Jerry Zgoda missed the entire Kevin Garnett era, but he's back covering the Timberwolves after working the beat for their first four seasons two decades ago. In between, he covered a bit of everything: Gopher men's and women's basketball and NCAA athletics, golf, outdoor recreation, sports media and a little Vikings and Twins.
It was early July, midweek. And yet the fans came to Target Center.
About 5,000 fans, and perhaps more, filed into the arena to watch the Wolves summer league team put on a free scrimmage. For many, it was a first look at top draft pick Zach LaVine, a chance to see second-round pick Glen Robinson III, to see how Shabazz Muhammad is coming along and to see if there are any other hidden gems in the group that will go to Las Vegas this weekend.
--LaVine dunked four times while scoring 16 points for the white team in the scrimmage, which was ended with the score tied 71-71. He looked good handling the ball, looked very fast off the dribble and made the fans very happy, both with his dunks during the scrimmage and those he displayed in post-scrimmage dunking display.
“Today I wanted to show a little bit of everything – passing, scoring, athleticism, excitement,” LaVine said. “And being able to defend a bit as well. So it was a good showing for all of us.”
Wolves president of basketball operations and head coach Flip Saunders again commented on LaVine’s passing ability, stressing that the 19-year-old is more skilled than many think. Especially at passing the ball.
“He’s almost 6-7,” Saunders said. “So when you have a guy who can handle the ball at 6-7, he can see over the defense. It’s like having a big quarterback. I think he has a great feel for the game.”
LaVine also relished the chance to give the fans a good first look after the misunderstanding on draft night, when he apparently uttered a profanity after the Wolves took him.
“It was good, made up for it a little bit,” he said. “Definitely. People misinterpreted things, but that’s OK.”
--Muhammad isn’t 100 percent in shape yet, he said. More like 85, but getting better every day. But he played very hard tonight, leading the black team with 19 points. He said he has lost about 10 pounds so far this summer and hopes to drop seven more.
“I’ll be way lighter, and I think I’ll jump higher,” he said. “I’ve been working with a trainer on my spin moves and my jumping. I think it’s already really improved. .. I’m starting to stack up and raise my level of play.’’
--When asked if there has been a pleasant surprise to come out of this pre-summer League camp, Saunders mentioned center Kyrylo Fesenko, a 7-1, 280-pounder from Ukraine. Tonight he scored a scrimmage-high 21 points. And while part of that was due to Gorgui Dieng not playing because he wasn’t feeling well, Fesenko looked good.
“I think I did a tremendous job,” he said, frankly.
Fesenko, 27, has bounced around a bit, playing in 135 NBA games since being drafted in 2007 by Utah.
Fesenko was in Cleveland last January, waiting for a work visa to come through so he could play for Canton in the NBA Development league. Saunders, an Ohio native, was also in Cleveland and he put Fesenko through an impromptu workout at a local health club.
“He killed me, probably, in 40 minutes,” he said. “That’s when I realized condition is the must-have thing.”
Fesenko said he had a few offers to play for teams in the summer league, but he chose the Wolves because of his relationship with Saunders. “I’ve always liked Minneapolis as a city,” he said. “I know Alex (Shved). And, obviously, working out for Flip I felt this is a good fit for me.”
It is a small sampling size. The Wolves only open the doors to the media for the final few minutes of each practice. So you have to be careful not to over-analyze anything.
But it was still hard not to be impressed with the speed rookie guard Zach LaVine possesses. The Wolves summer team roster met for its first workout Monday evening. It was an intense, fast-paced, run-their-legs-off workout that ended with a scrimmage.
Sitting on the sidelines at the team’s workout facility, it was impossible to miss LaVine’s speed. End to end in a flash, even with the ball in his hands. Afterwards both teammates and coaches were raving about him, including head coach Flip Saunders, who – as president of basketball operations – took LaVine with the 13th overall pick in last month’s draft.
“I thought LaVine was exceptional today,” Saunders said. “He has an unbelievable feel for the game. He has speed, but he also knows how to play. How he finds people, his passing ability. He’s got a great feel for the game.’’
He’s also got a great confidence for it, too.
There were some who thought taking LaVine, a 19-year-old coming off an up-and-down freshman season at UCLA, was something of a reach. LaVine can run like the wind and jump out of the gym. But, critics said, he is raw and will need a lot of work.
Turns out LaVine, unlike many pro athletes, readily admits to reading everything written about him that he can find. He knows what people are saying. So, when asked what his goals were for the upcoming NBA Summer League in Las Vegas – the Wolves’ entry plays its first game Saturday – this is what he said:
“Whenever I step on the court I want to be the best player,” LaVine said. “I have a lot of high goals for myself. There are still a lot of doubters out there. I read all of the things on Twitter. I keep those in my back pocket. I feel I turned a lot of heads since I came out (of college). I’ll still continue to do that.”
Again, it’s a short sample size, but LaVine played a lot of point guard Monday, and will do so in Vegas, too. After Monday’s workout Saunders said he had no question in his mind that LaVine could play both shooting guard and some at the point.
“The way he handles himself and handles the ball, no question he can play one,” Saunders said. “His understanding of what we want him to do, and how to play, to initiate the offense and be creative, there is no question.”
Of course, there are questions. How will LaVine, not a starter at UCLA, adapt to the NBA pace of play? How will his 185-pound body hold up the physical play? (He already knows he has to bulk up. But, as he said, “But if they can’t touch me, that’s a good thing as well.”)
Still, the confident LaVine is looking at Vegas as the starting point to a rookie season that he feels will be productive.
“I’m a confident person, so I feel I can come in and contribute right off the bat,” he said. “I’m not putting my talents below anybody else’s. I’m a competitor. I’m going to go out and do what I can do. Whoever says I can’t play, I’m going to try to turn their heads.”
The Wolves announced LaVine had signed his rookie deal. According to the 2014-15 NBA rookie salary scale, that suggests LaVine signed a three-year deal worth $5,370,000 with $1,713,200 coming in the first year.
Here are some other summer camp notes:
--LaVine and the rest of the Wolves summer league roster will play a scrimmage Wednesday night at Target Center that is open to the public. It starts at 7 p.m.
--Second-year player Shabazz Muhammad has lost about seven or eight pounds and has about eight more to lose before regular training camp begins this fall, according to Saunders. Muhammad, taken by Saunders in the first round last year, is looking for an increased role this season.
“Last year I thought I played pretty well,” he said. “Some said I could have gotten more minutes. Some said I shouldn’t. It’s all about playing hard and being a good teammate. Flip will take care of everything else.”
Muhammad missed the last few games of last season with a sprained MCL in his right knee. He said he returned to working out 100 percent about a month ago.
--Saunders said center Gorgui Dieng has put on a lot of muscle as he prepares for his second season. “He’s gained a lot of weight and strength,” Saunders said.
--Veteran forward Chase Budinger, who was limited to just 41 games by injuries last season, is set to join the team today and start working out with the team. Budinger missed the first two months of last season after a second knee procedure, and missed the final few games with an ankle sprain. Budinger, who has seen injuries affect his past two seasons, is looking to get some competitive practicing in to get the confidence back in his health. Saunders said Budinger would travel to Las Vegas with the team. He likely won’t play in any games, but will continue to practice with the team.
Zach LaVine, the Wolves' first-round draft pick in last month's NBA draft (the 13th overall pick) has signed his first contract with the team. The team didn't reveal specifics of the deal, but the 2014-15 NBA rookie salary scale suggests LaVine signed a three-year deal worth $5,370,000, with $1,713,200 coming in the first year.
LaVine will make his Wolves debut at the NBA Summer League, which takes place in Las Vegas on the campus of UNLV, Nev., from July 11-21. MInnesota plays its first game against Dallas Saturday at 5:30 p.m.
Fans will be able to get a good look at LaVine Wednesday, when the team will hold a scrimmage open to the public at Target Center starting at 7 p.m. The scrimmage will include the entire summer team roster, including LaVine and second-round draft pick Glenn Robinson III.
The Wolves' summer-league team reports for four days of workouts starting tomorrow at Target Center before it flies to Las Vegas.
Games there in the Vegas Summer League begin on Saturday.
Here's the roster, highlighting from this summer's draft picks Zach LaVine and Glenn Robinson III and last summer's picks Shabazz Muhammad and Gorgui Dieng.
Third-year guard Alexey Shved also will play, as will former Utah center Kyrylo Fesenko.
Sounds like Wolves assistants Sidney Lowe, Sam Mitchell, Ryan Saunders and David Adelman all might take turns coaching the team, in some combination or other.
Here's the roster:
|No.||Player||Pos.||Ht.||Wt.||Birthdate||Most Recently||NBA Exp.|
|30||LaRon Dendy||F||6-9||230||12/18/88||Ferro-ZNTU (Ukraine)||R|
|24||Mamadi Diane||F||6-5||205||11/09/86||Boulogne (France)||R|
|5||Gorgui Dieng||F/C||6-11||245||01/18/90||Minnesota Timberwolves||1|
|44||Kyrylo Fesenko||C||7-1||280||12/24/86||Canton Charge (NBDL)||5|
|31||Dennis Horner||F||6-9||230||02/05/88||Bakersfield Jam (NBDL)||1|
|4||D.J. Kennedy||G||6-6||215||11/05/89||Hapoel Holon (Israel)||1|
|22||Glenn Robinson III||F||6-6||220||01/08/94||Michigan||R|
|1||Alexey Shved||G||6-6||182||12/16/88||Minnesota Timberwolves||2|
The Wolves' worst-kept secret is no more; Yes, they've officially announced the hiring of Ryan Saunders as assistant coach.
If the name sounds familiar, yes...that's Flip's son, who stayed in Washington working for the Wizards after the team fired his dad a couple years ago.
His Wizards contract expired yesterday, which meant the Wolves' hire became official today -- July 1 -- even though he was spotted observing draft workouts at Target Center weeks ago.
He joins Sam Mitchell, Sidney Lowe and David Adelman on the coaching staff. No word yet on what the team will do for a player development coach; I suspect Bobby Jackson will not be back in that role.
He played parts of 20 games with the Gophers and was an assistant under Tubby Smith there.
Ryan Saunders brings a statistical analytics background to a coaching staff of old guys. He is co-founder of an in-game analytical program called Gametime Concepts, which, according to the team, is used by a number of NBA and NCAA teams.
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