Ex-Wolf Hoiberg was there for Turiaf in crisis

  • Article by: JERRY ZGODA , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 19, 2013 - 6:43 AM
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Ronny Turiaf (right) during a game between the New York Knicks and Boston Celtics in 2011.

Photo: Elise Amendola, Associated Press - Ap

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Newest Timberwolf Ronny Turiaf on Thursday officially signed with his seventh different team in nine NBA seasons, but he can’t help but think how his life has come full circle now.

“I remember eight years ago and you guys had somebody named Fred Hoiberg,” Turiaf said Thursday evening in a teleconference call with reporters. “He was almost like a father figure to me, somebody who helped me through the worst time of my life.”

In 2005, Hoiberg was a veteran guard on a Wolves team that had reached the Western Conference finals the year before and Turiaf was a rookie out of Gonzaga with the L.A. Lakers.

Hoiberg underwent surgery to repair an aortic aneurysm the same day Turiaf was drafted. A month later, Turiaf needed a surgery very similar to Hoiberg’s.

It is a coincidence that will forever bind the two men after Hoiberg watched a pre-surgery interview Turiaf did, saw how scared the young man looked, and reached out to him.

Hoiberg advised Turiaf about the six-hour surgery, told him to expect a 20-pound weight loss and prepared him for a slow recovery.

Eight years later, they remain friends and together helped guide Washington’s Etan Thomas through his heart surgery two years after theirs.

“Every time I had a question, every time he had a question, we were there for moral support,” Turiaf said. “Of course, we still talk. It is not a one-way ticket for heart surgery, it is a lifetime bond we have. For me, that shows basketball is a game that transcends generations, that transcends colors. To have somebody like Fred Hoiberg and myself become partners in this crazy ordeal, it’s a wonderful thing for me.”

Hoiberg’s surgery ended his playing career and led him to the Wolves front office and now the head coaching job at Iowa State. Turiaf has played eight NBA seasons beyond his surgery, losing in one NBA Finals with the Lakers and winning a title with Miami in 2012.

The Wolves signed Turiaf to a two-year, $3.2 million contract to provide interior defense, veteran leadership, playoff experience and bubbly enthusiasm in a backup role at center and power forward. Turiaf, 30, has played in 47 playoff games while the Wolves haven’t played in one since he was a junior at Gonzaga.

“When I think about the path of my career, I’ve been lucky to have played pretty much on successful teams for eight years,” said Turiaf, who played last season with the Clippers. “I’ve been to the playoffs six times. When you experience things such as going to the playoffs and losing in the playoffs, that stuff stays with you and you realize basketball is a game of detail, a game of dedication, a game that has to be played with team chemistry and with the same tempo.

“With all my experiences — all my ups and downs — has allowed me to really finally realize what I bring to the table. It’s a fresh new start and I’m looking forward to turn the page on the last eight years of my life.”

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