MSU-Mankato, Wolves Partnership Extends Beyond The Court

by Mark Remme
Web Editor

Mark Remme
Wolves Editor/Writer

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For the past six seasons, the Minnesota Timberwolves have spent Training Camp at Minnesota State University-Mankato, turning Bresnan Arena at Taylor Center in the heart of campus into their own personal practice facility prior to beginning their preseason schedule.

But the relationship between the school and the Wolves organization is more than a four-day stretch in early October, and it affects more than the players and coaches who travel to Mankato. MSU-Mankato and the Timberwolves have a year-long partnership that bridges athletics, curriculum and longstanding relationships.

The Timberwolves partner with MSU-Mankato extensively in their Sports Marketing and Business Development programs, provide hands-on learning experiences for students during Training Camp and through associate internship positions during the season and share a common bond through team owner Glen Taylor, who is a MSU-Mankato alum and is the namesake of the sparking Taylor Center—for which he was the primary financial donor. Taylor Center hosts the Mavericks’ men’s and women’s basketball, volleyball and wrestling teams as well as the Admissions Office.

It’s a partnership that both the school and the franchise take tremendous pride in nurturing, Timberwolves President Chris Wright said.

“Much more than basketball,” Wright said. “Really the way that we look at it and the way Glen would tell you he looks at it, is that we should be doing anything we possibly can [to help] the students who go to that university who we believe are the leaders of tomorrow. And what we can do to help them along their professional path, giving them work experiences, experiences that allow them to grow. And to become really sort of productive corporate citizens once they leave college.”

Vice President of Strategic Business, Education and Regional Partnerships Robert Hoffman spent more than 18 years working for Taylor at Taylor Corporation before joining MSU-Mankato, and he has worked with Wright throughout the past five years as the school and the organization has developed its partnership.

Together, they’ve helped form a relationship in Mankato and beyond. Among other initiatives, Wright and Hoffman head and emcee a quarterly meeting—often at The Minneapolis Club—addressing business and partnership strategies with other members of the local business community.

Born out of simply speaking about finding a more permanent Training Camp home, the Wolves and MSU-Mankato have continued to broaden ways to promote education while benefiting the students.

The relationship continues to flourish.

“Let me tell you why it’s been so successful: Chris Wright and his staff,” Hoffman said. “Chris is an outstanding leader, and consequently because of his efforts and his staff they’ve been more than interested in finding out how it can be a great benefit for Minnesota State University-Mankato.”

Enhancing Education

The partnership is a robust mixture of education and professional athletics. Four members of the Timberwolves organization—Wright, payroll manager/senior accountant J.T. Hoffman, director of human resources Sianneh Mulbah and premium seating representative Travis Smith are part of the university’s Sports Marketing Board of Directors, which is designed to help influence the direction of the curriculum, helping students become better equipped for a career in professional sports.

That board has quarterly meetings focused on forming the program toward and supplementing with real-world experience. Classes are built around that philosophy, and internship opportunities both within the Wolves’ organization and beyond often result out of learning the ropes through an environment based off the curriculum.

MSU-Mankato Director of Athletics Kevin Buisman has taught courses in the Sports Management program, including Fundamentals in Sports Management. He said he’s had three students who have come through the program and have gone on to find jobs within the Timberwolves organization.

He said he’s seen firsthand how the partnership benefits students on campus.

“Our Sports Management program is in a very unique position to have strong relationships with the professional organizations in the Twin Cities with the Timberwolves and Vikings,” Buisman said. “Out of those I’d say our relationship is strongest with the Timberwolves as far as the breadth of our students being involved and the placement of some of our graduates in that organization.”

Hoffman said through the more the Wolves’ internships they provide yearly, MSU-Mankato students have regularly had a chance to at the very least get their foot in the door of professional sports. Wright said primary focus has been helping the school’s students learn and succeed.

“I think it’s gone beyond what I thought it would be,” Hoffman said.

Wright was inducted into the school’s Sports Business Hall of Fame in April 2010 for his impact on the sports business world and his influence on MSU-Mankato’s program.

“That’s why it’s been so successful,” Hoffman said. “I give Chris all the credit.”

Connecting With Campus

By hosting the Vikings and Timberwolves Training Camps, MSU-Mankato has a unique relationship with two professional sports teams in the state. On the basketball side, having the Timberwolves in town complements the success the Mavericks’ programs have had on the court over the past five years.

MSU-Mankato was home to the 2008-09 NCAA Division II women’s basketball national champions, a team that finished 32-2, and also was part of the 2010-11 NCAA Division II Final Four with its men’s basketball program.

On Tuesday, the Timberwolves left the court as the Mavericks’ women’s basketball team entered Bresnan Arena for its afternoon practice. On Wednesday, it was the men’s squad.

Unlike with Vikings Training Camp, Timberwolves camp was not open to the public this season. It’s been an evolution, Hoffman said, that changes each year. In years past the team has hosted open scrimmages or had a preseason game in town. Still, Mankato is aware the Wolves are in town, said Rick Straka, MSU-Mankato’s Vice President of Finance and Administration.

On campus, the pulse around having the Wolves in town is evident. Signs welcoming the Wolves are stationed around Taylor Center, and No. 9 Ricky Rubio jerseys are present on campus and around the city. Hoffman said visibility, exposure on a national scale and a better understanding of what Mankato and the university offer is a major effect of having the Wolves in town.

At their Edina campus, Hoffman said the university also invites Wolves and Lynx season ticket members for get-together and honorary functions.

“Just the PR, the visibility is very positive,” Hoffman said. “A lot of people learn things about Minnesota State University-Mankato that they didn’t know before.”

Not only is there an excitement around this season’s team and its potential, but along with Vikings camp in July having the Wolves in town gives Mankato an added boost of athletics notoriety—putting the spotlight on facilities like the Taylor Center.

“Putting us on the map is a good way to characterize it,” said Paul Allan, assistant athletic director-communications. “Not too many Division II teams can really boast the type of facilities we have that can attract an NFL franchise and an NBA franchise.”

Buisman said Taylor Center is a trump card for recruiting in the area, a symbol of the facilities MSU-Mankato has to offer. He said it’s where every campus tour “starts and ends.”

Having the Timberwolves use the facility each year adds to the testament that Bresnan Arena inside Taylor Center is a top-notch venue for basketball, Buisman said.

“Credit Chris [Wright] and Glen Taylor and the whole Timberwolves organization for what they bring to Mankato,” Buisman said. “It could be just narrowly focused on getting in and out and training and getting ready for the upcoming season. But they’ve made it much bigger than that where they’re very active and present in the community, and the same is on campus.”

Glen Taylor's Legacy

Hoffman has known Glen Taylor for 25 years and worked in Taylor Corporation’s Commercial Division for 18 ½ years. One thing that was always communicated to the staff, he said, was Taylor’s vision of giving back.

“That’s what Glen really wants,” Hoffman said. “He believes in giving back, he believes in being very loyal. He’s very proud of Minnesota State and his experience there, and he wants to give back.”

That’s why Taylor has been connected to his alma mater for years while living and creating roots for Taylor Corporation in Mankato. The more noteworthy initiatives include his donation to help fund Taylor Center. But he’s also provided millions of dollars in scholarships and has honed in on helping the nursing program through his wife, Becky.

Wright said Taylor’s roots in Mankato and dedication to the university is the driving force in the Wolves’ partnership with MSU-Mankato, something that Taylor takes great pride in facilitating. Through Taylor’s vision, the Wolves and the university have formed a deep partnership. Through their efforts, both sides have been satisfied with the results in the community and the classroom.

“It’s been a wonderful experience for me,” Wright said. “In the end you believe that you can influence peoples’ lives. You can make programming better that can make them better equipped when they sort of leave college and enter the professional work place.”

Hoffman said the vibrations of Taylor’s vision and the Wolves’ efforts in Mankato have been felt throughout the community, and it’s something for which he’s grateful.

“Because of Glen, because of who he is and what he is, that’s his legacy,” Hoffman said. “And gosh, we’re fortunate.”

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