Timberwolves make a stop in AlexandriaTolliver, Ellington delight fans with appearance, autographs
By: Eric Morken, Alexandria Echo Press
The Minnesota Timberwolves made Alexandria one of their three stops on the 2012 Timberwolves Caravan on Tuesday afternoon.
Forward Anthony Tolliver and shooting guard Wayne Ellington were the players on hand as they provided a free basketball clinic for kids at the Lakes Area Recreation gymnasium. I caught up with both players afterwards to talk a little bit about the reaction they are seeing from fans around the state and their expectations going into next season.
Q: What do you enjoy most out of coming to these events with the fans?
A: It’s definitely the kids. That’s the reason I do this. I have a special place in my heart for kids and the fact that we get to come here and just teach them a little bit about basketball, hopefully get them interested in it, get them having fun. That will help them in the future if they want to play basketball. The chance to meet NBA players is just a great opportunity for them. It’s awesome for us too. We have a lot of fun doing it.
EM: After putting together a strong first half of the season last year, have you noticed a greater sense of excitement over this team as you go to these kinds of events?
AT: Absolutely. I think they see the potential. They see the potential in the team. The core group of guys that we have are really good and we have a long future ahead of us. We’re really excited about the future. I’m a free agent this summer but hopefully we can work something out where I can come back and continue to build this team up.
EM: Having Rick Rubio obviously energized this fan base. What was it like finally getting a chance to play with him last year?
AT: It’s great, especially as a shooter. All you have to do is be ready to shoot and he’ll get you the ball where you need the ball. He definitely is a great player and he makes everybody on the court better.
EM: You look at a team like the Oklahoma City Thunder and their ability to get to the NBA Finals this year with such a young roster. Do you believe this team has a nucleus in place that you can build something like that around?
AT: Of course. That’s always the goal, to build a team up to be a contender. We have some young pieces here that have potential to be special. We’ll continue to build the team through the draft and free agency and everything else. I think we have potential to make a team that can really compete.
EM: How much do you enjoy getting out on the road and meeting with the fans like this?
WE: – It’s great fun. Getting out here and being hands on with the kids, seeing the smiles on their faces and being active with them. I always remember the first time I met an NBA player. He came into a gym when I was very young. It was sort of like the same kind of thing where he put on a little clinic, a little ball handling, a little shooting. But it’s not really even about the basketball. It’s more about the memory that you get with the kids and seeing them have fun with you.
EM: You guys were able to remain in playoff contention last season until injuries started to catch up with you down the stretch. Have you noticed a lot better fan reaction this summer because of that success as compared to what the excitement level was like in your rookie season?
WE: No question. Everybody’s talking about us. Everybody’s saying you know, ‘You guys are going to be pretty good next year.’ There’s a lot of excitement. We’re improving, and we look forward to getting even better. Our main goal as a team is to get even better and hopefully reach those playoffs.
EM: Do you guys look at a team like the Thunder and see them as kind of a blueprint for a young team like you guys have?
WE: For sure. They came up as a young team, what was it three years ago? They have 27 wins or maybe not even that. It just shows. They continued to get better and everybody was dedicated and everybody was willing to put in that extra work and grind. Look at the result now; they’re playing in the NBA finals. That’s our goal too.
EM: How much did some success last year change the atmosphere around this team going into the off-season?
WE: We’re very motivated. Seeing what we could do last year in that shortened season where we had no practice. As a team, we all got to have the same goal and that’s winning. I think just seeing what we could do last year just gave us so much more motivation and put us in a positive direction.
EM: Getting Rubio back healthy is a big part of any success you guys will have next year. Have you talked to him and how confident are you in his ability to come back from his knee injury and be the same kind of player for you guys next season?
WE: I have talked to him. He’s in a great place. He’s excited. He’s rehabbing and we’re all really excited. I think he’ll come back even stronger as a player and he’ll help us even more. Once we get all our pieces healthy, we’re going to be a really tough team to beat.