Milt Newton, a native of the U.S. Virgin Islands and former executive with the NBA’s Wizards, was named the Timberwolves general manager about 13 months ago. Fans and media are still becoming acquainted with Newton who is in the shadow of Flip Saunders, the franchise’s minority owner, president of basketball operations and head coach. The revamped Timberwolves open the regular season tonight at Memphis, and earlier this week Sports Headliners asked Newton to fill in the blanks on various basketball and personal topics to better understand who he is.
I will be surprised if the Wolves’ record this season is not: “Close or better than it was last year (40-42).”
When Sports Illustrated’s NBA preview issue predicted the Wolves will finish 14th out of 15 Western Conference teams: “I thought first of all, who is qualified on that staff to make that decision? Two, they don’t know the hearts of the players on our team—or the knowledge in our coaching staff—so you can’t necessarily make a judgment until you know the guys in the locker room.”
You can bet your last dollar the Timberwolves will: “Be exciting to watch.”
My first impression of 2014 NBA No. 1 draft choice Andrew Wiggins—acquired by the Wolves in the Kevin Love deal—was: “Ultra athletic, smooth and incredible potential to be a star.”
The two teams I see in the NBA Finals next spring: “I am gonna have to go with the San Antonio Spurs and with the Cleveland Cavs because of LeBron (James). The winner (NBA champions) is the San Antonio Spurs.”
Where do you rank former Timberwolves power forward Kevin Love with the best at his position in the NBA? “I would say top 10 (in history). I would put him in the top three to top five (among power forwards today).”
The thing that is challenging about the Ricky Rubio contract negotiations: “Parties involved.”
What’s weird about Flip is: “He’s fidgety. When he’s standing, he’s moving his leg or when he’s sitting he’s tapping his legs, or he’s moving his hand.”
The best thing about my job: “Working with great staff (and) being around great players—still being involved with the game and seeing the best athletes in the world compete on a nightly basis.”
I spend most of my time as GM: “Communicating with our players and with our staff. In the communications you’re (sometimes) putting out fires or potential fires. …”
If I were Milt Newton’s boss I would praise him for: “His accountability and his responsibility to his job.”
What surprises me about Minneapolis is: “How it can get so cold in the winter time, and also the ‘Minnesota nice’ (reputation) that I’ve heard is actually true.”
The dream vacation for me: “My wife and I probably in Tahiti. Been married for 20 years (to Shalaun).”
My worst habit is probably: “My impatience when my kids don’t so something I ask them to do the first time.”
The best meal on the planet: “My mom’s chili, and the butter knife steak from Murray’s is a close second.”
If I could invite five people to dinner who are alive today, or from history, they would be: “No. 1 Jesus Christ. I would like to talk to Muhammad Ali…Arthur Ashe…Bruce Lee, I am a big martial arts fan…(and) Mother Teresa.”
The best NBA team I ever saw: “Probably the Lakers with James Worthy, Magic (Johnson), Kareem (Abdul-Jabbar), Michael Cooper (and) Byron Scott because they were ‘Showtime’ (and) they won. They made it look exciting. They made it look classy but you could see behind the play that they were definitely a team that cared about each other.”
The best NBA player I ever saw: “I am gonna have to go with my idol, Dr. J. He (Julius Erving) had a flair for the game. To me I thought he was one of the better ambassadors of the game. He cared about the game (and) how he carried himself on the floor—exciting, graceful. He was the one that brought the NBA to a level in the public’s eye where it was exciting to watch.”
Steve Nestor admits if he tried to sabotage the University of Illinois Homecoming Parade this week he likely would be thrown in jail. But back in 1967 when he and a buddy crashed the parade, law enforcement gave the Minnesotans the green light.
Nestor was a student athletic trainer for the Gophers football team. His buddy, Steve Vegoe, was a gate guard at the team’s practice field. Neither student was part of the team’s official travel party so Nestor suggested the two of them drive down to Champaign, Illinois for the Saturday, October 14 game.
The boys left Minneapolis early on the morning of October 13 and were excited to see what the Gophers could do against the Illini in the team’s first Big Ten Conference game of the season. Hopes were high for the Gophers who had a 2-1 record in nonconference games with the only loss a 7-0 defeat at Nebraska against a Cornhuskers team that was a national power.
Nestor and Vegoe arrived in Champaign early on that Friday afternoon. It didn’t take long for Nestor to hit on an idea that added a lot of excitement to the weekend. He and Vegoe headed over to the student union and it was there that Nestor picked up a copy of the school newspaper. He saw the Homecoming Parade route published in the newspaper. “The light bulb went on,” said Nestor who now owns a radio station in Glenwood, Minnesota.
Nestor knew more than a little about marching bands and parades. He also liked a little mischief, so he imagined positioning his 1965 bright red Oldsmobile F-85 in the Illini Homecoming Parade. “I knew from marching in the high school band that the band always took longer to turn the (street) corners and there usually ended up being an opening between whoever was in front of the band and them,” he said.
Nestor and Vegoe went to a drugstore to buy the materials needed to make two signs that proclaimed: “Golden Gophers Rose Bowl Bound.” They taped the signs on the car’s front doors and were ready to join the parade.
“I got in an alley that was right after this corner so when the third unit of the parade went by me I pulled out onto the main drag,” Nestor said. “We were right behind that third unit, with the band coming behind us.”
So there the boys were—driving and waving in the Illini’s Homecoming Parade—going down the street in this car with Minnesota license plates and signage bragging about the Gophers’ intent to play in the 1968 Rose Bowl. “I don’t think we had gone even half a block and a guy pulled up on a motorcycle,” Nestor said. “It was a university policeman.”
The officer gestured for Nestor to roll down his window. The cop told the party crashers that if they continued on the parade route the F-85 wouldn’t be welcomed along fraternity row where students would likely tip the car over. Then came a surprise offer from the policeman.
“You got enough balls to be in this parade, I am gonna ride with you the whole way,” the officer said.
“Each of us (Nestor and Vegoe) had all we could do to keep from laughing,” Nestor remembered. “I said, ‘Well, thanks a lot.’ ”
The “Minnesota unit” continued on the parade route and at one point the car was about to approach school dignitaries including the University of Illinois president. “They’re all waving wildly at the queen and this and that,” Nestor said. “Then all of a sudden it was silence. They all stared at us. Right out of a movie—they’re looking at Gophers Rose Bowl bound!”
Nestor and Vegoe, like the other units in the parade, finished the route. Not only did they have a day to remember but so did the police officer. “Guys, that was beautiful,” he told Nestor and Vegoe.
And how did the Illinois-Minnesota game go the next day? Well, that had a happy ending, too, as the Gophers won 10-7 on their way to a final record of 8-2.
The Rose Bowl plan? Well, close but no roses for the Gophers who finished in a three-way tie for the Big Ten championship with Indiana and Purdue. The Hoosiers received the Rose Bowl nod because the Gophers and Boilermakers had more recently been to Pasadena for the big game.
This Saturday the Gophers will again be in Champaign to play the Illini. Like the 1967 team, the 2014 Gophers have just one loss. And, yes, it will be Homecoming on Saturday in Champaign.
Could there be a repeat of the parade escapade?
Nah, Nestor and Vegoe—he is a magazine writer living in Pennsylvania—won’t be travelling to Champaign this year. Illinois Homecoming officials can rest easy.
Notes from a Tuesday afternoon of interviewing University of Minnesota basketball players at Williams Arena. The Gophers are preparing for their fall schedule that begins next month with a November 6 home exhibition against UMD and continues November 14 with a nationally televised game in Puerto Rico against NCAA title contender Louisville.
The nucleus of championship college basketball teams is often the guards. Minnesota features shooting guard Andre Hollins and point guard DeAndre Mathieu, team captains and seniors. They led the Gophers in scoring and assists during 2013-2014 when Minnesota had a 25-13 record and won the NIT championship.
Mathieu, who will stay in the gym until he makes 300 or more jump shots to improve his shooting, said he and Hollins “want to be the best backcourt in the conference.” When the coaches and media selected All-Big Teams after last season the two didn’t receive a lot of recognition. Both were named honorable mention by the media. Hollins was an honorable mention selection by the coaches.
Omissions haven’t gone unnoticed. “I’d be lying if I said it didn’t bother me because I was kind of upset about it,” Mathieu said. “I felt like we played good enough. I talk to him (Andre) about it all the time. We got some work to do.
“We’re going out this year and trying to be the best two guards in the league. I know we’re going to have to do our parts to make this team the best team possible. Hopefully being two of the best guards in the conference can do that.”
Last week it was announced that a media panel selected a five players preseason All-Big Ten team and neither Hollins nor Mathieu were included.
Mathieu said there’s no comparison between how the Gophers look now with a year ago at this time. “This team is a lot more intense—a lot more competitive. We’re trying to get it on the defensive end. I thought last year we weren’t as intense on the defensive end.”
Mathieu likes what he sees of the full court and half court defenses. It’s in the half court where he believes the Gophers will have to consistently be at their best to limit top teams including Wisconsin.
The Badgers are a unanimous preseason choice to win the Big Ten Conference regular season title. With four of five starters returning from last year’s NCAA Final Four team, the Badgers who were 30-8 last season, are a favorite to win the national championship. The Big Ten media panel voted Wisconsin center Frank Kaminsky Preseason Player of the Year.
College basketball media has wide ranging expectations for the Gophers. Lindy’s magazine, for example, forecasts a fourth place Big Ten finish behind Wisconsin, Ohio State and Nebraska. Sporting News magazine predicts the Gophers will be ninth in the conference.
Nebraska’s basketball program has newfound respect from forecasters. Gophers senior center Elliott Eliason is from Chadron, Nebraska, a small town in the western part of the state. He said there’s a “bastion of Gophers fans” in his hometown so he’s not worried about receiving a hard time because of Nebraska basketball. “Plus, we beat them (the Cornhuskers) last year in football so I give them heat for that. They care a lot more about that than anything else.”
Eliason is listed at 6-11 but said he’s a “legit” 7 feet with shoes on and wants to be listed as a 7-footer.
Junior power forward Joey King said he is stronger than last season after summer workouts and increasing his weight from 218 pounds to 234. King said basketball for him is “all about energy and effort.” He plays without fear. “I haven’t had any serious injuries to worry about—other than a broken nose and a finger. Those weren’t too bad for me. Definitely no fears out on the court. I mean people are going through worse things.”
King, an Eagan, Minnesota native, said a summer highlight was attending WE Fest in Detroit Lakes. “Me and my friends like to take a camper up there and spend a couple days watching some of our favorite country artists, so it was a good time.”
Senior forward Mo Walker said his weight, 250, remains the same as last season. That was down from about 320 pounds as a sophomore. Last season he looked and moved like a different player.
Walker had career highs of 18 points and nine rebounds in the Gophers’ win over the Badgers last January at Williams Arena. This year the two teams don’t meet until February 21 in Madison and March 5 in Minneapolis.
“Always looking forward to playing the Badgers—border rival team,” Walker said. “Home crowd always wants us to win. The whole state is pulling for us every time we play them.”
Hollins injured his ankle 16 seconds into that January win over the Badgers and not only missed the game but others because of it. He said yesterday he is recovered from the injury. “It got progressively stronger but it was never the same during the season.”
Hollins said in his new role as co-captain he’s “much more vocal than last year” and is looking forward to the season. “We’re a lot deeper than last year. We have a lot of talent.”
Charles Buggs, a sophomore forward, played minimal minutes last season but his performance at home in the Iowa game was a peak effort. He made five of six field goals, including all three of his three pointers, and scored 13 points in 19 minutes to help the Gophers win. Why can’t he play like that more frequently?
“I feel like with me that’s more of a mental thing,” he answered. “I just gotta keep my head together all the time and make sure I am just pushing myself to work hard throughout the whole year.”
Buggs had surgery on his left knee a couple weeks after Minnesota defeated SMU in New York for the NIT title. He was inactive during the summer, limited to shooting and dribbling. “But I was really out the whole summer,” said Buggs who expects to be 100 percent in a few weeks.
Buggs was recruited by former Gophers coach Tubby Smith, now at Texas Tech. Buggs’ parents remain friendly with Smith and they attended the Midnight Madness practice last week when Smith, dressed in a John Shaft costume, fell off a motorcycle. Smith wasn’t injured in the fall.
The Gophers will have a scrimmage starting at 4 p.m. on Sunday that is free and open to the public. Doors at Williams Arena open at 3:30 p.m.
Gophers Football & Hockey Notes
Gophers offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover said yesterday that walk-on true freshman Jacques Perra from Roseville is the No. 3 quarterback behind Mitch Leidner and Chris Streveler. “There’s a real confidence about him and he’s a pretty darned good player, too,” Limegrover said. “He’s been able to separate himself as far as that No. 3 goes.”
Limegrover acknowledged the offensive line is improving but let it be known his standards are high. “One thing you need to understand when you’re an offensive line coach, you never have a good day. There’s never a day when all five of those guys do everything right every play. I’m a perfectionist (and) those guys know it. We win a game and I go into the film room, and if you’re an outsider, you’d think we lost by 30.”
Gophers tight end Maxx Williams said he notices excitement on campus with the team off to a 6-1 start. “We want to keep winning for the school. I think the students love it.”
The Gophers’ two home hockey games with Wisconsin in January are sold out and so, too, are single games on November 1 with St. Cloud State and November 14 against UMD. Tickets are available for the remaining Minnesota home games.
The Gophers’ first regular season home series of the fall begins Friday night against Bemidji State. Junior defenseman Mike Reilly will be honored on Saturday evening for being named All-American last season.