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THE FRIDAY TICKET
Q and A with Timberwolves' rookie Wes Johnson
January 5, 2011Minnesota Score
Wesley Johnson’s path to the NBA was more like a maze. In some ways it's surprising he made it through to the other side. The 6-7 forward attended three high schools and two colleges before being selected by the Timberwolves with the 4th overall pick in last June’s draft.
While Johnson’s boyish looks project innocence and naivety, he got a pretty good glimpse at the seedy underbelly of amateur sports in America. One of his high school coaches was alleged to have tried to steer him to San Diego State University by withholding mail from other interested colleges. Another school simply closed it doors during the academic year.
As as sophomore at Iowa State, Johnson was forced to play with a painful foot injury that was later revealed to be a stress fracture. Unhappy in Ames, he transferred to Syracuse where he blossomed into a First Team All American and was named Big East Player of the Year.
Now a rookie with the Wolves, the 23-year-old took some time to chat with me following Thursday’s practice at Target Center.
DZ: You guys had a tough loss last night (December 22 against Utah) and are on a little bit of a losing streak, what do you guys do to stay positive and keep your confidence up?
JOHNSON: Really just work on the next one and see what we did wrong, I think we have a really good group of guys who don’t dwell on it too much. It’s tough to lose, but we really have - like I said - a great group of guys and we have a positive mindset. We really don’t dwell on the past and just worry about the present.
DZ: In college (losing) didn’t happen too much, what’s it been like - I don’t want to say getting adjusted to it - but dealing with it - something you maybe haven’t had to deal with before?
JOHNSON: It’s a new experience for me. (I’ll) see how tough mentally I am, see how well I bounce back and the team - how we’ll bounce back. I think everybody on the team hasn’t lost like this before. We’ll see how mentally tough we are.
DZ: We’re two months into the season now, are you kind of figuring out your role on the team?
JOHNSON: A little bit more, I am. I am just really trying to be more helpful on defense - set a tone on offense and make a tough presence on defense.
DZ: Is there anything about the league in general or on the court that has surprised you this year?
JOHNSON: If anything the techs (technical fouls). They’ve been giving them out more so than any other year. So, I’ve just really been surprised about how many techs they’ve been giving out during games.
DZ: I saw a feature during halftime of one of the games and you were living downtown here in a condo. Do you have the skyways figured out? Finding your way around?
JOHNSON: I haven’t really went through the skyways much. I drive pretty much everywhere I want to go. Where I stay at, there is really just a view I can just look out over the city.
DZ: Are you facing the Metrodome?
JOHNSON: Yeah, the Metrodome.
DZ: So you can see the collapsed roof?
JOHNSON: Yeah, that’s crazy.
DZ: Going back to college, you started out at Iowa State and then went to Syracuse. You had to sit out a year as a transfer. What was that year like for you, not having the games to look forward to?
JOHNSON: That year was probably the toughest year I have endured in my whole career. Really just knowing that you can go out and help your team, but you can’t. You just have to practice and then sit out and watch. Games that they lost, games that they won, you couldn’t experience it and celebrate with them and go through the losses and then bounce back from them. So really, it was hard for me to do that, but like Jonny (Flynn) and Kris Joseph and those guys were really propping me up and really helped me when I sat out - (so did) Scoop Jardine - so we really grew a real good friendship and chemistry that carried over to the next season.
DZ: You didn’t get a chance to play with Jonny there, but then you get drafted here - that had to have been pretty cool knowing you would get another chance?
JOHNSON: We always talked about that year I sat out and after he was here; that I would do what I have to do and that I could be drafted here, and lo and behold, I am here.
DZ: I also read about your high school career and you had to move around a little bit and went through a few things. What did you learn from that whole experience?
JOHNSON: Really that the places I was I didn’t really want to leave, but I just had to because stuff was going wrong. From bouncing around - really just try to stay positive. When adversity came, I just tried to stay positive through it.
DZ: It seems like that on some level - you are just a kid - you are in high school and a lot of people just kind of look at you and see dollar signs and try to take advantage of that.
JOHNSON: Yeah man, it’s crazy. That whole ordeal is kind of crazy, but I had a good group of people around me - especially my brother and my family. My brother really stood by me all through those years and just pulled me through and I am here now.
DZ: Christmas is coming up - everyone is talking about that - what are your plans?
JOHNSON: I am going to be traveling to Cleveland. I think I have a lot of family coming to Cleveland because I stay in Detroit, so I’m going to drive down and see them. (Then) I’ll come back here and really just be at home probably just relaxing and trying to watch the snow fall if it snows.
DZ: Now that you are getting a pretty big paycheck are your friends and relatives expecting bigger, better presents?
JOHNSON: I was ready when they came up here for Thanksgiving break. I took them out and everything so I really took care of everything early. Everybody else is going to be on the back end, like right now I am going to grab a couple of gifts from the mall. I took care of everybody early.
See more of David Zingler's interviews with Timberwolves players: