After Karl-Anthony Towns and Tyus Jones spent Friday morning showing that all skyways lead to Target Center, the two newest members of the Timberwolves sat down and began the process of winning over the state.
It was a slam dunk.
In a meet-the-fans news conference held in the atrium of Mayo Clinic Square, fans clapped and cheered and laughed as the team’s two first-round draft picks offered both poise and comic timing, showing the polish that comes from having lived much of their lives in the limelight.
It was a breezy presentation:
• Towns was asked how his Kentucky team — which had six of seven eligible players drafted Thursday — got so many good players. “It’s a secret,” he began. Then he looked over at Tyus. “But Duke University won the championship, so …”
• Jones, the former Apple Valley star who went to Duke, talked about watching winning Wolves teams when he was a kid. “We want to get back to that,” he said. “We want to bring that to the fans in the state.”
• One reporter, emphasizing the team’s youth, reiterated a joke that’s going around about how the Wolves went into a bar … but only two of them could order drinks.
Towns, 19, leaned in. “Most of us can’t even go into the bar!” he said.
It was at that point that Flip Saunders, Wolves coach and president of basketball operations, added: “On top of that, these guys weren’t even born when I drafted Kevin Garnett.”
But guys like KG are going to help them grow.
Towns, the No. 1 overall pick, is a multitalented, versatile big man out to prove he can help redefine what a big man can be in the NBA. Jones is a point guard who prefers to pass first. Does this sound familiar? It should, because now Towns can start learning from one of the best big men of all time and Jones can learn from Ricky Rubio, the point guard he’s been watching since Rubio came here in the fall of 2011.
The Wolves roster is going to be young. But there is enough veteran mentorship expected to be available to help them grow.
“I’ve always believed that having mentors within a team is a key to young players growing, the development of players,” Saunders said. “Kevin Garnett has great respect for the game. When he sees Bill Russell, it’s ‘Mr. Russell.’ … The first step in a player developing is respecting the game.”
In that area Saunders has nothing to worry about. Poise and respect oozed from both players, from Towns calling himself blessed to be in Minnesota to help the team make the playoffs to Jones saying it was a dream come true to be drafted by the team he grew up watching.
But it’s more than that. Saunders has spent two days talking about the good position his team is in, one far better than last season’s 16 victories might indicate. Part of that is having guys like Garnett and Rubio around. So often, high draft picks join teams bereft of veteran leadership.
Not these guys.
Towns said he grew up watching Garnett, whose game is so much like his own. And, with Garnett expected to return, Towns will get hands-on help. “I think it’s going to be very valuable,” Towns said. “You’re talking about a living legend. To be a part of his team is awesome. But the thing he’s going to teach me more is not just skills. It’s how to be a champion. He has a ring. And I want to be that, too.”
Jones, meanwhile, recalls watching Rubio and trying to incorporate what he saw into his own game. Before the introductory news conference, Jones met Rubio in the Wolves locker room. Welcome, Rubio said. Be ready to work.
“We’re both unselfish, we both like to make the extra pass,” Jones said. “We’re team-first guys.”
Soon, the mentorship will begin. A chance for veterans to mold young players in their image. Saunders, for one, can hardly wait to see how Towns responds to Garnett.
“Where they’re similar is their passion,” Saunders said. “Kevin Garnett is a very passionate player, whether he’s screaming at himself or other players. And [Towns] plays with the same emotion.”