WASHINGTON – A former longtime NBA assistant, Timberwolves coach Tom Thibodeau knows well what good things can happen to those who wait. On Thursday, he brought to practice at Georgetown University another fellow who knows a thing or two about such things: Hoyas first-time head coach and Basketball Hall of Fame player Patrick Ewing.
The two men know each other from their 1990s days together in Knicks, and since the Wolves were in Georgetown’s gym, Thibodeau asked Ewing to drop by practice to visit his players.
The NBA draft’s No. 1 pick in 1985, Ewing is an NCAA champion, former NBA Rookie of the Year, 11-time all-star and two-time Olympic gold medalist who played for the Knicks when Thibodeau was an assistant coach there and later both were assistants on Jeff Van Gundy’s staff in Houston.
“The thing I have great respect for, I watched him as a player,” Thibodeau said. “He not only had the great talent. He had an incredible work ethic. To see a superstar, a Hall of Fame player go through all the things an assistant coach does, oftentimes it’s not a lot of glamour. He got in the trenches and worked his tail off.”
Ewing served 15 years as an assistant coach for four NBA teams — Washington, Houston, Orlando and Charlotte — but didn’t get his first head-coaching job until his alma mater called last spring. He played for John Thompson at Georgetown, Pat Riley in New York and coached under Doug Collins, both Jeff and Stan Van Gundy and Steve Clifford before he received his chance, just like Thibodeau waited 21 years for his first head coach job.
“I was hopeful he’d get an opportunity in the NBA because I felt he deserved it,” Thibodeau said. “Not only for his playing career, which was very special, but the guy played for and worked for a lot of great coaches. Just to have the humility he does, whether he was a superstar player in New York, and how he handled that. The people who were around him every day, we knew how special he was as a person. It’s not only the basketball part, but who he is as a human being.”
Ewing coached Georgetown to a 15-15 record — 5-13 in the Big East — in his first season there.
The Wolves took Wednesday off after they came back to beat Washington on Tuesday and practiced Thursday at Georgetown before they flew to San Antonio. They play the Spurs on Saturday night.
The big picture
Injured four-time All-Star Jimmy Butler is due back in Minneapolis to meet with the media next week for the first time since he partly tore knee meniscus cartilage during a game at Houston and underwent surgery last month.
Thibodeau said again Thursday that Butler is making “good progress” while rehabilitating his knee in Los Angeles, but again wouldn’t put a timeline on Butler, who has told friends he intends to be back in time for the playoffs.
“The most important thing is his health,” Thibodeau said. “I want him to be healthy before he comes back. That’s the big picture for us. I don’t want him to feel like he’s being rushed or anything like that. Just get healthy.”
On Wednesday, a radio remark on 1500ESPN that said Wolves forward Andrew Wiggins has whispered to teammates he’s unhappy being a third option behind Butler and Karl-Anthony Towns ricocheted around the internet.
After Thursday’s practice, Thibodeau called the claim and its sourcing “total nonsense” and said, “I know Andrew’s character. There’s no way in the world Andrew is saying any of that, particularly from a guy who’s taken the most shots on our team.”
When asked, Wiggins said, “It’s just someone’s word of mouth. It wasn’t no quote from me. Everyone that knows me knows I don’t talk much, I just go with the flow … I don’t whisper. If I say something, I’m going to say it clearly and loudly.”