Young Wolves forced to grow up fast

SOECharlesHallmansquareMinnesota Timberwolves Interim Head Coach Sam Mitchell, while recently reflecting on his mostly young team, sounded like an old James Brown tune with a new twist.

“It’s a man’s league,” proclaimed Mitchell, who is coaching a team that barely averages five years of NBA experience. “This is a hard business to be in, to be this young.”

Two Wolves starters are just one or two years removed as college freshmen. Another player just two years ago played for his high school on the same court in the downtown Minneapolis arena. As a result, Mitchell’s role this season is coach, father figure, teacher, and taskmaster.

“I don’t go in and pass out candy,” admitted the coach, a half joking but seriously tinged summation. “When I think about how hard we’re pushing them, the fact that they are 19, 20 years old and the things they are doing in this league, it’s pretty incredible.”

Tyus Jones
Tyus Jones

The MSR last week briefly talked to two of the Wolves’ “teenagers” — 19-year-old Tyus Jones, and Karl-Anthony Towns, who just turned 20 on Sunday.

Jones is the only Wolves player from Minnesota. He’s from Apple Valley, made his NBA regular season debut November 10 against Charlotte, and became the third-youngest player in franchise history to appear in a game. The 6’-2” guard scored a point in 12 minutes.

“I’m glad it’s under my belt,” he said afterwards. Prior to that, Jones sat in street clothes right behind the Minnesota bench save for one game as an inactive status player. “It’s tough, but that’s what you sign up for,” stated Jones. “You got to stay sharp and focused.”

Towns, on the other hand, became one of only four players in the past 30 years to post five-plus double-doubles in the first seven games of their pro career, joining Shaquille O’Neal, Dikembe Mutombo and David Robinson. Speaking to him after a game last week gave us a temporary neck strain as he spoke to the MSR from the towering advantage of his seven-foot height.

Karl-Anthony Towns
Karl-Anthony Towns

Just last fall, Towns was a first-year player at the University of Kentucky. This fall he’s a first-year NBA player, the league’s top overall pick of the 2015 NBA Draft. “Coach Cal (Kentucky’s John Calipari) does the best job in the country in getting his players prepared for the next level,” explained Towns. “I felt tremendously prepared. I’ve been blessed to have been in a great university.”

When told of Mitchell’s “man’s league” comment, Towns continued, “I’ve been finding that out ever since” joining the Wolves. “I found out right away there is a lot of pressure that comes with [being the top pick]. You got to go out and perform and put in the work and try your best.”

“I think about myself at 19,” recalled Mitchell. “I was still finding my way to class [in college]. It was no way I was physically or mentally ready at 19 to play in this league.

“When they do make mistakes,” added the Wolves coach, “I have to remind myself that they are [only] 19. [But] they got to grow up fast, and they are growing up fast.

“I’m pleased with all our young guys,” said Mitchell.

 

Four Black women join Gophers b-ball

Last week the Gophers women’s basketball team signed four players — all Black females — to letters of intent for next season: Gadiva Hubbard (Virginia Beach, Va.), twin sisters Taiye and Kehinde Bello (Southfield, Mich.), and Jasmine Brunson (Queens, NY).

 

Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to challman@spokesman-recorder.com.