Timberwolves Shootout Presents Special Atmosphere As Top Collegiate Coaches And Players Attend

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Mark Remme
Wolves Editor/Writer

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There’s something special about being part of the Timberwolves Shootout regardless of who you are and how high of recruiting stock you maintain. If you have zero ambition to play basketball collegiately and get a chance to take the court at the Shootout, it’s going to be a memory you take with you for the rest of your life.

That’s because it’s not every day a high school athlete gets to play on the Target Center floor, a court currently home to the likes of Ricky Rubio and Kevin Love and a venue that has played host to Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant. It’s a tournament that pits the best in the region against one another and, in some matchups, it offers the opportunity to play in front of some of the most celebrated collegiate coaches in the country.

That was the scene Saturday at Target Center, where high school athletes with varying skill levels and abilities took the court in front of a crowd including North Carolina coach Roy Williams, Gophers coach Tubby Smith and current Iowa State coach and former Wolves player Fred Hoiberg.

Williams and Smith alone are two coaches with eight Final Fours and three national championships to their name sitting court side together. And regardless if you are an elite national recruit or the 15th player on each team’s bench, it’s an opportunity they’ll never forget.

“What the folks are doing here with this tournament, the Timberwolves Shootout, it’s a great service to the entire state, especially to this region,” Smith said.

There is a mystique about this event. For the past 17 years, the Timberwolves Shootout has hosted elite high school talents from around the country that have gone on to be elite Division I and NBA players. As of 2013, 24 players who participated in the Shootout made it to the NBA—including seven that eventually played for the Timberwolves, highlighted by Kevin Love. Dozens more have played at the D-I level.

Each time these athletes step foot on an NBA arena as a high school player, it presents a new opportunity to make a long-lasting memory. Smith said the athletes elevate their games under the lights, and he’s right. Each athlete from pregame warm-ups through the final buzzer had a spring in their step knowing the circumstances of the day.

From the baseline, a collection of current Gophers looked on. Trevor Mbakwe, Rodney Williams and Joe Coleman, among other Minnesota standouts in the stands, all played in the Shootout as high school stars.

Rodney Williams said he believes he busted out one of his first 360-degree dunks while participating in the Shootout.

“It’s a big stage, and that’s really what you want to play for—to be out here because growing up you want to be able to play in this gym and be paid for it,” Rodney Williams said. “So to be able to be in games like this it obviously means you’re doing something right and things are going good. It’s always a good time.”

Current Blazers guard Wesley Matthews was at Target Center on Saturday for Portland’s game against the Wolves that evening. He wasted little time recalling his James Madison Memorial High School team beat Tartan 59-50 at the Shootout in 2004-05.

“It was a lot of fun, something I’ll never forget,” Matthews said. “It’s not too often in high school you get to play in an NBA arena against an out-state team. We embraced it.”

As memorable as the day is for the kids participating and the fans in the stands, it also seems to be an experience for the coaches who attend. Coaches like Roy Williams traveled halfway across the country to be on hand for the Shootout this weekend.

Venue makes no difference. It’s all about the special environment cultivated by the level of play by these athletes on the court.

“You know what, if they played outside in the dirt we’d still show up,” Roy Williams said. “It’s just a fantastic event.”

Years down the road, regardless of if these kids end up in the NBA or are doctors or farmers, they will remember being part of this Timberwolves Shootout. Smith said it’s not your ordinary day at the gym.

“I wish I had that experience as a player, and I’m sure every player is grateful and the coaches that have been invited to this are grateful,” Smith said. “I’m sure they’re letting players know how much, how grateful they should be to have this opportunity.”

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