I’m a native Minnesotan. I lived through the heartbreak of the late 1980’s Minnesota Vikings, the 15-1 1998 Vikings squad, the sharp decline of the Minnesota Twins after the 1991 season, the Minnesota North Stars being moved away back in 1993 and the horrific beginning to NBA basketball in Minnesota, with the Minnesota Timberwolves compiling a 152-422 record in their first seven seasons.
You could say we’ve had our share of sports disappointment. We’ve also watched star players succeed on an individual level (Kevin Garnett, Joe Mauer, Mike Modano, Adrian Peterson, Randy Moss, Kevin Love) before either leaving for greener pastures or relegating themselves to season after season of cold, fruitless winters in the Twin Cities area.
Maybe, just maybe, brighter days are on the horizon (at least for our basketball team). Here’s what we’re looking forward to:
Andrew Wiggins has brought an excitement to the Minnesota Timberwolves that hasn’t been seen since Kevin Garnett was banging the floor, pounding his chest and screaming to the heavens each night at the Target Center. Kevin Love never created that kind of hype — and hope — but Glen Taylor, Flip Saunders and company have turned Love into someone who has brought a new optimism that’s been missing for a decade.
Wiggins hasn’t had the opportunity to log one regular season minute in the NBA, but the Timberwolves faithful have put all of their eggs in the Wiggins-as-a-star basket, hoping he’ll do what Love couldn’t — bring the Wolves back to the playoffs for the first time in a decade.
Proof of the fever pitch in Minnesota showed through season-ticket sales, which set a record with 300 full packages in the week after Wiggins was acquired. Take a look at what Timberwolves senior vice president Ryan Tanke had to say:
The organization, from president-level on down has just been re-energized. Part of it is hope and you have this great new hope. But then there’s also the reality, which is it was a long, tough summer. For it to come to the head that it came to and have it be the outcome that we had, I think it creates this perfect storm environment for us.
As a player, Wiggins has received more hype and has been anticipated more than any player since LeBron James back in 2003, which is apropos, considering the re-arrival of James to Cleveland triggered the 19-year-old Wiggins being jettisoned from the shores of Lake Erie to the muddy banks of the Mississippi River.
The consensus No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 NBA Draft has been on scouts radar since at least the 2011 LeBron James camp, when Wiggins was still figuring out how to remember his High School locker combination and dreams of playing in the NBA were still just that — dreams.
Now that dream has become a reality, after a quick stop at the University of Kansas, where Wiggins put up averages of 17.1 points, 5.9 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 1.2 steals and 1.0 blocks per game for the Jayhawks. The season ended on a sour note, as the Jayhawks bowed out in the third round with a 60-57 loss to the Stanford Cardinal. It didn’t matter — the thirst for seeing Wiggins on an NBA squad was real — and it grows with each passing day.
Wiggins represents more than just a young, super-athletic wing that could become a superstar in the NBA. He represents a new beginning for the franchise and he’s also a team-first as the Wolves have never had the No. 1 overall pick in the draft. Technically, they didn’t draft him, but acquiring him (and the 2013 No. 1 pick Anthony Bennett) will do.
We got a chance to watch Wiggins for four games during the 2014 NBA Summer League in Las Vegas (albeit in a Cleveland Cavaliers jersey), where he averaged 15.5 points, 3.5 rebounds, 1.2 steals and 1.5 blocks in 30 minutes per game.
Now, the clock is ticking, with the preseason home opener on October 10 against the Philadelphia 76ers (the Wolves open the preseason on the road against the Indiana Pacers on October 7). The regular season home opener is October 30 against the Detroit Pistons (season opener again on the road, October 29 at the Memphis Grizzlies).
Wiggins has brought a new outlook for Minnesota fans. We’re not long-suffering fans like the Cleveland fan base, but we’ve gone through enough dark, cold winters for our tastes. Will Wiggins be our savior? That remains to be seen — but he’s already given us reason to hope and dream about a winner again.