Flip Saunders saw the dunks. Like the rest of us, he watched what happened over the All-Star break, saw rookie Zach LaVine open eyes and drop jaws with a virtuoso performance in the dunk contest.
But here is what Saunders, the Wolves coach, was most impressed with over the weekend: a text from LaVine after the Rising Stars challenge.
"I wanted to play the right way," is how it read. To Saunders, it spoke volumes. "He doesn't want to be known as a one-trick pony," Saunders said Wednesday evening, after the Wolves had finished their first practice after the break. "He wants to be known as a player."
That's not to say that one trick wasn't impressive. LaVine, weeks away from turning 20, put on a performance for the ages while dominating the dunk contest. He created a social media storm — getting upward of 800,000 mentions a day since winning.
And that's not to say the supremely confident LaVine isn't basking in that glow. Frankly, a lot has changed in his life since last weekend.
"That's what I wanted to happen," he said. "You know, I have a lot of goals I have set here. So I want to be more of a household name. That's just my mentality."
Yes, he said, his reps have gotten some calls. Yes, there might be some business deals to be made. Yes, that taste of the spotlight was rather nice. "The taste was really good, man," he said. "It was really good."
All that said, though, LaVine echoed the words of his coach. There is more to be done. He doesn't want to be known as just a high-flying dunker.
"That's the main thing," he said. "That's been the knock since high school. I averaged 30 in high school and it was, 'Oh, he can just dunk.' … It's another steppingstone for me to prove. If I can go out there and prove I'm more than just a dunker — which I know I am — I'll show the world that as well."
Of course, that will take time. LaVine has had nights when he scored a lot of points. He has had nights with impressive assist totals. But there have been nights when playing in the NBA has been a humbling experience for the rookie. Saunders joked he wasn't too worried about LaVine's ego getting out of control. "He'll get reeled in when he plays [Phoenix guard Eric] Bledsoe Friday," he said.
"I think the biggest thing with Zach — and I've said this from the beginning — he's a skilled player. He's learning to play the right way at different positions, which is an adjustment. He's not going to be 20 for another month."
Saunders said he hoped the confidence LaVine got from winning the dunk contest will carry over onto the court, where he feels the rookie could be more aggressive at times. But he loved the way LaVine played in the Rising Stars game, when he hit nine of 11 shots and scored 22 points.
"I want to become a lot more consistent," LaVine said. "I feel like I've got through half the season, and I have a lot more experience than a lot of rookies have, because of the situation I was put in. You have to grow from it."
Still, LaVine admitted that the weekend definitely changed things for him. He said he and fellow Wolves rookie Andrew Wiggins jawed at each all through the Rising Stars game, saying he wanted to win the MVP award that went to his teammate. He said the judges should have given him 50 points on all his dunks.
As for his new, higher profile? That's OK, too. "Whenever I do something that deals with jumping, I start trending," he joked. "When I posted my 46-inch vertical, I was trending. When I did the Seattle pro-am, I was trending. And here, again."