MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Jacqueline Cruz-Towns sat on a bench in the Minnesota Timberwolves’ sparkling new practice facility, proudly wearing a Wolves hat on her head and a big smile on her face as she recalled a pre-draft visit her son Karl-Anthony made to Minneapolis last week.
“He toured this beautiful facility and he told me, ‘Mom, this is the place for me,'” Cruz-Towns said Friday, a day after the Timberwolves made him the No. 1 overall draft pick.
Long considered the NBA’s version of Siberia, a losing franchise playing in a frigid climate ignored by free agents, the Timberwolves found two players in the draft who couldn’t be happier to be coming to Minnesota.
Karl-Anthony Towns was widely considered the best player in the draft, and he made no secret about his happiness in being selected by the Timberwolves, even though the tradition-rich Lakers playing in glitzy Los Angeles were sitting there at No. 2.
“He wanted to be here,” Towns’ father, Karl, said. “He loves this place.”
After grabbing Towns at No. 1, the Wolves traded back into the first round to get Duke’s Tyus Jones at No. 24, a point guard who was The Associated Press Minnesota player of the year three times while playing in suburban Apple Valley.
Jones was 8 years old the last time his hometown Wolves made the playoffs, but that didn’t stop the Duke star from dreaming about playing for the team when he grew up.
“It doesn’t feel real. It feels like a dream,” Jones said. “To find out I’m going to be a Timberwolf and going to be staying home was really the cherry on top.”
Towns and Jones join a roster that is suddenly smitten with Minnesota. Andrew Wiggins won rookie of the year honors last season and told the AP at season’s end that he hopes he plays his whole career with the Wolves. Ricky Rubio went against the advice of his agents and signed a four-year contract extension last season in part because he wanted to stay in Minnesota and the notoriously reluctant to change Kevin Garnett consented to a trade at the deadline in February to leave Brooklyn and come back to the Timberwolves.
“We’ve got some kids here these last few years that really want to be here,” president and coach Flip Saunders said. “I think they see this has a chance to be really special.”
Jones picked Towns up from the airport on Friday morning and gave him a walking tour of the Minneapolis skyway system that connects skyscrapers and apartments downtown to the team’s new $25 million Mayo Clinic Square practice facility and Target Center arena.
“I loved every single minute of walking the skyways with the fans,” Towns said. “They’re passionate and amazing and I can’t wait to give them the best version of myself.”
Jones, who will backup Rubio, said he was unfazed by the added expectations that will come with playing in his hometown.
“I plan on dealing with it just like I deal with any other pressure that has come in my life as far as basketball is concerned,” Jones said. “I’m going to work hard, try and get better every day and try to win. I’m ready for the pressure. It’s something that I like. I’m just excited to be home playing and be in a Timberwolves jersey. I’m ready for it.”
And the Wolves aren’t done yet.
They are also close to a deal with Euroleague MVP Nemanja Bjelica, a person with knowledge of the negotiations told AP. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the contract has not been signed.
Bjelica was selected in 2010 and has blossomed into one of the top players overseas. He averaged 11.9 points and 8.6 rebounds in Turkey last season and will give the Wolves a versatile, 6-foot-10 shooter off the bench who can play both forward spots. He’s also 27 years old, which brings some much-needed maturity and experience to a young core that includes 20-year-olds Wiggins and Zach LaVine, 22-year-old Shabazz Muhammad, 24-year-old Rubio and the two teenagers they acquired on draft night.
“I look at where we were a year ago at this time and where we are today, the future is bright and sunny,” Saunders said. “That’s why our fan base is excited. They know what we’re getting and they know where we’re going.”
Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.