Stiemsma Took Long Road Back To Midwest With Wolves

Mark Remme
Wolves Editor/Writer

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Greg Stiemsma had a genuine sense of appreciation in his voice and his mannerisms as he was introduced as the newest member of the Minnesota Timberwolves on Thursday. After a four-year journey filled with career twists and turns, his professional journey back to the Midwest gave him a deep gratitude for his opportunity in the NBA.

Since leaving the University of Wisconsin in 2008, Stiemsma’s been all over the map. He played two stints in Turkey, two with the Sioux Falls Skyforce of the NBA Development League, had one stop in South Korea and a brief stint with the Timberwolves from April to September 2010 before Stiemsma landed a prominent reserve role with the Boston Celtics last year.

Serving as a defensive stopper and shot blocker during 55 regular season games and 19 more in the playoffs, Stiemsma caught the Wolves’ attention enough to pursue him this offseason and bring him in as a backup center behind Nikola Pekovic.

Along the way, the Randolph, Wis., native learned what it takes to be part of an NBA organization, and he’s ready to bring that mindset back to Minnesota.

“It kind of gave me a sense of reality, too,” Stiemsma said about his first stint with the Timberwolves. “How hard it is to stay in this league and how hard it is to get back. It adds to the whole appreciation to the opportunity I’ve been given.”

The 6-foot-11 center fills a much-needed role on the Timberwolves roster. In an offseason primarily focused on shoring up the small forward and shooting guard positions, the Wolves had not made a roster move that bolstered its interior. The team used the amnesty clause on Darko Milicic, Brad Miller retired, Anthony Randolph left via free agency and Anthony Tolliver is still an unrestricted free agent, making the team’s depth thin near the hoop.

Interior defense was one spot President of Basketball Operations David Kahn hoped to address this offseason, and Stiemsma’s signing gives them a player whose specialty is just that.

“One of the places we really want to address and get better at in the offseason is to make certain we got better in rim protection, being able to challenge peoples’ shots,” Kahn said Thursday. “We’re very happy to have [Stiemsma] here today.”

Part of what makes Stiemsma’s arrival unique is the journey he’s been through. He averaged 10.0 minutes per game over his four years at Wisconsin, primarily contributing on the defensive end. He bounced between international ball and the D-League for three years before getting the nod from coach Doc Rivers and the Celtics last season.

From there, he played for a storied franchise with a championship-winning coach and a collection of future Hall of Famers. Now, as he returns to Minnesota, he brings not only a specialized role but a wealth of experience in postseason play. The Celtics were within a game of reaching the NBA Finals last season.

He said one thing he can bring is a sense of a playoff atmosphere’s intensity.

“The way the season was with the shortened season, all the excuses we could have made last year, how tough you have to be mentally to play a seven-game series,” Stiemsma said. “Whether we’re up or down, there’s no rest. You have to be just as intense, you have to bring it every possession.”

Rivers was complimentary of Stiemsma’s play when the Celtics played the Wolves at Target Center on March 30, saying he was a strong addition to the team. He was coming off a four-block effort in the previous game against Utah, and he added two more blocks against Minnesota that evening.

While he was at Target Center in March, he got his first glimpse of how the culture was changing around the Timberwolves organization since his previous stint with the club. The Wolves had rivaled for a playoff spot, and some of his friends in Sioux Falls had been telling him how different the team looked compared to previous years.

“Last year they were telling me that the team was on the way up. There’s just more buzz now, more attention given to this team,” Stiemsma said.

“If we go out and execute and do what we’re capable of, I think we’ll definitely be a dangerous team.”

After a four-year journey that kept him playing as close to home as Madison and Sioux Falls to as far away as South Korea and Turkey, Stiemsma has found a home in Minnesota in close proximity to his family, his friends and where he grew up learning the game.

Getting the chance to come back to the Midwest wasn’t a tough decision, he said.

“Minneapolis is not a hard sell for me,” Stiemsma said. “They didn’t have to convince me too hard to come to this city and enjoy this part of the country, so that definitely was a big factor.”

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