Q&A: Skyforce coach Joel Abelson

Mark Remme
Wolves Editor/Writer

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The Sioux Falls Skyforce will begin a series of five open preseason tryouts on Sunday, Sept. 23 at the Target Center’s Lifetime Fitness Training Center in Minneapolis. Registration begins at 8 a.m. and the tryout finishes at 4 p.m. Anyone is welcome to try out. Sioux Falls, the NBA Development League affiliate of the Minnesota Timberwolves, will work out individuals in Minneapolis, Philadelphia, Orlando, Miami and Sioux Falls before the NBADL’s Draft in early November. Sioux Falls begins its regular season begins Nov. 24 against the Iowa Energy at the Sioux Falls Arena.

Timberwolves.com spoke with first-year Skyforce coach Joel Abelson, who comes to Sioux Falls after serving as an associate head coach for the Idaho Stampede during the past two seasons. Abelson discussed taking over the Skyforce, his coaching methods and his vision for working with the Timberwolves throughout the season. He also gave insight on what to expect for those planning to participate in this week’s open tryout in Minneapolis.

For more information on Sunday’s tryout, contact Skyforce Director of Basketball Operations Scott Shroeder at 605-332-0605.

Timberwolves.com: How excited are you to get started as the Skyforce’s head coach?

Joel Abelson:
I’m extremely excited. This is what I’ve worked hard for in the last six years in this league. I couldn’t be more excited. I’ve been humbled by the opportunity and look very much forward to the challenge.

Timberwolves.com: What are your goals and objectives in your first season?

Ultimately the goal with this organization is to win some games and get to the playoffs and see what happens. My personal goal is to create an environment where the players are going to get better, if affiliate NBA teams send players to us that they’re going to get coached. And for the agents and players, that they’re here in a good situation and able to improve their basketball skills. If they have to spend two or three years here or two or three months here, this league is ultimately to get them to the next thing—whether it’s overseas or the NBA. The point of the D-League is development. We want to create an environment where players are going to get developed, and that’s the expectation.

Timberwolves.com: This team has struggled in recent years. What is your method for turning the club around?

After being in this league I have an understanding of why players come to play here in this league. My method is to push them every day. Push our players every single day. Hold them accountable. Basketball philosophy-wise we’re going to speed the game up, we’re going to play as fast as we can. We’re really going to do something to force tempo. We’re going to stress defense in practice every day. I really want guys to have some freedom on offense, but in return for that, we’re really going to demand defensively what we’re trying to do.

Timberwolves.com: How would you describe the atmosphere in Sioux Falls heading into this Skyforce season, particularly because you’re one year away from moving into your new facility?

It’s an exciting time, the older facilities that we’re using in my mind if not the best are still top 2-3 facilities in the D-League currently. When we move into our new facility next year, it’s going to be the most attractive part of being in this market. Everything is going to be pristine, and everything you’d want is here. Basketball court, training rooms, workout programs. Everything is first, first class. It already is, but the new facility is going to be state of the art.

Timberwolves.com: This weekend you’ll conduct an open tryout in Minneapolis. What do you look for in these workouts?

First and foremost you can separate yourself if you’re in shape. A lot of guys come to the tryouts and have the idea of being in the D-League but they can’t get up and down the court for three minutes. That really separates guys if they stand out. Then we’re looking for guys who can help us win games. If you guard, you guard. If you can rebound, I want you to get every rebound. If you can score, I want you to score. The majority of the guys think they need to come out and score. That’s not always the case. We just want you to showcase what you can do well.

Timberwolves.com: How many athletes come to these tryouts, and of them how often do they make the team?

Typically I’ve had tryouts where there are 30 people and I’ve had tryouts where there are over 100. We try to keep the numbers down; we want to see the best playing against the best. We’ve had anywhere from two guys make our team to five guys make our team in these open tryouts. It’s a really good opportunity.

Timberwolves.com: As the D-League affiliate with Minnesota, how do you hope to work with the Wolves this year?

We hope to be in constant communication with them. Anything they need from us communication-wise with our team, we are happy to provide them information. Anything we can do, if they send a player down, make that experience as beneficial as possible—whether it’s playing them a certain amount of minutes or working them out extra. Any of the staff that wants to come down and watch a game—anything we can do we’ll try to do.

Timberwolves.com: The Wolves are in the midst of their own turnaround this year. As an extension of the organization is that an important piece of the puzzle?

We hope that we will treat all four of our affiliates, no matter what their expectations are for their own club, with the utmost respect and willingness to work with them. For us, we hope that they’re successful and we hope that we can hope to achieve both goals. It’s an exciting time to be with the Timberwolves. I think they have a great roster. I think David Kahn and RJ Adelman have done a nice job this offseason, and certainly coach Adelman put his stamp on last year. I expect nothing but improvement for them this year. The sky’s the limit.

Timberwolves.com: One of their new additions is a Skyforce alum, Greg Stiemsma. Nice to see those successful D-League stories in the NBA?

Stiemsma’s a great example of a guy who just persevered through everything. The D-League is for guys who are mentally tough. He didn’t play 35 minutes down here, but he was productive in his minutes and he took advantage of his opportunity with the Celtics and parlayed that into a great contract with the Timberwolves. You just need to be ready to take advantage of the opportunity. That’s what we stress at any turn. Every opportunity we can, that’s what we stress.

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