MANKATO – For the Timberwolves’ first official practice of training camp, a few of the Wolves wanted to make it a special occasion for their coach Ryan Saunders.
Karl-Anthony Towns, Robert Covington and Andrew Wiggins each donned a No. 14 practice jersey with “Saunders” on the back instead of their names.
That was the number of Flip Saunders, Ryan’s father, in college.
“I just thought it would mean a lot to Ryan,” Towns said. “He’s trying to find creative ways to bring the team together and make sure that we understand ‘what’s our why.’ Ryan’s why is his father. This is something that means a lot to him. I felt we should embrace it. It’s something that means a lot to him and it should mean a lot to us.”
There was a family atmosphere around the team as the Wolves suited up for their first official practices in Mankato, where they held part of their training camp for the first time since 2014. They were scheduled to have dinner at owner Glen Taylor’s house Tuesday night.
Race to the gym
Guard Jeff Teague said he likes to be the one who gets in the gym first for workouts every day. But he has had some competition turning on the lights. First, he said Wiggins has been getting to the gym early for frequent workouts.
“He has beaten me to the gym every time and that’s unlikely,” Teague said. “The only guy who usually beats me to the gym is [rookie] Jarrett [Culver]. Jarrett beat me [Tuesday] so I’m a little upset about that. But Wiggs has been at the gym every day working hard. I’m looking forward to seeing what he’s going to do.”
Teague said he predicts Wiggins could have a strong year given the offense’s emphasis on spacing and driving to the basket.
After Saunders took over as interim head coach last season, Wiggins averaged 18.9 points and shot 42% from the field and 33.5% from three-point range.
As for Culver, Teague said he sees why Culver earned a reputation for his work ethic at Texas Tech.
“He’s beaten me by 30 minutes every day,” Teague said. “For him to work that hard as a rookie, just being able to keep going — I’ve played with him a couple times, he’s a really special talent.”
Tom Thibodeau liked to have a set, rigid rotation of nine players that he rarely deviated from during a game.
When Saunders took over as interim coach, he wasn’t afraid to mix and match lineups more often while playing anybody who might be a good matchup. Saunders said his lineups this season will be a mix of chemistry, analytics and matchups — and the competition for playing spots is open as camp beings. In fact, Saunders hinted there might be too many guys for too few spots.
“You’ve got an idea of guys that are capable of playing, and I feel fortunate that [it’s] a number of guys,” Saunders said. “That’s more than probably we’re going to be able to play, so it’s going to be open [competition].”