Tyrone Corbin: At Home In Minnesota

This story appeared in the Jan. 26, 1990 edition of Timberwolves Tonight.
by Doug Ward

If expansion teams are for aging veterans and free agent dreamers, what's Tyrone Corbin doing in a Minnesota Timberwolves uniform? And, if being traded or waived means a player is expendable, what's Corbin doing playing for his fourth team in five years?

Confused? If you are, you're not alone. Some of basketball's best minds are left clueless when it comes time to trace the NBA path of Tyrone Corbin.

How does a 27-year-old player — the kind that averaged 14.4 points and 7.0 rebounds in the first 33 games this season — become an NBA journeyman, looking for someplace, anyplace, to call home?

It is, as Corbin says, "shocking."

Related Links
 Tyrone Corbin notes
 1989 Expansion Draft
It's a story that crisscrosses the country, one that's more Charles Kurault than Charles Barkley, more time zones than illegal zones.

At Columbia (S.C.) A.C. Flora High School, Corbin teamed with Seattle's Xavier McDaniel to lead the school's basketball team to the state title. Corbin also played on the school's football team before accepting a scholarship offer to play for the legendary Ray Meyer at DePaul.

Away from home for the first time, Corbin developed an understanding with the Windy City: play hard and do well, and Chicago will appreciate you.

In four seasons at DePaul, Corbin became the school's seventh-leading scorer of all-time while leading the Blue Demons in scoring and rebounding in both his junior and senior seasons.

Chicago was Corbin's kind of town for four years before the San Antonio Spurs made him their second-round pick (35th overall) in the 1985 college draft. In those days, Corbin traveled light, so moving to Texas meant packing little more than his computer science degree and a basketball.

If you had asked him, Corbin would have been hard-pressed to pick a better place to spend the next 10 to 15 years than San Antonio.

"San Antonio was a nice place," Corbin says. "The pace was slower and it's a romantic city, with the River Walk and all." After a year and a half with the Spurs, however, Corbin's honeymoon in Texas ended when he was waived.

Just three days after being cut loose by the Spurs, on Jan. 24, 1987, Corbin was signed as a free agent by the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Cavs were in the middle of a rebuilding process, and Corbin was prepared to be patient, pay his dues, and become a part of the team's future.

"I really enjoyed the people in Cleveland," Corbin says. "I really thought the coaches, players and the entire organization was one of the tops in the league."

The NBA can be topsy-turvy, though. Who could have guessed that the Cavaliers and Phoenix Suns would pull off a blockbuster trade sending Corbin, Kevin Johnson and Mark West to Arizona in exchange for Larry Nance, Mike Sanders and a first-round draft choice? Certainly not Corbin. "It was a little unsettling," he says now.

In Phoenix, Corbin was an integral part of the rebirth of the Suns as they challenged the Los Angeles Lakers for first place in the Pacific Division last season.

"Phoenix was really nice," Corbin says. "Toward the end of my time there, we were winning a lot and the city got excited. People were coming out to support the team, and everybody was behind us. The Suns were very committed to bringing a winner to Phoenix, and I was really enjoying myself there until I found out I wasn't protected in the expansion draft.

"I was very, very surprised. I was surprised, shocked and disappointed because I thought I was an asset to the team. I thought I was one of the guys that kept the team jelling together. Then, to find out that I wasn't one of those guys... It was disappointing to me."

Although Corbin has a hard time masking his disappointment, he has the highest regard for the Twin Cities. A devoted family man, Corbin says Minnesota is an ideal place to raise a family.

And therein lies the problem. With a wife and a daughter, moving isn't getting any easier for Corbin. "Early on in my career," Corbin explains, "going from one team to another was easy because I was single. It was easy to get up and move myself. Now, with a family, it's really getting difficult. You just hate to keep moving around the country."

At this stage of his career, Corbin's wants and needs are modest and simple. "I'm looking for some stability," he says. "Minnesota is the place I'd like to find it."

If Corbin has always had one eye looking over his shoulder, the other has always been focused on being a balanced player. "One of the things I've always strived to be is a complete basketball player. Every time I play, I try to get a little of everything done. I get a lot of satisfaction out of that; I just have to learn to get it done on a more consistent basis."

After ending a holdout just prior to the start of the regular season, Corbin quickly found himself as a cornerstone of the expansion Wolves. "Playing with an expansion team has been everything I expected and then some," he said. "You knew you had to work hard from Day One. With the group of guys that we have here, it's been pretty positive for me. The attitudes are great, and everybody works hard, night-in and night-out."

Immediately after reporting, Corbin knew he would be more than a role player with the Wolves. He played 38 minutes in the season opener without the benefit of training camp. "I wouldn't like to make a habit of that," Corbin says, "but I stay in pretty good shape during the offseason — it wasn't like I was starting from scratch. Whatever is required of me, I try to get it done."

Corbin has led the Wolves in rebounding 11 times this season and has been the club's top scorer on four occasions while scoring in double figures 24 times. He scored a career-high 36 points in the Timberwolves' win over Philadelphia on Nov. 10 at the Metrodome and has started every game this season, with the exception of the season opener.

While Corbin's individual achievements this season have been impressive, it's the Timberwolves' work ethic that he takes the most pride in. "I've had some success personally but, more importantly, I've learned to come in every night and concentrate on what needs to be done to beat the team we're playing."

Despite being in the midst of his finest year statistically, Corbin believes his best is yet to come. "I'm still learning a lot about the NBA," he says. "As I continue to learn, I'll know what it takes to be effective every night on the floor. I don't believe I've hit my peak yet."

Corbin would like to continue his personal growth while the Timberwolves mature as a team. "The Timberwolves are really committed to getting something done here on a long-term basis, and I'm pleased with that," he says. "People in Minnesota are extremely nice. I've found in other communities that people aren't as generous with their time. People here go out of their way to be helpful, and that's really nice."

A practical thinker, Corbin has done internships with IBM in Chicago and Apple Computers in Phoenix, looking to keep his post-basketball options open. One of the prime concerns for Corbin and his wife, Dante, is the future and education of their two-year-old daughter, Tyjha. Minnesota's commitment to education has impressed him. "I think people in this area are committed to educating kids, and that's one of the things that I was really concerned about. The Twin Cities seem to have that in their plans. I would love to raise my daughter here and get some things done in the community."

Will Minnesota be the end of the line for Corbin? Are the Twin Cities the place where he finally settles in, is appreciated, and becomes a part of the community? It's a question Corbin really can't answer.

"I hope Minnesota's the place," he says. "I feel it can be... but you never know."