Timberwolves guard-forward Marko Jaric finished last season averaging 7.8 points and 3.9 assists per game, down from his career high numbers of 9.9 and 6.1 in 2004-05 with the Los Angeles Clippers. After starting the first 46 game games, his minutes became more limited and he shot just 39 percent from the field. At times he played like a player low on energy.
This off-season Jaric, who at 6-7 gives the Wolves a versatile player at point guard, off-guard or small forward, didn’t play national basketball for Serbia-Montenegro. What he did was spend almost three months every day working with one of the hot names among personal trainers in the NBA, Todd Troxel. Earlier in the off-season Troxel had been in China working with star center Yao Ming of the Chinese national team and the NBA’s Houston Rockets.
With Troxel’s input, Jaric focused on various aspects of his game including ball handling, shooting, becoming stronger and more effective in drawing contact. “It helped me a lot. …Working out with him gave me self confidence,” Jaric said.
He indicated Troxel was a steady influence, detail oriented and ready to spot mistakes. Troxel has also tutored former Gopher Joel Pryzbilla, now with the Portland Trailblazers.
Jaric said he didn’t know what position he will play for the Wolves. “I know this team is going to use me in the right way,” he said. “They will use me (and) that’s the most important thing for me. I am going to find my way and then we will see during the season which will be my major spot (position).”
Vikings coach Brad Childress talking about cornerback Antoine Winfield: “With his physical stature, first of all, I don’t know anybody that hits harder than that guy pound-for-pound. I mean we’re talking about coming up and taking on offensive linemen, sticking a knife in a sweep, hitting the screen. …Deep thinker. He’s with the program. …”
Special teams coordinator Paul Ferraro said whether Troy Williamson returns kickoffs depends on Williamson’s physical condition and input from Childress.
The Twins finished the season at 96-66 after a record of 83-79 last season. The home and road records were 54-27 and 42-39, compared with 45-36 and 38-43 in 2005.
Talking about his unusual facial expressions when pitching, Twins reliever Pat Neshek said he first became aware of them while viewing video tape in the minor leagues: “I never even noticed that until I watched the videos every night and reviewed what I did the night before…it’s pretty funny.” He added, “I don’t think it intimidates anybody. It just looks funny.”
Twins pitching coach Rick Anderson said opposing pitchers and hitters make adjustments to one another in a playoff series, but hitters gain more advantage as a series progresses.
It was 50 years ago this October the Gophers enjoyed one of their few wins against Michigan, defeating the Wolverines 20-7 in Ann Arbor. The Gophers rallied from a 7-0 halftime deficit to score 20 second half points behind quarterback Bobby Cox. The game helped the Gophers to a 6-1-2 season, a near Rose Bowl invitation and national publicity for Cox. The next season Cox became the only Gopher football player ever to be on the cover of Sports Illustrated.
When the Twins made the playoffs earlier this week champagne and emotions flowed in the clubhouse. A young team that had played under .500 baseball earlier in the season achieved a remarkable turn around to claim one of eight playoff spots in major league baseball.
The Twins are a team with many performers that don’t have playoff experience. Included are pitchers Matt Garza and Boof Bonser, catcher Joe Mauer, first baseman Justin Morneau, shortstop Jason Bartlett, third baseman Nick Punto and outfielder Jason Kubel. Players are young, too, such as Garza, 22, Mauer, 23, and Bonser, 24.
Sometimes a young and inexperienced group can lose its focus and edge after earning a playoff opportunity. Consciously or unconsciously the mindset is this: It’s good enough to make the playoffs, particularly when no one expected the team to advance.
A visitor asked Twins manager Ron Gardenhire if he thought his Twins might be such a team. “They are going to go out and give you everything they have (in the playoffs),” he answered. “That’s what they have done all year. It won’t change in the playoffs. They are going to play as hard as they can.”
If the Twins fail in the playoffs it won’t be because the players “are afraid” or don’t know how to compete, Gardenhire said. “We have been through a lot of tough baseball games,” he said. “Every game has been a playoff game for it seems like a month when you are trying to catch up (in the AL Central race to finish first). If it doesn’t work out for us, if we were to get beat … it’s just the other team is a little better than us…. They (the Twins players) are so excited. They know we can win. They have proved we can win so we will see what happens.”