Forgive me if I go a little light on the discussion of the Wolves’ season
finale tonight – I’ve gotta talk about the memorable experience of getting press access for the game.
Long story short, Timberwolves.com ran a contest called "Battle of the Bloggers"
a little while back, where the winner would receive a press pass for a Wolves
game. Every week, myself, and a bunch of
other Wolves bloggers (including College Wolf, Sonia, and Derok) responded
to a Wolves-related question, and these responses were awarded points based on the
arguments they made, how well they backed up their claims, etc.
Lo and behold, I came out on top at the end of the competition. And I decided to utilize my press access prize for the Wolves’ final match of the season, against the Milwaukee Bucks.
I arrived to the Target Center at about 5:30 and received my press
credentials. I hung out for a couple
minutes in the media room before heading out to the court, where a couple
players were warming up and hanging out.
As a lifelong fan of the Wolves, simply walking on to the Target
Center court was amazing…and to be in the presence of guys like Michael Doleac,
Mark Madsen, Corey Brewer, and Kirk Snyder was the icing on the cake.
Matt, an intern for Timberwolves.com, was kind enough to speak with the PR
guys and score me a quick one-on-one interview with Madsen. Mad Dog walked up to me and we shook hands…then,
we walked over to some nearby seats to have a chat.
After spending ten minutes talking with Madsen, one thing became
clear: You’ll never find a nicer, classier guy in the NBA than the Dog.
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First of all, I asked Madsen about his offseason plans; Mad Dog replied that
he’s looking forward to unwinding after the season, which I’d assume has been quite a grind for these players. I then posed this question: If you had to
single out a specific area that the team has made the biggest improvements in during
the season, what would it be? To that,
Dog informed me that he’s been most impressed with the Pups’ improved performance in
the fourth quarter.
His message to the fans, now that the 2007-08 campaign is in the books? Focus on how this team finished the season, and take
note of the improvements they made throughout the year.
What are Madsen’s thoughts about racking up roughly 60 DNPs
this season? Obviously, no one enjoys
sitting on the bench, he said, but he has the utmost confidence that his
absence from the majority of the Wolves’ games has been for the greater good
(aka: more playing time for the younglings).
One issue that bothered me early in the season was the team’s effort (or lack thereof) on the defensive
end. I asked Dog if he’s noticed a
significant jump in the defensive intensity the Wolves have played with during
the season, and indeed, he informed me that he’s been impressed with the effort
this team has displayed on defense.
In praising the improvements on the defensive end, Dog noted that he believes Al
Jefferson has become one of the league’s elite shot blockers.
At that point, I thanked Madsen for his time, and he asked for the URL of T’Wolves Blog. He told me that he’d check it out -
so Dog, if you’re reading this, thanks again for the interview.
I know I’m sounding like a broken record here, but I honestly can’t say
enough nice things about the way Madsen conducts himself with the media and
fans. A class act, in the truest sense
of the term.
After that, I strolled back near center court where Wittman was
holding his pregame press conference.
Honestly, I was still too mesmerized by the whole experience to pay much
attention to what Witt was saying. I heard him joking a little about the Wolves’
newest promotion to improve ticket sales (the amount you pay per game for
season tickets in 2008-09 corresponds to the result of the Draft Lottery; for
example, if the Wolves get the first overall pick, you’ll pay a buck per game
for upper level season tickets next year), but other than that, I didn’t catch
much of his pregame address to the media.
Once Witt was done, Matt and I headed to the Target Center’s media
room. There, a pasta dinner with some
excellent cheesecake was provided (the media buffet was a little different than I had
originally imagined; I’d pictured myself elbowing Sid Hartman to score the final
chicken wing, but that wasn’t exactly the case).
Jim Peterson was sitting at a nearby table, and I noticed that was eating an extraordinary amount of food – but for a dude his height,
I’m guessing the portions he piled on his plate were just about normal. I
spotted several recognizable members of the media while I ate: Billy McKinnie,
Jerry Zgoda, Britt Robson (the best beat writer in the biz)…all in all, it was cool
to see so many respected basketball voices congregating in the media room. I also saw the dude who throws t-shirts into
the crowd during the games, and bears a striking resemblance to Wally Szczerbiak.
Before I departed for the press seating, Rob Babcock (an assistant general
manager for the Wolves, formerly the GM of the Raptors) took a seat at my
table, but I didn’t exchange too many words with him – I suspected that any
efforts to coax him into revealing the Wolves’ current draft board would prove futile.
So, when game time came along, I headed out to the press seating and took a
place beside the guys from Timberwolves.com.
I’ll admit this: It was kinda hard to remember that it would probably be a bad idea to clap during the game, since cheering is
frowned upon among those seated on press row. That, I believe, is a significant downside to
receiving press access…you can’t act like a rube when you’re seated among
In the first quarter, the Wolves shot a ridiculous percentage from the
field: 60.9%. Randy Foye had the hot
hand in the opening period, shooting 5-6 from the floor and notching 12 points,
and the Wolves exited the quarter with a 32-24 lead.
However, things drastically changed as the game headed into the second
quarter. Ramon Sessions, a Milwaukee
point guard who spent most of the season in the NBDL, played the primary role
in helping the Bucks climb back into the game and build a decent-sized
lead. Many doubt the D-League’s ability
to develop players into guys who can compete at the NBA level, but Sessions is obviously
a tremendous success story of the NBDL.
After shooting 5-8 from the field and posting 11 points in the second
quarter, Sessions had helped lift Milwaukee to an eight-point halftime lead.
Funny story: During the first half, I noticed College Wolf talking with some
people on press row – so, I called out to him, "Hey Dave!" CW looked up at me, and declared to his
friends, "Hey, it’s f***ing Anthony!"
That’s officially the funniest greeting I’ve ever received. And I do mean ever.
CW informed me that he’d downed – ahem – a couple drinks, and was perhaps
too intoxicated to be attending the game.
I concurred, and CW went on his way.
Anyways, back to the game. Sessions
and Andrew Bogut continued being the focal points of Milwaukee’s offense in the
third quarter, while the Wolves woke up from their second quarter snooze and remained
down by single digits when the period came to a close.
Even though Al Jefferson only played one minute in the fourth quarter, the
Wolves still managed to climb back and ultimately tie the game with 26 seconds
remaining in regulation, after Corey Brewer nailed a pair of free throws. The game headed to overtime, and that’s when Randy Foye completely
took control – with 10 points in the extra session, Foye headlined a dominant
overtime performance by the Wolves. Our
squad outscored Milwaukee 16-7 in overtime, finishing the season with a 110-101
Although my status as a member of the non-mainstream media prevented me from
getting postgame locker room access, I was still able to attend Wittman’s
postgame news conference in the media room.
Interesting statement Witt made: He feels like it was ‘two years ago’ when the Wolves started their
season in Instanbul (in reality, his squad participated in
training camp and exhibition games in Turkey last October). Try as they might to sugarcoat the struggles their team encountered, the coaches of this squad certainly aren’t immune to the disappointment and discouragement of a 60-loss season.
He also gave a weak reason for Jefferson’s lack of playing time in the
fourth quarter and overtime; Big Al simply wasn’t playing at a high energy
level, according to Witt, so he was placed on the bench for the final 16-ish
minutes of the ballgame. Of course, the
benching of Al had absolutely nothing to do with the fact that the Wolves could
have secured the third slot in the Draft Lottery with a loss. (Excuse me while
I roll my eyes.)
I sat in the row behind Sid during the press conference, and noticed
something pretty funny following Witt’s comments to the gathered members of the
media. Grandpa Sports rushed up to
Wittman as the coach left the podium, asking if he’d have time for an interview
in the coming days. I’ve never seen an
88-year-old move so fast as Sid did when he tried to arrange a conversation
with Witt…I’m roughly one fifth of Sid’s age, and would be hard-pressed to move
That wrapped up the evening. I can’t
thank Timberwolves.com reporter Mike Trudell and everyone else from the
organization enough for allowing a blogger to get a taste of the access that
the folks from the mainstream media receive.
For an average rube like myself, it was an amazing experience. And Mad Dog, in exchange for graciously agreeing
to do an interview with me, I hereby promise that I’ll stop making fun of your