|
|Loyola Marymount||4:30 PM|
|Jackson State||5:00 PM|
|Ga Southern||5:00 PM|
|James Madison||5:00 PM|
|Saint Peters||5:30 PM|
|Texas Southern||5:30 PM|
|Grambling St||6:00 PM|
|Eastern Ky||6:00 PM|
|Wright State||6:00 PM|
|SE Louisiana||6:00 PM|
|UC Riverside||6:00 PM|
|Long Beach State|
|Northern Colorado||6:00 PM|
|St Bonaventure||6:00 PM|
|UC Davis||6:30 PM|
|Central Arkansas||6:30 PM|
|Stephen F Austin|
|Grand Canyon||7:00 PM|
|Prairie View||7:30 PM|
|Miss Valley St||7:30 PM|
|Texas State||7:30 PM|
|Coll of Charleston||7:30 PM|
|William & Mary|
|McNeese State||7:30 PM|
|North Carolina||8:00 PM|
|Santa Clara||8:00 PM|
|UC Santa Barbara||9:00 PM|
|Fresno State||9:00 PM|
|San Jose St|
|Idaho State||9:05 PM|
|Montana State||9:05 PM|
|New Mexico||9:05 PM|
|San Diego St|
|Cal State Fullerton||10:59 PM|
|Sporting Kansas City||0||1st Half 5:00|
|Red Bull New York||6:30 PM|
|New England||7:30 PM|
|Real Salt Lake||9:30 PM|
|(5) South Carolina||58|
|(18) Oklahoma St||67|
|East Tenn St||50||FINAL|
|Fla Gulf Coast||74||FINAL|
|Central Michigan||79||1st OT 2:33|
|Ohio U||36||2nd Half 15:19|
|(15) Texas A&M||64||2nd Half 8:55|
|New Orleans||31||2nd Half 9:21|
|Sam Houston St||73|
|Kansas||37||2nd Half 8:38|
|No Dakota State||26||2nd Half|
|Southern Ill||37||2nd Half|
|Evansville||44||2nd Half 20:00|
|Indiana State||34||2nd Half|
|Illinois State||30||2nd Half|
|Ohio State||33||1st Half 5:19|
|Eastern Washington||3:00 PM|
|Portland State||3:00 PM|
|Northern Ariz||3:00 PM|
|Utah Valley U||3:00 PM|
|TX-Pan American||3:00 PM|
|Prairie View||3:00 PM|
|Texas Southern||3:00 PM|
|Sacramento St||0||1st Half 18:42|
|McNeese State||0||1st Half 20:00|
|Jackson State||0||1st Half 20:00|
|Western Carolina||3:30 PM|
|(14) NC State||4:00 PM|
|(2) Notre Dame|
|Central Arkansas||4:00 PM|
|Stephen F Austin|
|SE Louisiana||4:00 PM|
|Cal Poly||4:00 PM|
|UC Santa Barbara|
|(16) Nebraska||4:55 PM|
|(19) Michigan State|
|Miss Valley St||5:00 PM|
|Texas State||5:15 PM|
|Chicago State||6:00 PM|
|(7) West Virginia|
|(13) North Carolina||6:30 PM|
|Cal State Fullerton|
|Northern Colorado||8:30 PM|
|Long Beach St||9:00 PM|
|Washington St||10:30 PM|