New Timberwolves guard Zach LaVine prepared most all his 19 years for Thursday night’s NBA draft, even to the point where he role-played conversations with general managers and sportswriters while his father asked the questions and he provided the answers riding along in the car when he was just a boy.
So when that ultimate moment arrived by the Wolves calling his name with the 13th overall pick at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center, the college freshman looked overwhelmed, put his head down and then appeared to utter … “f--- me”?
It was a stunned reaction that the ESPN broadcast crew and Wolves fans rushing to express themselves on Twitter interpreted as displeasure over a draft-night selection that sends him from Los Angeles and UCLA to Minnesota’s frozen tundra.
“No, man, I’m completely ecstatic,” LaVine said Thursday night in a conference call with Twin Cities reporters. “I can’t be more happy. I’m a very emotional person. I might have uttered something completely wrong, but I put my head down, thanked God, kissed my mom, kissed my dad. I can’t believe this is happening to me right now. …
“I’ve waited my whole life for this moment. It was just a rush of emotion that came through me, and I’m on Cloud 9 still, man. I’m going full-fledged, ready to become a Timberwolf.”
LaVine’s reaction — and the reaction it caused on social media — created the only flash point on an otherwise quiet night at Target Center that came and went without star Kevin Love traded away.
The Wolves have talked trade in recent weeks with Golden State, Denver, Boston and Chicago, among others, about trading away Love before he can opt out of his contract and conceivably walk away for nothing in July 2015.
On Thursday, the Wolves made no deals, other than they sold two of their three second-round picks, the 44th overall to the draft’s home team, Brooklyn, for $1 million and the 53rd to Houston. They took Michigan’s Glenn Robinson III — son of the NBA draft’s No. 1 overall pick in 1994 — with the other pick (40th overall).
Cleveland selected Kansas’ Andrew Wiggins first, Milwaukee selected Duke’s Jabari Parker second and Philadelphia chose Kansas’ Joel Embiid third, answering the question quickly of just how far the gifted but currently injured Jayhawks center would fall.
When it came time for the Wolves to select 13th overall, President of Basketball Operations Flip Saunders already had crossed the top two shooters in the draft — Creighton’s Doug McDermott and Michigan’s Nik Stauskas — off his board but still had LaVine, Michigan State’s Adreian Payne and Gary Harris, Kentucky’s James Young and Duke’s Rodney Hood still available.
He took a player whose name Saunders said he wrote down on a piece of paper Thursday morning, hoping a 6-5 combo guard whom he called the draft’s most athletic player would still be available that night.
“I don’t know,” Saunders said when asked why he wrote down LaVine’s name. “It was one of those things. I just felt he was going to be there.”
Saunders said the Wolves had LaVine rated seventh on their draft board.
Saunders used a baseball analogy to describe his newly acquired basketball player, which might be fitting because LaVine said he was better at baseball than basketball growing up and said he could hit a softball 355 feet.
“Some players you go after, they have the ability to hit a home run,” he said. “Some players that are ready-made players, they’re only going to be doubles hitters. This guy has the opportunity to be a home-run type player.”
LaVine started one of UCLA’s 37 games and scored eight points total in three NCAA tournament games during an inconsistent freshman season. But Saunders was sold on LaVine’s athleticism, potential and the ability to become eventually the kind of “two-way” player that his roster currently lacks.
“He’s an elite-type player,” Saunders said. “He has the ability be the total package.”
Saunders said LaVine will complement point guard Ricky Rubio and he envisions LaVine running the floor and Rubio throwing alley-oop passes. When asked at last month’s Chicago draft combine to compare himself to a current NBA player, LaVine, using a disclaimer that he’s nowhere near their level yet, chose three: Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook, Golden State’s Stephen Curry and the Los Angeles Clippers’ Jamal Crawford.