Timberwolves guard Jaylen Nowell and forward Jaden McDaniels didn't get to play together at the University of Washington before each entered the NBA draft.
McDaniels entered the program the season after the Wolves took Nowell in the second round of the 2019 draft.
But they've gotten to know each other better — and Wolves fans have been able to see what they can do — as both emerged as rotation pieces for the Wolves over the past month.
The Wolves are seeing what McDaniels and Nowell can do, but their success in carving out a role for themselves comes as little surprise to their former coach with the Huskies, Mike Hopkins.
"It's just so exciting and just incredible," Hopkins said in a recent phone interview.
Hopkins and his staff have been keeping close tabs on Wolves games as their former players have started to make their mark. Hopkins said he was thrilled to see both land with the Wolves and President Gersson Rosas, whom Hopkins got to know through their work in USA Basketball.
Nowell, in his second season, is transferring the scoring ability that made him PAC-12 Player of the Year to the NBA. Hopkins said Nowell is one of the most cerebral players he has been around.
"When we got him, he's 18, 19 years old but like an adult, really professional," Hopkins said. "Really tough. Kept improving and improving. People said he needed to be a point [guard] or what not, but he had the knack to score and he's just an elite competitor."
Nowell has scored in double figures in eight of the past nine games and before the season, he addressed Washington's team about what it was like in the NBA. Nowell spent most of last year with the G-League Iowa Wolves, where he averaged 21 points per game and shot 49% (44% from three-point range) but struggled in 15 NBA games. He's improved those numbers to 47% and 40% with the Wolves this season.
"I'm definitely not as rushed anymore," Nowell said. "I'm playing at my own pace and just making sure that I pick my spots correctly."
In Nowell's talk with the Huskies, Hopkins said Nowell discussed how you have to accept your role in the NBA and wait for your opportunity. He also said he wasn't going to relinquish his chance when it came.
"You knew that when he got that opportunity, he was just going to shine," Hopkins said. "I like to say he knows how to dance. Take him in the ballroom and someone teaches him a bit and he just gets it. He's born to hoop, you know?"
McDaniels, the 28th pick in this year's draft, has been one of the biggest surprises, especially on defense, and is defying predraft analysis that said he could take a while to develop.
McDaniels had four blocks in the first half of Wednesday's 119-112 loss to the Clippers and spent some time guarding high-scoring Kawhi Leonard.
"And he actually likes [defense]," Hopkins said.
That's not often a trait you hear about NBA rookies.
"When [we] would go watch a high school game or an AAU game and, say, something got under his skin. He would go and pick the dude up three-quarter court," Hopkins said. "… I don't care if you're Division II or I, he is moving his feet, turning a guy and he likes it. And do you have the physical tools? He has them."
The 6-9, 192-pound McDaniels has the height and athleticism to guard multiple positions and is averaging nearly one block per game. McDaniels said he wasn't sure how he developed the ability to effectively block shots without fouling.
"I couldn't even tell you, really," McDaniels said. "I've been just being aware of the weak side and kind of knowing if the offensive man doesn't see me. That's something I did in college."
Hopkins said there's also limitless offensive potential in McDaniels.
"He's got all the gifts of elite players," Hopkins said. "You can't teach [his height], athletic, his feel, he's got a sweet jumper and he's got a competitive nature. People look at his body and they think he's skinny, and the body will change, but he is a competitor. … I think he can be one of the elite small forwards or two guards in the NBA one day."
As far as who McDaniels and Nowell are off the court, Hopkins said McDaniels can seem quiet at first, but there's another side to him.
"He liked to pull pranks," Hopkins said. "If you don't know him, he looks like he's stoic and maybe even mad, unapproachable. … 'Don't walk near me.' But when you get to know him, you see funny, laughing, prankster, incredible teammate."
Nowell, meanwhile, likes to read and is a basketball junkie.
"The best thing was when he'd tell me about a book he had read," Hopkins said. "Who's going to go home and read books? He's not a video game guy. When I got to know him my first year and we had to re-recruit him, his biggest thing was it wasn't video games. He would just watch basketball on YouTube."
Now, Nowell and McDaniels are making their own NBA highlight reels.