Wayne Vanderploeg is the principal at the elementary and middle school in Randolph, Wis. He also is charged with maintaining and driving the Randolph Rocket.

"It's a cart with this old homemade rocket attached," Greg Stiemsma said. "And Wayne dresses up with a half-basketball on his head and has these things on his hands with long fingers. He's a spaceman."

Stiemsma was asked to confirm that smoke comes out of the rocket, as Wayne drives it about at football games or important basketball games.

"I'm not sure if the smoke is coming out of the rocket, or coming out of the cart, because it's been around so long," Stiemsma said.

Randolph is a town of fewer than 2,000 located 40 miles from Madison. The Rockets have been a power in small school Wisconsin boys basketball, winning nine state titles since 1996.

Stiemsma was the center on three of those title teams from 2002 through 2004. "We were unbeaten in my senior year," he said. "I missed the first 10 games with a torn ACL, but we were so deep that year it didn't make any difference."

The now 6-foot-11 Stiemsma spent four years at Wisconsin, then declared for the NBA draft in 2008. The 30 teams didn't bite, so Stiemsma wound up playing in Turkey.

And South Korea. And Sioux Falls. And in the country of Georgia. And back in Turkey.

"The apartments I lived in were nice enough, except in Georgia," Stiemsma said. "I lived in a place where there were no lights in the entryway or hallway. That was always interesting, trying to feel your way to your place.

"The real problem was communication. You had to make gestures and hope people understood what you wanted."

What was the most surprising meal he ordered during those stays in foreign lands?

"We had a big dinner with the team owners in South Korea," Stiemsma said. "They served this soup. Looked like a normal bowl of soup to me, until they put a live octopus in it. The octopus swam around for a while, then they cut its head open and it was time to eat.

"Freshest seafood I ever had."

Stiemsma did not make his NBA debut until Dec. 28, 2011, with the Boston Celtics. He became a serviceable reserve. The Timberwolves, looking for a backup big man for Nikola Pekovic, signed Stiemsma to a two-year contract in July.

Only the first year was guaranteed, since Stiemsma was dealing with plantar fasciitis. The Celtics didn't match as they were excited to bring in Darko Milicic as manna from big-man heaven.

Stiemsma played 42 minutes in the Wolves' first three games, with 15 points, eight rebounds and eight blocked shots.

On Wednesday night, the Wolves returned to Target Center to play Orlando, with its mostly anonymous collection of players in the aftermath of the Dwight Howard trade.

Stiemsma was on the court for half of a second quarter in which the Wolves put on a dreadful offensive display -- 5-for-20 from the field, 2-for-4 from the line, 13 points. This put Orlando within four (38-34) at the half.

The Magic still was within 62-55 late in the third quarter. J.J. Barea found Stiemsma for a layup. He found him for an 18-foot jumper. He found him for another layup before the buzzer.

Six points for the Steamer in 55 seconds, and the lead was 68-55 entering the fourth. He followed with a jump hook and another jumper in the first 2:11 of the fourth and the Wolves were headed to a 90-75 victory and a 3-1 start to the season.

Steamer. Is that the preferred nickname?

"That's good, but there were some fans up there in the stands tonight cheering 'Steam Engine,'" he said. "I like that one."

The Steam Engine finished 6-for-7 from the field for 12 points, with five rebounds and two more blocks. The 12 points were second to a 13-pointer that Stiemsma had for Boston last season.

Asked if he was surprised to see this offense from Stiemsma, Andrei Kirilenko said:

"You haven't seen him in practice. He has that midrange jumper. He's killer ... killer."

Patrick Reusse can be heard noon-4 weekdays on 1500-AM. preusse@startribune.com