Creighton basketball coach Greg McDermott was in Brooklyn on Thursday night, celebrating with Justin Patton and his family, and took a few moments to make a big prediction:
“His trajectory of improvement is as impressive as anyone I’ve ever coached,’’ McDermott said. “Without question his best basketball is ahead of him.”
This should be good news for Timberwolves fans.
As part of the trade that brought Jimmy Butler to the Timberwolves from Chicago, the Wolves got the Bulls’ first-round pick at No. 16.
When that pick came around the Bulls picked Patton, then sent the rights to the 6-11, 230-pounder to the Wolves.
When asked about Patton, Wolves president of basketball operations and coach Tom Thibodeau produced a list.
“I think his size, his skill set, his ability to run the floor to finish,” Thibodeau said. “He’s coming out of a great program at Creighton.”
In Patton, the Wolves get a center with the skills of a guard. Maybe it’s because, until a remarkable growth spurt that ended before his junior season at Omaha North High School, he stood only 6-2.
It took him a while to adjust to his new size, and maybe that’s why Division I schools weren’t beating his door down with offers. When he got an offer from Creighton — the campus is 10 minutes from where he grew up — he accepted right away.
After a strong redshirt freshman season, he finds himself about to move north to Minneapolis.
“It’s great,’’ he said. “First thing I thought about was how close it is to Omaha. How much water there is there. And there is more cold weather there, so I’m down with that.’’
It took him a while to get from Omaha North to the Timberwolves. When Patton first walked through the door at Creighton, he weighed 204 pounds. He spent his redshirt season trying to get bigger and stronger. He was put on a 6,000-calories-per-day diet.
As McDermott said: “He ate a lot. And when he was full, I made him eat some more.’’
The result: Last season he led the Big East Conference and was second in the nation with a .676 shooting percentage.
He averaged 12.9 points and 6.2 rebounds per game while winning conference freshman of the year honors.
“He can really run the floor,’’ McDermott said. “Unbelievable hands. He’s rare in that he’s a big guy who can make plays on the move. He can dribble, and finish with a score or a pass. He’s become a good shooter. He has to get stronger. His body still needs to develop.’’
But history shows he’ll do whatever it takes. It was his worth ethic that led to a freshman season during which he improved almost daily.
“He didn’t have the stamina to play at this level at first, or the strength,’’ McDermott said.
“But he concentrated on his strength and conditioning. And last season, he just kept getting better as the season went on. It was so fun to watch.’’
He might be a bit of a project, but Patton is big and athletic. He said he is looking forward to playing with the Wolves in general and Wolves big man Karl-Anthony Towns. Patton said he’s been a fan of the Wolves since Kevin Garnett and the Wolves played a preseason game in Omaha years ago.
In a post-draft interview with Minnesota media, Patton seemed confident. Talking about his interview with the Wolves at the draft combine, he said he talked so much the Wolves didn’t even have a chance to go over film on him.
When asked about the strengths of his game, his basketball IQ was the first thing he mentioned. When asked about the prospect of playing with Towns?
“He’ll make me look good,’’ he said.
It should be noted that, on his Twitter page, he has a picture of Prince, among others. On his bio, his favorite book is listed as “The Great Gatsby,” a classic written by native Minnesotan F. Scott Fitzgerald.
So he might really be the perfect fit.