Wolves See Turiaf Bringing Intangibles On, Off The Court

Wolves See Turiaf Bringing Intangibles On, Off The Court

Mark Remme
Wolves Editor/Writer

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It just felt right.

Ronny Turiaf is new to the Twin Cities community, so no one at Wednesday’s introductory press conference was incredibly familiar with the Timberwolves’ new center. But just in the brief moments we’ve interacted with him—mostly through phone interviews—you could tell one of Turiaf’s biggest passions in life is helping others. The best example of this is the Ronny Turiaf Heart To Heart Foundation, which helps raise money to provide care for kids with health issues who are uninsured and cannot afford their own care.

So it was fitting that Turiaf, in his most public moment since joining the Wolves, found a way to weave community involvement into his big day. He and President of Basketball Operations Flip Saunders sat in front of the Twin Cities media and a group of kids at the Ronald McDonald House in Minneapolis introducing himself to his new community in his first press conference with the team.

He made funny faces at the kids in the front row, took photos with them and did a shootaround session in the Ronald McDonald House gymnasium after the press conference. For a guy who dedicated his life as a public figure toward helping others, this introduction setting felt most appropriate.

“I love giving back, and that’s what empowers me to be who I am today—to make people smile,” Turiaf said. “To change the world, to change people’s lives and to be able to do it through basketball is something that’s really important to me.”

Turiaf was genuinely excited to be sitting next to Saunders and meeting that group of kids on Wednesday. That exuberance is a big reason why the Wolves were interested in the 6-foot-10 backup center this offseason—that and his track record of being a proven winner and his propensity for blocking shots, dedicating himself defensively and facilitating within the offense. Saunders, and this Wolves staff, is looking for winners with an intangible presence on this team. Turiaf’s community involvement is just one facet of the intangibles he carries with him.

He’s been in the league eight years and made six playoff appearances. He’s fought through open heart surgery and made a career out of playing the biggest and best basketball players on the planet. He’s been through the highs of an NBA championship and the lows of coming up just short. He’s called the best of the best—Kobe Bryant and LeBron James—not only teammates but mentors.

Turiaf is what Saunders calls the complete package, someone who acts as a glue player in the locker room. The Wolves hope his experience and his passion for the game helps, in part, take this team to the next level.

Saunders coached Turiaf in Washington for a grand total of four games in 2011-12 before Turiaf suffered a broken hand. In that short time, he said Turiaf proved to be a unique asset on a team unlike anyone else he ever coached.

“What I love about him is he has loads of passion,” Saunders said. “Not only is he passionate about basketball, but he’s passionate for life. When you have passion for things you do, it rubs off on people more than anything else.”

When Saunders took over the basketball operations department in May, he said he had a conversation with owner Glen Taylor about finding athletes who are not only productive on the court but carry themselves with character in the locker room and off the court. With Turiaf, the Wolves seemed to have found that character in the form of a “glue guy.”

The other part of the equation is being able to help make his teammates better, and Saunders sees that trait in Turiaf, too. The combination of all of the above is hard to find.

“It is intangibles,” Saunders said. “There are certain players that are going to go out and do their role. There aren’t a lot of players who can go out and make other players better. I judge how players make other players better. That’s what Ronny does. Whether it’s setting a screen to get Kevin Martin open or getting Ricky [Rubio] open on the pick-and-roll, whether it’s fronting in the post or preventing the ball from going into the post.

“People all have different personalities. Ronny’s personality is he loves to please people; he loves to make people happy. He loves helping people.”

Sitting next to Saunders, Turiaf said he feels honored the Wolves have confidence in him to try and make that impact on the court, in the locker room and in the community. It’s his goal, now, to live up to those expectations.

“When you have people who know what you can bring to the table, that calls you during free agency period and tells you what their vision of the team is and how they envision you in the environment, it gives you the confidence—that extra motivation—to make that person right,” Turiaf said. “Make that person proud…I’m looking forward to making them look good by making myself look good. That’s the perfect recipe for success and fun, and I’m looking forward to it.”

Turiaf’s biggest asset he showcased during his first impression in Minnesota is he takes nothing for granted. He grew up far from well-to-do in the Caribbean, battled a health scare he calls the most difficult period of his life, made a stable career in the NBA and even won himself a ring. Because he’s endured and battled to get to this point, he seems to take nothing for granted and looks to use his status to help others along the way.

He’s taken his talents to Minnesota, and he intends to make an impact both inside Target Center and throughout the Twin Cities.

“If you would have told me 15 years ago I would be an eight-year player, and then I would win championships and all that stuff, I would’ve told you [that] you were crazy,” Turiaf said. “I’m thankful for the journey that I’ve been on, and I’m looking forward to the rest of it.”

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