Pekovic: One tough teddy bear

  • Article by: CHIP SCOGGINS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 13, 2012 - 3:07 PM

Wolves center Nikola Pekovic stands 6-11, weighs 290 pounds and made his name with his muscles. But he's a softie. No, really.

hide

Nikola Pekovic muscled his way to 21 points and 13 rebounds Saturday against the New York Knicks, just the sort of game that has gained him a following.

Photo: Marlin Levison, Star Tribune

CameraStar Tribune photo galleries

Cameraview larger

A hard foul ignited some tough talk, a few forearm shoves and a typical basketball scrum that was heated but mostly harmless. Nikola Pekovic peeled back to make sure it became nothing more than that.

As officials restored order after a testy exchange between Kevin Love and Indiana's Danny Granger, Pacers guard Dahntay Jones singled out the Timberwolves resident bouncer.

"Hey, we don't want any of you," he told Pekovic. "We don't want to mess with you."

Jones was only joking, probably his attempt to lower the temperature on the court. But he had a valid point. It's not wise to mess with Pek.

That's the mushrooming reputation of the Wolves' rugged second-year center from Montenegro.

Pekovic is a 6-11, 290-pound cinder block with 11 percent body fat and hands as thick as a Christmas ham. He has large tattoos of medieval warriors holding swords on his left biceps and calf. He can bench press 360 pounds, squat a dump truck and snap you like kindling, if the mood strikes him. His voice is Barry White deep and made even more intimidating by his Eastern Bloc accent. The theme music from "The Godfather" plays on the scoreboard after he scores, and he looks like a guy who could, you know, take care of certain things.

At least that's his on-court persona.

"Sometimes people get the wrong impression about me," he said. "I'm just a normal guy."

His teammates attest to that.

"Pek is a big teddy bear," forward Anthony Tolliver said.

Pek, a teddy bear?

"He has two personalities," Tolliver said. "One on the court, which is a big brute, big monster. Off the court, he likes to have fun, likes to laugh, jokes around a lot."

Which is a relief to those who come in contact with him most.

"If he was a real mean guy, I would be a little concerned, a little afraid," longtime athletic trainer Gregg Farnam said. "He's got a great personality and funny sense of humor."

Some find humor in the way Pekovic hammers defenders on screens like a linebacker and treats post players like bumper cars. His physical brand of basketball has endeared him to Wolves fans and earned him a spot in the starting lineup. His cult status seemingly grows by the game, not merely because he's Paul Bunyan strong but also because he's proven to be pretty skilled, too.

He's averaging 14.2 points and 9.2 rebounds and shooting 62.8 percent in eight games as a starter in place of his good friend Darko Milicic. Pek has provided toughness and scoring inside. He fights for offensive rebounds, and he has displayed some nimble -- no, seriously -- footwork around the basket.

In doing so, he has become a fan favorite, alongside Love and Ricky Rubio.

"I'm just trying to use everything, every moment, every minute on the court," he said. "Just trying to use that and be productive for the team. [Fans] really appreciate what I'm doing. I'm really happy for that. It's nice when you start playing well and the team is doing well and we're winning. I'll just keep doing what I'm doing."

Slow starter

Pek didn't always tower over other kids growing up in his beloved Montenegro, a small, picturesque European coastal country that hails itself the "Jewel of the Adriatic." He didn't even really like basketball that much. He loved to fish more than anything. He became serious about basketball his freshman year of high school after he sprouted 6 inches that summer.

He moved to Belgrade when he was 16 and played in the Serbian SuperLeague, followed by a two-year stint in Greece in the Euroleague. NBA teams admired his size and skill, but his lucrative multiyear contract in Greece deterred them from committing a first-round pick on him. The Wolves selected him with the first pick of the second round in 2008 but had to wait two years for his arrival.

His rookie season didn't go smoothly. "Tough on me," he said. He faced a difficult transition to a new culture and new style of basketball. He missed 13 games because of a badly sprained ankle. He regularly battled foul trouble as he adjusted to NBA officiating and learning the line between physical play and being overly physical.

"I bet he must have had a million pick-and-roll offensive fouls last year," said Houston coach Kevin McHale, who drafted Pekovic as the Wolves personnel boss. "I imagine he ran down the court last year and ran into people and they fell down, and he was like, 'That's what they're supposed to do when I hit them.' "

Pekovic is averaging fewer fouls this season despite playing eight minutes more per game. He's wiser but not any less physical. He also has benefitted from Rubio's arrival -- on both ends of the floor -- and his daily individual work with assistant coach Jack Sikma. More than anything, he looks more comfortable with his role and overall game.

"I'm just trying to do my job," Pekovic said. "I'm playing pretty much the same basketball I have all my life. It's basketball that I like."

Others not so much. Los Angeles Lakers center Andrew Bynum, who's listed at 7-0 and 285 pounds, expressed relief that foul trouble limited Pekovic to 20 minutes of action in a January meeting.

"Thank God they took Pekovic out of the game," Bynum said.

The San Antonio Spurs complained about Pekovic's hard screens throughout a January game. Point guard Tony Parker ran into Pek's picks more than anyone, but he didn't care to elaborate afterward.

"No comment," he said, laughing.

Pekovic's teammates know the feeling.

"It hurts, man," guard Wayne Ellington said. "I love playing with him because he gets you wide open."

Said Michael Beasley: "I don't remember because I got hit so hard. He literally doesn't move."

Pekovic's strength is a product of genetics and his love for the weight room. He lifts weights every chance he gets, even on Super Bowl Sunday, which technically was a day off for players. Farnam has worked for the team for 15 years and compared Pekovic's dedication to strength training to that of Kevin Garnett. Strength and conditioning coach Keke Lyles had to convince Pekovic to stay away from the weight room on a recent off day.

"He's probably the strongest guy in the league right now," veteran center Brad Miller said.

Pekovic understands how to use that to his advantage, whether setting screens or rooting himself like a redwood in the post with a defender on his back.

"If he decides to get to a spot, you can't move him," Tolliver said. "As a defender, you can't really push him out of the way."

His teammates joke about his strength, his forceful picks, the way he bangs and trades body blows. But they also appreciate how hard he works on his game and the personality he's brought to the team.

"Off the court, he's a calm, cool guy," Ellington said. "On the court, he's one of those guys you avoid. He's the type of guy you want on your side."

  • related content

  • The Nikola Pekovic file

    Monday February 13, 2012

    Age: 26Size: 6-11, 290 poundsHometown: Bijelo Polje, MontenegroFavorite movies: "Gladiator," "Braveheart," "The Godfather."Weight room warrior: Pekovic loves lifting weights. He...

  • Hartman: Games of Rubio, Love wow Saunders

    Monday February 13, 2012

    The ex-Wolves coach thinks that Rubio will improve as he gets stronger and that Love already is unique.

  • Turnovers regain top spot on Wolves fix-it list

    Monday February 13, 2012

    The Wolves, who have lost three consecutive entering their game against Orlando on Monday, have turned the ball over 51 times in the past two games.

  • Wolves-Orlando game preview

    Sunday February 12, 2012

    Preview: The Wolves take a three-game losing streak -- one fueled by mistakes and turnovers on offense -- to Orlando to face a Magic team that might be getting its...

  • WOLVES AT ORLANDO

    6 p.m. today • Amway Center • TV: FSN (830-AM)

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

ADVERTISEMENT

Kansas City 20 4th Qtr 5:15
Oakland 17
Cleveland 11/23/14 12:00 PM
Atlanta
Tennessee 11/23/14 12:00 PM
Philadelphia
Detroit 11/23/14 12:00 PM
New England
Green Bay 11/23/14 12:00 PM
Minnesota
Jacksonville 11/23/14 12:00 PM
Indianapolis
Cincinnati 11/23/14 12:00 PM
Houston
Tampa Bay 11/23/14 12:00 PM
Chicago
Arizona 11/23/14 3:05 PM
Seattle
St. Louis 11/23/14 3:05 PM
San Diego
Miami 11/23/14 3:25 PM
Denver
Washington 11/23/14 3:25 PM
San Francisco
Dallas 11/23/14 7:30 PM
NY Giants
NY Jets 11/24/14 6:00 PM
Buffalo
Baltimore 11/24/14 7:30 PM
New Orleans
LA Clippers 110 FINAL
Miami 93
Chicago 29 1st Qtr 0:40
Sacramento 21
Minnesota 3 FINAL
Philadelphia 2
Tampa Bay 2 FINAL
Toronto 5
St. Louis 1 FINAL
Montreal 4
Nashville 2 FINAL
Ottawa 3
Detroit 4 FINAL
Winnipeg 3
Arizona 1 FINAL
Dallas 3
Washington 2 3rd Prd 7:48
Colorado 2
Chicago 3 3rd Prd 12:05
Calgary 3
Anaheim 2 2nd Prd 14:50
Vancouver 1
Carolina 0 1st Prd 4:24
Los Angeles 1
Florida 1 1st Prd 3:45
San Jose 0
Texas A&M 53 FINAL
Dayton 55
USC 46 FINAL
Akron 66
Coll of Charleston 57 FINAL
Connecticut 65
Drexel 46 FINAL
Miami-Florida 66
New Mexico 65 FINAL
Boston College 69
Penn State 97 FINAL
Charlotte 106
Detroit 62 FINAL
Michigan 71
Eckerd 59 FINAL
UCF 76
VU of Lynchburg 51 FINAL
East Carolina 92
Texas 71 FINAL
Iowa 57
Jacksonville 43 FINAL
NC State 79
Navy 51 FINAL
Providence 88
Grambling St 30 FINAL
Purdue 82
UMass Lowell 57 FINAL
Sacred Heart 54
Keystone 69 FINAL
St Francis-PA 102
Niagara 61 FINAL
Saint Peters 59
Palm Beach Atlantic 85 FINAL
Stetson 96
Texas Southern 58 FINAL
Tennessee 70
MD-Eastern Shore 66 FINAL
VA Commonwealth 106
SUNY-Westbury 49 FINAL
Wagner 83
Bluefield (VA) 57 FINAL
William & Mary 100
Bob Jones Univ 41 FINAL
USC Upstate 107
New Hampshire 63 FINAL
Bryant 72
Fordham 50 FINAL
Maryland 66
Howard 52 FINAL
Radford 61
Champions Bapt 29 FINAL
UT Martin 115
George Mason 65 FINAL
West Virginia 91
South Florida 73 FINAL
UAB 71
UC Davis 63 FINAL
Eastern Ill 61
Fla Atlantic 49 FINAL
Harvard 71
SMU 68 FINAL
Indiana 74
Franklin Pierce 57 FINAL
Minnesota 109
Brescia 56 FINAL
Murray State 89
North Florida 67 FINAL
Northwestern 69
Fisk 60 FINAL
Tennessee St 75
New Orleans 71 FINAL
TCU 86
Miss Valley St 61 FINAL
Tulane 100
Bucknell 65 FINAL
Villanova 72
Northwestern St 89 FINAL
LSU-Alexandria 79
Winthrop 58 FINAL
Savannah State 59
Southern U 38 FINAL
Ole Miss 69
Morgan State 53 FINAL
Northern Iowa 73
Cornell 45 FINAL
South Carolina 69
Southern Miss 67 FINAL
Alabama 81
Loyola Marymount 44 FINAL
Arizona State 68
Lipscomb 62 FINAL
Vanderbilt 72
Texas-Arlington 65 2nd Half 1:22
Grand Canyon 61
Syracuse 40 2nd Half 8:08
California 56
Idaho 56 2nd Half 8:30
Northern Ill 63
Fresno State 23 2nd Half
Northern Ariz 39
Pacific Union 27 2nd Half
Pacific 41
Denver 26 2nd Half
St Marys-CA 34
CS-Bakersfield 2 1st Half 7:27
San Diego St 12
Nicholls 0 1st Half 19:23
UCLA 2
Bowling Green 20 FINAL
Toledo 27
Kent State 0 Postponed
Buffalo 0
(12) Kansas State 26 FINAL
West Virginia 20
North Carolina 45 FINAL
(25) Duke 20
Arkansas State 14 2nd Qtr 2:19
Texas State 28
Kent State 0 Cancelled
Buffalo 0
Texas-El Paso 11/21/14 7:00 PM
Rice
Air Force 11/21/14 8:30 PM
San Diego St
San Jose St 11/21/14 8:30 PM
Utah State
Char Southern 11/22/14 11:00 AM
(9) Georgia
South Alabama 11/22/14 11:00 AM
So Carolina
Rutgers 11/22/14 11:00 AM
(10) Michigan State
Minnesota 11/22/14 11:00 AM
(21) Nebraska
Northwestern 11/22/14 11:00 AM
Purdue
(18) Marshall 11/22/14 11:00 AM
UAB
Kansas 11/22/14 11:00 AM
(23) Oklahoma
Indiana 11/22/14 11:00 AM
(7) Ohio State
Penn State 11/22/14 11:00 AM
Illinois
(14) Eastern Ky 11/22/14 11:00 AM
Florida
TX-San Antonio 11/22/14 11:00 AM
Western Ky
SMU 11/22/14 11:00 AM
UCF
Virginia Tech 11/22/14 11:30 AM
Wake Forest
Washington St 11/22/14 12:00 PM
(13) Arizona State
Louisiana Tech 11/22/14 12:00 PM
Old Dominion
Western Mich 11/22/14 12:00 PM
Central Mich
New Mexico 11/22/14 12:30 PM
(22) Colorado State
Eastern Mich 11/22/14 1:00 PM
Ball State
Appalachian St 11/22/14 1:00 PM
Louisiana
Tulsa 11/22/14 2:00 PM
Houston
(15) Arizona 11/22/14 2:30 PM
(20) Utah
FIU 11/22/14 2:30 PM
North Texas
(8) Ole Miss 11/22/14 2:30 PM
Arkansas
Louisville 11/22/14 2:30 PM
Notre Dame
Maryland 11/22/14 2:30 PM
Michigan
Texas Tech 11/22/14 2:30 PM
Iowa State
(14) Wisconsin 11/22/14 2:30 PM
Iowa
Syracuse 11/22/14 2:30 PM
Pittsburgh
Boston College 11/22/14 2:30 PM
(1) Florida State
Georgia State 11/22/14 2:30 PM
Clemson
Tulane 11/22/14 2:30 PM
East Carolina
Stanford 11/22/14 3:00 PM
California
Western Carolina 11/22/14 3:00 PM
(2) Alabama
ULM 11/22/14 3:00 PM
New Mexico St
So Florida 11/22/14 3:00 PM
Memphis
Colorado 11/22/14 3:30 PM
(3) Oregon
Fla Atlantic 11/22/14 6:00 PM
Middle Tennessee
Samford 11/22/14 6:00 PM
(16) Auburn
Miami-Florida 11/22/14 6:00 PM
Virginia
Vanderbilt 11/22/14 6:30 PM
(4) Miss State
(19) Missouri 11/22/14 6:30 PM
Tennessee
Oklahoma State 11/22/14 6:30 PM
(6) Baylor
(24) USC 11/22/14 7:00 PM
(11) UCLA
Cincinnati 11/22/14 7:00 PM
Connecticut
Boise State 11/22/14 9:15 PM
Wyoming
Oregon State 11/22/14 9:30 PM
Washington
Fresno State 11/22/14 9:30 PM
Nevada
UNLV 11/22/14 10:00 PM
Hawaii
Ohio U 11/25/14 6:00 PM
Miami-Ohio
LSU 11/27/14 6:30 PM
Texas A&M
(5) TCU 11/27/14 6:30 PM
Texas
Montreal 11/23/14 12:00 PM
Hamilton
Edmonton 11/23/14 3:30 PM
Calgary
Webber International 41 FINAL
Florida A&M 52
San Jose St 80 FINAL
UC-Riverside 100
Norfolk State 65 FINAL
Radford 74
Washington Adventist 43 FINAL
Morgan State 66
Alabama State 62 FINAL
Savannah State 71
VA Commonwealth 72 FINAL
MD-Eastern Shore 50
Southern U 68 FINAL
Ole Miss 91
Monmouth 78 FINAL
Long Island 57
Bethune-Cookman 51 FINAL
Jacksonville 64
St Thomas (TX) 49 FINAL
Incarnate Word 64
Boston U 56 FINAL
Boston College 73
Clemson 41 FINAL
(2) South Carolina 99
(7) Duke 82 FINAL
Old Dominion 66
Belmont 35 FINAL
(12) Louisville 95
Fla Gulf Coast 69 FINAL
Auburn 72
Florida 66 FINAL
St Johns 72
James Madison 69 FINAL
American Univ 65
Philander Smith 62 FINAL
Ark-Pine Bluff 76
Tougaloo 6:00 PM
Grambling
Virginia 71 FINAL
Xavier 59
Murray State 66 FINAL
Wright State 74
Providence 54 FINAL
Hartford 57
Holy Cross 53 FINAL
Dartmouth 69
Valparaiso 65 FINAL
Northern Ill 50
Detroit 57 FINAL
Ohio U 60
St Bonaventure 58 FINAL
Toledo 64
Mary Washington 59 FINAL
Navy 79
Michigan 64 FINAL
Pittsburgh 85
Davidson 68 FINAL
Gardner-Webb 67
Longwood 50 FINAL
Richmond 80
USC Upstate 69 FINAL
UNC Greensboro 60
(17) West Virginia 61 FINAL
Miss State 74
Concordia-Austin 31 FINAL
TX-Pan American 72
Western Ill 90 FINAL
Chicago State 55
Albany 54 FINAL
Western Ky 63
Drake 60 FINAL
SIU-Edwardsville 74
Memphis 58 FINAL
Illinois 60
Arkansas 58 FINAL
Middle Tennessee 51
LSU-Alexandria 70 FINAL
McNeese State 79
Vanderbilt 67 FINAL
Wisconsin 58
Utah 56 FINAL
Creighton 64
Weber State 71 FINAL
Air Force 53
(10) Texas 75 1st OT
(6) Stanford 75
Utah Valley U 61 FINAL
Utah State 79
New Mexico St 33 2nd Half 20:00
Sacramento St 36
South Dakota 33 2nd Half
Washington 42
Santa Clara 16 2nd Half
UC Santa Barbara 21
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: How many games will the Timberwolves win this season?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close