The Rise of Scott Roth

This story appeared in the Feb. 2, 1990 edition of Timberwolves Tonight.
by Joel Rippel

In the summer of 1987, as he was preparing for a third season of professional basketball in Istanbul, Turkey, Scott Roth bumped into a friend. The friend and the friend's father tried to convince Roth to forgo another season in Turkey to play in the CBA — considered a stepping-stone to the NBA.

Roth wasn't easily convinced. He had been a favorite of the intense fans in Turkey. He had been instrumental in the team's strong showing in the European Cup (the championships for professional teams in Europe). "I loved it over there," Roth said. "I got along great with the people. They liked me as much as I liked them."

But his friend persisted, and Roth finally agreed to give the CBA a shot. "I was real apprehensive at first," Roth admitted. "I wouldn't have come (back to the United States) if it hadn't been for Bill and Eric (Musselman)."

The CBA led Roth and his friend's father — Bill Musselman — to the NBA.

In retrospect, it appears Roth, a four-year letterman at the University of Wisconsin, made the right choice in the summer of 1987. Instead of returning to Turkey, Roth reported to the CBA's Albany (N.Y.) Patroons, coached by Bill Musselman.

Roth played in 47 games for the Patroons — shooting 53 percent from the field and averaging 19.5 points a game — as the Patroons compiled a 48-6 record, the highest winning percentage in pro basketball history.

Roth used the exposure of the CBA to sign a contract with the NBA's Utah Jazz in February 1988, near the end of the CBA regular-season. He finished the 1987-88 season with the Jazz, averaging 3.2 points per game in 26 games.

The 6-8 Roth began last season with the Jazz but was waived on Dec. 13 after appearing in 16 games. Less than a month later, Roth was signed by the San Antonio Spurs (the team that originally drafted him in the fourth round in 1985). Roth appeared in 47 games with the Spurs, averaging 29 points a game for the season. Roth was left unprotected by the Spurs last summer and was reunited with Musselman when the Timberwolves selected him in the expansion draft.

The 26-year-old Roth says it's common to be pigeonholed in the NBA. "It's easy to get labeled in the NBA," he said. "You get a label that says you can do this and you can't do that. For most of us young guys, we've waited a long time for the chance to show we could be competitive in this league. It's a chance to shed some labels. We don't have the luxury of knowing we'll be in the league seven or eight years, so we have to go out and prove ourselves every night."

"After last season, (San Antonio coach) Larry Brown was quite frank with me," Roth said. "He said they were going to draft another small forward, and he didn't know what my situation with the team would be. He said the decision was mine, so I decided to take a chance on an expansion team."

So far this season, Roth has shown he can compete in the NBA. Through the middle of January, he was averaging 11.5 points a game. Roth is shooting 40 percent from the field (he shot 35 percent last season), 78 percent from the free-throw line, while contributing 2.5 rebounds and 2.7 assists a game. "Individually, it's gone real well," Roth said. "This has been a chance to gain some credibility in the league."

"The team has been playing real hard — it's been frustrating. This team has been real close. The record is not indicative of how the team has played. The attitude of the players and the people in Minnesota has been great."

Roth and Eric Musselman, son of the Timberwolves' head coach, became friends during their senior year of high school in Brecksville, Ohio. "Bill had just taken the Cleveland Cavs coaching job," Roth said. "Our team (which included current NBA player Brad Sellers) was one of the best in the state, and Bill was looking for a good program where Eric could play basketball. They moved in about a mile down the street from me. Eric and I have stayed close till now. He's like another brother."

Being a close friend of the coach's son was no advantage for Roth. "In the beginning (in the CBA), I didn't get any favoritism. There were no benefits," Roth explained. "He was harder on me, because he knew me well and he knew I could take it.

"I saw Bill coaching the Cavs, and I think he has learned and adapted. Not that he's any less intense. I've heard stories from other people about how he was 10 years ago. Bill has said that the things that bothered him 10 years ago don't frustrate him anymore. Not everyone can play for Bill. But he's made drastic changes. He's learned that in this league, on some nights you don't play as well as others."

Despite his friendship with Eric — who is the coach and general manager of the Rapid City Thrillers of the CBA — and his familiarity with Bill Musselman, Roth has kept it all in perspective.

"The game is a business at this level," Roth said. "If I'm not helping the team, then I'm not helping the coach. And if I'm not helping the team, the bottom line is I won't be here."