During the 15 years Kevin McHale served in the front office and then as coach of the Timberwolves, nobody took more criticism from the fans and the media than the former Gophers and Celtics star.

But maybe now it is time to credit McHale for the two best draft choices in the history of the franchise: taking Kevin Garnett fifth overall in 1995 and then making the draft-night trade in 2008 that brought Kevin Love to the Wolves.

Garnett was drafted out of high school and a lot of experts questioned the choice, but he has developed into one of the greatest NBA players of all time.

As for Love, this season has been remarkable for the 22-year-old as he continues his great 53-game double-double streak. He was named to the Western Conference All-Star team and is becoming one of the best players in the league.

Coming into the 2008 NBA draft, Southern California guard O.J. Mayo was considered the third-best player available in the draft behind Derrick Rose and current Timberwolves forward Michael Beasley. Chad Ford of ESPN.com had Love ranked as the seventh-best prospect in the draft. Love had played one season at UCLA and averaged 17.5 points, 10.6 rebounds and 1.9 assists per game.

The Timberwolves drafted Mayo with the third overall pick but later that evening, McHale decided to make the trade that brought in Love, Mike Miller, Brian Cardinal and Jason Collins for Mayo, Marko Jaric, Antoine Walker and Greg Buckner.

McHale took nothing but criticism from the media and the fans. Mayo was considered the No. 1 high school prospect in the 2007 class and attended USC for one season, averaging 20.7 points, 4.5 rebounds and 3.3 assists, and many fans thought he had a more promising future than Love.

But McHale predicted how great a rebounder Love was going to be when he spoke at the news conference introducing Love in 2008.

"You wondered how Kevin was going to do against these big guys [at his pre-draft workout], but when they started playing, Kevin got way bigger and the other guys got way smaller," McHale said at the time. "He was the biggest player on the floor. There's just certain guys that get bigger. He's one of those guys. We brought as much length to the workout as we could, and Kevin was very impressive. There were no issues whatsoever.

"Kevin played in the best conference [and] on the best team in the Pac-10, which was loaded with talent. He was the [conference] Player of the Year. He did something right in the Pac-10. You have to remember whom he was playing against. As I said before, when the ball goes up on the boards, a lot of stuff changes.

"His small-area quickness is outstanding. You don't average 11 rebounds in conference and not be a good rebounder. Some guys are plodders, but Kevin has very quick feet to get him in the right position to rebound the basketball. His small-area quickness is very, very good. His body control is tremendous."

Looking back to the 2008-09 season, it was McHale who gave Love a lot of playing time after Randy Wittman was dismissed as coach and McHale assumed the role.

In the first 19 games of his rookie season under Wittman, Love averaged 8.5 points and 7.1 rebounds in 23.5 minutes per game. After the transition to McHale, Love began getting more minutes, points and rebounds. In 63 games with McHale, Love averaged 11.7 points and 9.7 rebounds in 26.3 minutes per game.

There also were positive feelings that the team was moving in the right direction after the Wolves went 4-4 to end the season, including winning three consecutive road games. In those last eight games of the season, Love averaged a double-double with 12.6 points and 10.4 rebounds.

McHale was fired after the season, something Love was not pleased about. Love actually broke the news of the firing before the Timberwolves announced it to media outlets when Love placed a post on Twitter that read, "Today is a sad day ... Kevin McHale will NOT be back as head coach next season."

Today, McHale says he never expected Love to do what he is doing with his double-double streak, but he is not surprised Love has developed into a great NBA star.

Give McHale credit for not only doing a great scouting job on Love, but playing a big part in Love's development.


• While rumors continue that former Cretin-Derham Hall star lineman Seantrel Henderson is considering leaving the University of Miami and maybe transferring to Minnesota, Henderson recently released a statement issued by the school that said: "I am committed to my teammates, coaches and the championship goals we are chasing at the University of Miami. I have no desired to play anywhere but at the U." ... Miami coach Al Golden wouldn't comment on reports that Henderson has been suspended for one game, the team's opener with Maryland on Sept. 5. However, people close to Henderson say there is a 50-50 chance Henderson will leave Miami.

• Twins President Dave St. Peter reports the club expects the largest public sale in team history when single-game tickets become available March 19. The 500,000 tickets that are available for the season could be sold out in a hurry.

• The 7,963 fans the Twins are averaging per game in spring training is the sixth-highest in baseball.

• Gov. Mark Dayton recently made two good appointments to the Minnesota Ballpark Authority, which oversees Target Field, in former Congressman Martin Sabo and current St. Paul deputy mayor Paul Williams.

• Now that Paul Hewitt has been fired at Georgia Tech, the rumors will continue that Gophers men's basketball coach Tubby Smith is a top candidate for the job. However, look for Smith to sign an extension to his current contract within the next two weeks.

• In writing about the future of the Gophers here the other day, Smith said I failed to mention maybe the best big man on the team is 6-11 Elliott Eliason, the Gatorade Player of the Year in Nebraska his senior year. Eliason was redshirted this past season and will have four years of eligibility starting next season. "Eliason has all of the tools," Smith said. "He needs to get a little stronger, but has the ability to do it all."

• In recently signing his first contract in 10 years, Gophers wrestling coach J Robinson not only got a raise to $135,000 but he also got paid the raise (some $20,000) retroactive to two years.

Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on WCCO AM-830 at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. • shartman@startribune.com