New Timberwolves rookie Justin Patton turned 20 only two weeks ago, but he already has shown taste in literature and music beyond his years.
Those tastes connected him with Minnesota before the Wolves chose him 16th overall in last week’s NBA draft.
His college bio at Creighton lists as his favorite book “The Great Gatsby,” one of the great American novels written by St. Paul-born and educated F. Scott Fitzgerald and published in 1925.
His Twitter profile features a collage of sports, film and music stars from before his time, including Minnesota’s own Prince.
Maybe he is where he is supposed to be?
“ ‘The Great Gatsby’ is a good book just to learn,” Patton said. “I just love the moral of the story. He’s a great guy, his background nobody knows about but they figure it out essentially.”
A late-blooming 7-footer with guard skills, Patton arrived in Minnesota on Monday not long after a weeklong F. Scott Fitzgerald conference came to town with readings, tours and other events that are held biennially at various locations throughout the world.
“And then Prince,” Patton said, “my Mom cleans up the house every Sunday and she always puts on this old-school music. So it’s good to have that to listen to.”
Five years ago, Patton was a 6-1 freshman guard in high school. In a year grew to 6-9, so fast that he wore shorts rather than jeans. He redshirted his freshman year at Creighton to allow him the time he needed to adapt to his new, still-growing body.
“I had to learn to do the simple things all over again, like run and use my body in a way I should being 7 feet tall,” Patton said. “It was good to get the strength in my legs back. I went from the point guard all the way to the center, so I had to learn to do that.”
Three years ago, he sold funnel cakes at the College World Series held annually in Omaha — his hometown and home to Creighton, too. On Monday night, he had dinner with new teammate and three-time All-Star Jimmy Butler. On Tuesday, Patton officially was introduced by the Wolves as the 16th pick in the NBA draft.
“It was really fun,” Patton said, reminiscing. “I got a lot of photos and stuff like that in my uniform. But it was great selling funnel cakes, and nachos also. You can’t forget about the nachos.”
From 6-1 guard and stadium concessionaire to a versatile 7-footer who can run the floor, handle the ball, pass and shoot with range, you could say he has come a long way.
“We’re seeing the versatility of bigs now that we haven’t seen in the past,” said Tom Thibodeau, Wolves coach and president of basketball operations. “We’re excited about Justin, not only by his offense but we think he’s just scratching the surface defensively. He’s got great feet. He can run. He’s a multiple-effort guy. I think the shot-blocking will get better and better.
“Just the way he plays the game. He has a high IQ, great concentration and the way he has improved. Those are the characteristics we’re looking for: his love of the game, his passion, his drive. That’s why we think he’ll be a good fit for us.”
Patton will play for the Wolves’ Las Vegas Summer League team that begins competition starting next week. His play there and in training camp come September will help determine how much time, if any, Patton spends developing this coming season with the Wolves’ new G-League team in Iowa.
“It has been great,” Patton said when asked about how far he has come in so little time. “Really, all I’ve tried to focus on since I’ve started is playing basketball and just being myself.
“I haven’t really had time to think. Maybe when I retire I’ll have more time to reflect. But right now, it’s just working hard and not taking a step back.”