Wolves Welcome Euroleague MVP Nemanja Bjelica
Web Editorial Associate
Patience is a virtue, at least that’s what we’re told. Sometimes though, being patient can be extremely difficult, just ask the Minnesota Timberwolves’ new forward, Nemanja Bjelica.
After being drafted by the Timberwolves back in 2010, Bjelica believed his dream of playing in the NBA with the greatest players on the planet was about to come true; little did he know he’d be waiting five years for said dream to become a reality.
“I believed (I was ready to play) when I was drafted,” said Bjelica. “Sometimes it doesn’t work out.”
Timberwolves’ President of Basketball Operations and Head Coach Flip Saunders recognizes the wait that Bjelica has had and is appreciative of his patience.
“It has been a long process,” said Saunders. “He sat in our building five years ago with the idea of coming to the NBA and, to his credit, what he’s been able to do over these last five years over in Europe and develop his game, he’s put himself in a situation to, I feel, not only come to the NBA, but have a huge impact within the NBA and within an organization.”
Despite the long wait, Bjelica’s dream of being an NBA player is now coming true, and nobody is happier than Bjelica himself.
“I am very happy to come to the NBA this way because I know it was very tough and difficult but I didn’t suffer, I enjoyed it. I wanted to show to everyone I deserve to be here and, like I said, I’m very happy and this is a great opportunity for me, and also for my country.”
Bjelica, of Serbian descent, wanted to play for his national team and doing so was of great importance to him; something that Saunders respected from the very beginning of this process.
Due to Bjelica’s team with the Serbian National team, he will not be joining the Timberwolves for Summer League play, but will join the team in time for Training Camp this fall.
Saunders would obviously love to have him sooner, but joked that Bjelica would at least come in to Training Camp in good shape after his time in Europe.
Bjelica, the reigning Euroleague MVP, averaged 12.1 points and 8.5 rebounds per game last season for Fenerbahce in Europe and comes in with a wealth of experience already under his belt.
“He’s a rookie, but he’s not a rookie,” said Saunders. "He’s 27-years old so he comes in as a veteran player, he comes in having played in big games in Europe, having played in huge games with his national team…and we’re extremely excited.”
Saunders is even more excited about his leadership ability and Bjelica’s ability to shoulder the load of a team.
“That’s the main difference, he’s been the main guy, he’s had to carry a team, and a very good team at that; one of the top two teams over in Europe. So he’s able to bring that into our situation. He’s not going to come in and be intimidated by anybody, he’s been through that, he’s got a lot of confidence and that’s one of the main things that really attracted us to him.”
Being an athletic big-man, Saunders is refusing to slot him into one position because of Bjelica’s athleticism and ability to stretch the court, not only with his ability to shoot the three-ball, but his ability to pass and run the floor.
Simply put, he is a player that Saunders has labeled, “a basketball player,” and, “…someone that can do a little of everything.”
A player like Bjelica is up to doing just that: Whatever he is asked to do.
“In the NBA, everyone is an excellent player, this is the best league in the world, so I will compete every day and I will take it step-by-step”
One thing’s for certain, Bjelica is a very humble and grateful young man who admits that he still has quite a bit to learn; something to which Saunders simply laughed, patted him on the back and said, “We’ll teach you, we’ll teach you.”