Wolves' top pick comfortable on the big stage

  • Article by: MEGAN RYAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 28, 2014 - 8:41 AM

Even interviews were practiced as a kid by the Wolves’ first-round pick.

While Zach LaVine is probably used to camera flashes blinding him by now, the Timberwolves’ first-round draft choice could have been the subject of photos for a very different reason.

Before becoming a standout guard on the basketball court, LaVine braved a rather short-lived modeling career when he was around 13.

Filming a Gatorade commercial, LaVine was supposed to dribble between his legs, take a drink and sit down and say, “I want to be like Mike.”

His mom, Cheryl “C.J.” Johnson-LaVine, said all the practices went well. But it wasn’t so smooth once the camera started rolling.

”He finally goes out on the stage … and he turns around, and he jets,” said his dad, Paul LaVine.

His son managed the basketball portion of the shoot, but the lines made him freeze.

“[I] did all the moves, looked up, saw how many people were looking at me, I just ran off,” Zach LaVine said. “I was like, ‘I can’t do this. I’ve got stage fright.’ ”

Luckily for the Timberwolves, who took him with the 13th overall choice in Thursday’s NBA draft, Zach LaVine now embraces being the center of attention.

“I’m fine with talking in front of people,” he said. “And I’m playing on a big stage now, so I’m not [bothered by] stage fright at all.”

One of his favorite games growing up in Seattle might have helped him overcome his fear.

His father played linebacker for the USFL’s Portland Breakers and for the Seattle Seahawks as a replacement player during the 1987 NFL strike — and also was a professional softball player — and he said he knew his son would need to be media-savvy to be a pro.

So his mom would interview his dad. Then Dad would play interviewer, asking his son questions.

“I would give him the microphone,” Paul LaVine said. “He would giggle, but we’d keep doing it over and over and over again so that he actually got it.”

Zach LaVine said he likes to “kick it” with his family, including a younger sister who looks almost identical to him, and a half-sister living in Utah, and friends who grew up with him.

His mom said it would be scary to send her 19-year-old so far from their home on the West Coast, but Zach LaVine said living on his own for the past year at UCLA has prepared him.

“It’s something that I’ve always wanted,” he said. “It’s not scary, it’s really exciting.”

Dad, at least, had some advice after playing summer softball in Minnesota. “Just get a jacket, that’s what I told him,” Paul LaVine said.

But his son isn’t too concerned about the state’s notorious winters. “I stay inside most of the time anyway,” he said.

On the court, LaVine is an energetic player, performing highlight-reel plays. He is considered a project. He played only one season for the Bruins, started only one game, and struggled down the stretch.

Off the court, he said, he’s laid-back. During down time, he likes to practice baseball and football and play video games, even though he is admittedly terrible at them.

One of his first real outings in his new city will be going to see the new “Transformers” movie because LaVine loves going to movie theaters. In his own words, he chills there.

So, while he may be in the big time now, he’s still pretty much the same kid who grew up in Seattle.

“I still picture him, third grade in the back yard with his headband on and his wristbands — because he was Michael Jordan — and ‘Space Jam’ played 24/7 from the time he was 3 years old,” his mom said. “Just dragging him out from the back yard to make him eat, literally.

“And he’d just shove it in and get back out there.”

 

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