Wolves Welcome Special Olympian Van Denburgh For Unforgettable Night At Target Center

Mark Remme
Wolves Editor/Writer

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Nick Van Denburgh’s experiences through Special Olympics Minnesota have taken him to new heights as a person and as an athlete, and he knows it. The 21-year-old from Elk River was the organization’s male athlete of the year in 2011, and it’s allowed him to play six sports—including basketball—at a high level.

Off the court, he’s humble and appreciative—grateful for the support he’s received from his family, teammates and coaches along the way. All things he attributes in part to the experiences he’s had through Special Olympics Minnesota.

“Special Olympics has blessed me in a lot of ways that people can’t imagine,” Van Denburgh said. “This is great.”

And this weekend, beginning Wednesday at Target Center, he is getting the chance to take part in a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity through the organization.

Van Denburgh spent Wednesday night watching the Wolves play Utah from a Target Center suite, and he got a chance to go on the court and meet some of the players and coaches during the team’s pregame warm-ups prior to tipoff. He took some shots, got to try out some team-issued shoes and showcased his talents.

Among those who stopped to talk with Van Denburgh were guard Ricky Rubio and player development coach Shawn Respert.

The special night with the Wolves was a precursor to the festivities over the weekend, as Van Denburgh will travel to Houston to take part in the Unified Sports Game prior to Sunday’s 62nd annual All-Star game.

It’s the second year in a row that Minnesota has had a Special Olympian participate in the event, and that’s a pretty noteworthy achievement considering there 12 players invited to play in the East vs. West game ranging from the U.S., Puerto Rico, Nambia, China and Italy.

Those 12 players will also play side-by-side with NBA and WNBA players and legends, including Chris Mullin, Dikembe Mutombo, Detlef Schrempf and Lynx guard Candice Wiggins.

The Unified Sports program is a world-wide initiative that stresses the importance of people with all abilities working together, not apart. Mike Kane, Special Olympics Minnesota’s Vice President of Area Programs and Initiatives, said it’s a way to show we are stronger together than we are apart.

He said Van Denburgh is a great ambassador for a program that has more than 7,500 athletes state-wide.

“Nick is such a humble individual and so modest,” he said. “I know he’s going down there to represent Minnesota [well].”

Van Denburgh can’t wait to be part of the action.

“It was like when you open your first present on Christmas Eve, you’re hoping it’s the present you wanted and that’s what it is,” he said. “It was an amazing feeling.”

For an athlete who joined Special Olympics Minnesota in 2006 and has grown both on and off the court since, this weekend is a testament to his dedication to his sports as well as the leadership and ambassador role he has grown into over the year.

“Special Olympics, the stuff they do to bring stuff here and to have this great opportunity to go out and show the world,” Van Denburgh said. “It’s not just about being a Special Olympics athlete. It’s pretty amazing.”

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