Web Editorial Associate
For most players on the Timberwolves' roster, their welcoming to the league involved sitting at the NBA Draft with their family and waiting to shake NBA Commissioner David Stern's hand on the big stage.
Anthony Tolliver took the road less traveled. The 26-year-old forward went undrafted and bounced around the world to begin his career. Between the NBA, D-League and European leagues, Tolliver has been on 11 different rosters.
He now contributes 24 minutes a game for the first team since college that has kept him for more than one season: the Minnesota Timberwolves.
"I was just talking about this the other day with my family and my wife," Tolliver said. "It feels good to have the ability to plan a trip for my family to come visit, because I know I will be here. It's good to be here instead of sticking around somewhere for only two weeks.”
After spending his college years at Creighton, Tolliver knew he would have to work hard to get recognition as a pro prospect. Most league executives expected Tolliver to end up overseas instead of getting an immediate shot with the NBA.
That didn’t stop Tolliver from pursuing all of his options. His big break came when he was invited to the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament, a showcase tournament that invites top seniors from the college ranks. He made the trip in April 2007 and was able to generate some buzz about his ability.
His performance at Portsmouth helped him land an invitation to a pre-draft camp in Orlando, where Tolliver said his rebounding ability caught the attention of several NBA teams. Despite performing well at both events, Tolliver still did not hear his name on draft day.
"I wasn't really disappointed (after not being drafted), because it turned out to be a blessing in disguise,” Tolliver said. “I could choose which team camp to go to. I chose the (Cleveland) Cavaliers because that was the best situation, and I definitely felt 'wide-eyed.' I was playing with some of the veterans that I grew up watching, and of course there was LeBron (James)."
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Tolliver's first stint with an NBA team didn't last long; although he did end up making Cleveland's opening day roster, he was soon released and began a four-year period where he played on nine different teams across the world. With each temporary contract came a sense of uncertainty and instability.
"Every time I got released, I wasn't sure how I would react," said Tolliver. "The first time was the toughest because it was the first time I was cut from anything, especially something basketball-related. After that it wasn't as tough, even though I felt at each opportunity that I had the chance to stick around and get something done there. Each time I got released, it was something that I learned from."
After playing everywhere from Idaho to Germany, Tolliver finally got back into the NBA when Golden State signed him in January 2010. The injury-plagued Warriors ended up playing Tolliver during 44 games that season, starting 29 contests. It was at Golden State where Tolliver achieved his best NBA numbers, averaging around 12 points per game along with seven rebounds.
Following a breakout year with the Warriors, the Timberwolves signed Tolliver to a two-year contract in the fall of 2010. Along with his hustle and determination, his experience has helped out some of the players on this young squad.
"He works hard in practice and on the court," said Wes Johnson, a second-year forward. "He's been around the NBA along with the D-League. His will to make it in this league has been incredible; just having his presence around has helped the whole team.
Johnson said Tolliver’s ability to spread the court and attack on offense has been valuable, especially late in games. But it’s also Tolliver’s hustle on defense—helping on the weak side and taking charges—that has been equally important.
Coach Rick Adelman agreed.
“I've really been pleased with his effort defensively," Adelman said. "He's taken on the best players on the other team, and he really spaces the court for us. I've been really pleased with him."
It seems like all of Tolliver's efforts over the last four years have paid off; he finally has the stability he’s worked hard for.
"It's definitely a great feeling,” Tolliver said. “I would love to stick around here."
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