Signed last week for the rest of the season, Timberwolves backup center Greg Smith has found his way back from injury and the D League into Sam Mitchell's rotation because he knows who he is and from where he has come.

"I know my role, I know my game," he said. "I know what they want from me."

At 25, he has a grown man's body on a team framed around its still-growing, 20-year-old stars and he knows what to do with it, thanks to dedicated hours in the weight room and a lifetime spent competing against six much older uncles.

"They all played football," he said. "I was the only one in the family who played basketball. They were the tough guys. They beat me up and pushed me around. Growing up, I learned to hit first. Nobody hits you first, so always go out there and use your body. I was always in the weight room, so I had this body. So I just used it."

He remembers playing against them in football and basketball since he was a toddler. By the time he was 10, his mother's brothers all were in their 20s and 30s. One of them, Steve Shelley, was a two-year letter-winning receiver at Fresno State — in Smith's hometown and his alma mater — and signed with the San Diego Chargers in 1990, the year before he was born.

"I was the tallest in my family," he said. "You couldn't block my shot, so you had to push me around. That's just how I got my mentality.

''You don't want to be punked around. You want to use your force. My uncles, they were grown men and I was a kid. It was tough. That's how they taught me to be a man. You have to hold your own."

With big men Kevin Garnett and Nikola Pekovic out injured indefinitely, Mitchell turned to Smith this last week to provide minutes behind Karl-Anthony Towns and Gorgui Dieng. In doing so, Mitchell has chosen a player initially signed to two 10-day contracts over both Adreian Payne and Nemanja Bjelica because of Smith's 6-10, 250-pound size, his ability to play both power forward and center and his affinity for using his body.

He went undrafted in 2011 after leaving Fresno State after his sophomore season, a decision he says "was the right one for me. I went undrafted, but things happen for a reason."

He started his professional career playing in Mexico — "It had its ups and downs, but it taught me a lot" — when NBA owners locked out players that summer and fall.

Smith played parts of three seasons with Houston and a part of another with Dallas and has worked his way back to the NBA after recovering from knee surgery and two months in the D League proving himself healthy and productive.

"This is a lot different. This is real-life grown men," he said about being back in the NBA. "These are huge guys who hold their own. I like it. I feel like I'm doing a good job. I feel like my quickness is coming back and the flow of the game, my pace is getting there. I feel like I'm not rushing or just out there banging everybody, but I'm using both my quickness and my physicality."

He's doing what he said it seems like he always has done playing against his uncles, all of whom received their comeuppance last summer during a family reunion even though Smith now is in his prime and they're in their 40s and 50s.

"Everybody got dunked on," he said. "I know it's not fair anymore, but I don't care. I had to send a message. They beat up on me. Now it's my turn."