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Another View on Wolves’ Butler-Towns

July 12, 2018 - (0) comments

 

Media reports that Timberwolves leader and best player Jimmy Butler is “fed up” with the alleged nonchalant attitude of teammate Karl-Anthony Towns are prevalent, but are those rumors true?

I asked Timberwolves point guard Tyus Jones if he is aware of a rift between Butler and Towns? “No,” he answered.

So Butler and Towns get along?

“They do,” Jones told Sports Headliners on Monday. “As you can see, we won a lot of games this year so I think everyone got along just fine.”

Jones said there were “no chemistry issues” on last season’s team that won 16 games more than the 2016-17 club. Butler, a guard-forward, joined the Wolves last offseason through a trade with the Bulls. As one of the NBA’s best two-way players, he made a major impact on and off the court. The Wolves earned their way into the playoffs for the first time since 2004. In the locker room the intense veteran made his presence known.

Before last season NBA general managers named Towns the player they would want most to start a franchise with. During the 2017-2018 season, his third in the NBA, the Wolves’ 22-year-old center averaged 21.3 points and 12.3 rebounds. However, there have been reports that Butler, the team’s leading scorer at 22.2 points per game, is not only critical of Towns’ lack of intensity, but that he also has the same feelings about another young Wolves player with high potential, forward-guard Andrew Wiggins.

Tyus Jones

All of this leaves Wolves fans uneasy because Butler becomes a free agent after the 2018-19 season. If Butler doesn’t want to be here, that’s certainly not true of Jones who also will be a free agent next year.

Jones expects his agent to begin talks about a new contract this summer and the Minnesota native admitted it would be difficult to leave Minneapolis. “It would be hard,” he said. “I’ve said since the beginning, when I was drafted here, this is a dream come true. I grew up a big Timberwolves fan.”

Jones has been a reserve in his first three seasons with the Timberwolves, who acquired him from the Cavs on draft night in 2015. Last season he played in all 82 regular season games but his minutes were limited and he averaged 5.1 points per game. He has career averages of 4.4 points and 2.8 assists, but has earned praise from coach Tom Thibodeau.

The 6-foot-2 Jones, who entered the NBA at about 185 pounds, looks more muscular this summer. “Put on some weight,” he said. “Just trying to focus on making good weight (muscle).”

The 22-year-old former Apple Valley star and prep All-American weighs about 190 pounds now. He is working on a summer development program with intentions to not only become stronger but quicker, and “improve all aspects of my game.”

His gym time included an appearance Monday evening in the Twin Cities Pro Am league at DeLaSalle High School. He played for Team Tyus, the team he sponsors in the summer time league that has players of varying ages and abilities.

Wolves fans might have concerns about next season’s team but Jones is upbeat. “(I) feel good about it,” he said. “We took a big leap this year. We’re going to continue to try to do that. Each year you want to improve individually and as a whole (team). So making the playoffs and ending that drought was our goal. Now this year it’s try and take it a step further.”

Crandall, Travis, Talked U Transfer

It’s not that well-known but the Golden Gophers might have started next season with high profile grad transfers and Minneapolis natives Geno Crandall and Reid Travis in their starting lineup. Crandall’s decision to choose Gonzaga over Minnesota is a national story this summer and the former North Dakota guard told Sports Headliners about the background to his process in choosing a school that included communications with Travis who is leaving Stanford to play his final season of college basketball at Kentucky.

Crandall describes Travis as his “best friend,” and the two have played basketball together since they were five years old. They played on state championship teams in high school at DeLaSalle. Earlier this year the two texted about playing for the Gophers in their hometown. “We talked…about it and gave it some thought,” Crandall said.

Crandall averaged 16.2 points per game last season for the Fighting Hawks, leading the team in scoring. The 6-foot-3 Crandall was second-team All-Big Sky for the second consecutive season. Travis averaged 19.5 points and 8.7 rebounds for Stanford. The 6-foot-8 forward was a first-team All-Pac-12 selection.

The Gophers have a roster talented enough to prompt speculation they could earn their way into the NCAA Tournament next season. But with Crandall and Travis they could have been a Big Ten title favorite. “Oh, yeah, no doubt,” Crandall said.

Crandall believes Travis was influenced in choosing Kentucky because of the program’s national exposure and reputation for sending players on to the NBA. Those were factors that resonated with Crandall, too, in choosing Gonzaga.

The Zags are expected to be a top 10 team nationally. Crandall’s goal is to help the Bulldogs earn their way through the 2019 NCAA Tournament to the Final Four in Minneapolis. He knows how special it could feel playing for a national title in his home city.

Gonzaga has an opening for playing time in its starting backcourt. The path to playing time appeared more direct to him than at Minnesota where the Gophers have experienced players at both point and shooting guard. Those players include grad transfer Brock Stull from Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

The decision to choose Gonzaga wasn’t easy. He thought a lot about both Minnesota and Xavier where former Gopher assistant coach and DeLaSalle player Ben Johnson now works.

“Honestly, it was probably the toughest decision I ever had to make in my life,” Crandall said. “The first time around, coming out of high school, it wasn’t such a hard decision because I didn’t have too many offers, or too many programs that I really loved.

“But it was an extremely tough decision to say no to the hometown team that I grew up watching. (Minnesota) coach (Richard) Pitino, I think he’s really building something special. Unfortunately, it didn’t seem in the cards for me for what I was looking for my last year…”

 

Jerry Kill: New Rule Helps Gophers

July 10, 2018 - (0) comments

 

A Tuesday notes column:

The NCAA’s recent decision allowing Division I college football players to play in up to four games and still preserve their redshirt status will help the Golden Gophers starting this fall.

In prior years a player lost his redshirt status just by taking one snap in a game. Effective this season coaches will have more roster depth because they can use players that in the past were sidelined so they could redshirt, allowing five years to complete four seasons of eligibility.

The five years and four seasons status remains, and former Minnesota coach Jerry Kill likes the rule change. “I think you get banged up (with injuries) and it gives you a chance to look at some of those freshmen for four games and it doesn’t count as a year,” he told Sports Headliners on Monday.

Kill rebuilt Gopher football from 2011-2015. He and his staff upgraded the coaching and the talent. Although Minnesota became a winning program, Kill struggled to build adequate depth. That’s a challenge that also faces second-year coach P.J. Fleck going into this fall where he will have a much anticipated freshmen class.

When injuries hit most of the programs in college football they often don’t have the talent in reserve they would like. “It hurt us in a couple bowl games we played because we had no depth,” Kill said. “It made it tough on us. I think there’s no question that it helps Minnesota, and I think it helps everybody else, too.”

Kill is the new athletic director at Southern Illinois and has made a number of hires including Jeff Jones and Andy Harris. Jones worked for Kill at Minnesota as director of player personnel, and now is an administrator with Southern Illinois, his alma mater. Harris, who was involved with equipment when Kill was with the Gophers, is director of equipment operations with the Salukis.

DeLaSalle gym

Jamar Diggs, who runs the Twin Cites Pro Am summer basketball league at DeLaSalle, sees a variety of players including those still in high school. Among the youngest players who have impressed him is DeLaSalle High School guard Tyrell Terry who is headed to Stanford in 2019. “His skill set is through the roof,” Diggs said.

The Capital Club will have golf executive Hollis Cavner, who is bringing a PGA Tour event to Minnesota next year, as its speaker July 26 at Town & Country Club in St. Paul. Kate Mortenson, who heads up the 2019 Minneapolis Final Four Local Organizing Committee, speaks to the group August 14. More information about the Capital Club is available from Patrick Klinger, patrickklinger@klingercompany.com.

Klinger founded the Capital Club in November of 2014, almost five years ago. The club focuses on well-known speakers who provide perspective on what they do.

Jay Weiner, whose byline was seen on the Star Tribune sports pages for years, announced on Facebook he starts a new job this week in communications for the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. Most recently he worked for seven years as a speech writer for University of Minnesota president Eric Kaler.

Jeff Seeman, a Minnesota native and U alum, is returning for his 17th season as an NFL official. His father, the late Jerry Seeman, was one of the most revered officials in league history.

The Vikings are one of four NFL teams with the latest reporting date to training camp for veteran players. The Vikings, Broncos, Cardinals and Chargers all report to camps on July 27.

The Vikings rookies report to the TCO Performance Center in Eagan on July 24, three days before the veterans.

Jose Berrios will be on the American League All-Star pitching staff for the game against the National League All-Stars later this month in Washington, D.C. Berrios, 24, will be a first-time All-Star but he is likely to be selected multiple times in what looks like a long and promising career. Former Twins pitcher Jack Morris described Berrios as “almost unhittable” at times earlier this year.

Berrios, 9-7, beat the Royals last night while pitching seven innings and giving up one run. It was his 12th quality start of the year and the ninth time he has pitched seven innings or more.

Berrios could be pitching to former Twin Wilson Ramos in the D.C. All-Star Game. The Rays’ catcher has also been with the Nationals since Minnesota traded him to Washington on July 29, 2010 for relief pitcher Matt Capps. The Twins have struggled to solidify their catching for years, while Capps was gone after the 2012 season.

It’s not every day baseball fans can watch a 53-year-old player but former MLB star Rafael Palmeiro is with the American Association’s Cleburne Railroaders who take on the St. Paul Saints tonight at CHS Field.

The 2018 Schwan’s USA Cup youth soccer tournament at the National Sports Center in Blaine will generate $36 million in economic impact during its nine-day run, July 13-21. The economic impact from visitors staying overnight will be $28.1 million alone, according to a statement released yesterday by a Cup spokesman. Visitor spending will also generate a projected $233,515 in local tax revenue.

The 34th annual tournament will draw 1,150 teams, representing 20 different countries, 20 states, and four Canadian provinces. The tournament is the largest soccer tournament in the Western Hemisphere.

 

Twins’ Molitor Likely Safe for Now

July 08, 2018 - 1 Comment

 

The Twins haven’t historically made a habit of firing managers during the season, but that doesn’t stop speculation Paul Molitor’s job could be in jeopardy.

The Twins were predicted to contend for the Central Division title before the season started. Injuries and player performances below expectation have resulted in the team being 10.5 games out of first place as of today and 16 games out of a wild card spot. The club’s 38-48 record puts Minnesota 10 games under .500. The team has lost 10 of its last 16 games, although most recently the club has won three consecutive home games against the Orioles, who have the worst record in the American League at 24-64.

A friend of Molitor who has spent part of his professional career working in the business side of baseball said it’s been an unfortunate first half of the season and he hopes the manager is not “a casualty of it.” Molitor managed the Twins two years ago when they lost 103 games. But last season Minnesota finished with a surprising winning record and earned a wild card spot in the playoffs. “I don’t think he got stupid since last year,” Molitor’s friend said.

Molitor was named the 2017 American League Manager of the Year. He is known for his baseball intellect and steady manner. From the outside he looks like a manager most players would prefer to play for. “He’s a great ambassador for the organization,” the source said. “He’s a world-class guy. I would hate to see anything happen with Paul.”

Sometimes change occurs and it’s not an indictment of the people in charge. Management can decide it’s prudent to have a new leadership voice in the clubhouse. The Twins organization, though, is known for its loyalty and didn’t terminate Ron Gardenhire during seasons when he lost 99, 96 and 92 games. Gardenhire was, however, removed as Twins manager after the 2014 season and following four consecutive years of mostly disappointing results.

Falvey & Levine

Back then Terry Ryan headed the baseball department but he hasn’t been in charge since two years ago. Baseball bosses Derek Falvey and Thad Levine inherited Molitor when club president Dave St. Peter hired them in November of 2016. Last season Molitor was in the last year of his three-year contract and despite a successful summer performance by the team, the two decision makers took their time on a new deal. They waited until the season was over to ask Molitor to return, giving him a reported three-year deal.

There has to be doubt among the many Molitor loyalists on whether Falvey and Levine think they have their ideal field boss. The two decision makers are decades younger than the 61-year-old Molitor. They have also come up through a different era of baseball than Molitor and are data-driven executives.

If the Twins continue to falter this season, Falvey and Levine’s commitment to Molitor will be tested. The two seem like deliberate decision makers and a verdict on Molitor could more likely come after the season than during it. The decision on the manager is likely to be theirs, not that of St. Peter or owner Jim Pohlad who is long ago on record as a Molitor admirer.

If the Twins finish the season with an embarrassing performance and record, the most likely scenario could still be a Molitor return in 2019 but with a revised coaching staff. There’s no doubt most of the team’s failures so far are the result of misfortune with injuries and players not maximizing potential, but coaching always plays a role in team performance. Molitor has some staffers with limited MLB resumes who seem more deserving of scrutiny than the manger.

“This is a lost season,” Molitor’s friend said. “The chances of coming back (at mid-season) are impossible, or near impossible.”

The Molitor supporters just want to know the Hall of Fame player and Minnesota native will be in the dugout next season.

Worth Noting

Didn’t get enough fireworks the last several days? The Twins will have a fireworks show after their game Friday night against the Rays. The first 10,000 fans at Target Field that evening receive an Eddie Rosario bobblehead.

Sports Headliners reader Dana Marshall emailed a reminder that pitcher Eddie Bane made his professional debut 45 years ago on Wednesday, July 4, 1973 at Met Stadium. Bane was selected out of Arizona State by the Twins in the June 1973 amateur draft, and a crowd of 45,890 came out to see the beginning of the left hander’s career on July 4. Although Bane impressed in his debut against the Royals, the Twins didn’t win the game. He only had seven MLB victories during his career.

Former Viking wide receiver Ahmad Rashad is featured in the current issue of Sports Illustrated. The article references the part-time work Rashad did with WCCO TV during his career with the Vikings and how the experience helped his post-football broadcast career.

The feature describes the many relationships in sports and entertainment that have defined Rashad’s life. In Rashad’s 1988 autobiography, he tells of his close friendships with Bill Cosby and O.J. Simpson, according to S.I. More recently he’s known for being pals with Michael Jordan.

The S.I. issue is themed “Where Are They Now?” and among the stories about famous figures from the past is an article on another former Vikings wide receiver, Percy Harvin, who was troubled by severe anxiety during his NFL career and retired early.

Athlon Sports ranks former Eden Prairie star J.D. Spielman, now at Nebraska, the No. 17 wide receiver in college football. Gopher redshirt sophomore safety Antoine Winfield Jr. is one of the 50 most underrated players in college football, per Athlon.

Transfer Noah Rasinsk, after spending the first two seasons of his college career at Concordia University St. Paul, will play for the Gophers this fall and will have two seasons of eligibility. The Lakeville South High School alum was the Golden Bears’ top scorer in each of the past two seasons with an average of 75.64 as a freshman and 73.15 as a sophomore.

 

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