February 26, 2015

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) Kevin Garnett's emotional return to Minnesota after almost eight years has stirred nostalgia for the only stretch of success the Timberwolves franchise has ever had. It also created some skepticism for the amount of help a 38-year-old power forward can provide to a team at the bottom of the Western Conference.

The primary beneficiaries to Garnett's return were obvious in his first game back on Wednesday night, a 97-77 win over Washington. Team president and coach Flip Saunders gets a loyal soldier with loads of credibility to help bring his messages from the court to the locker room with an impressionable roster. Youngsters like Andrew Wiggins, Zach LaVine and Shabazz Muhammad get to learn from a Hall of Fame-caliber player and the franchise should benefit financially from increased ticket sales, especially in his first few games back at Target Center.

But here's a look at some of those behind the scenes and how they are viewing the return of No. 21, in their words.

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THE SUPER FAN: Bill Beise was one of the most recognizable figures at Target Center during Garnett's 12-years. He sat courtside for every game, always very coach-like with a suit on and a rolled up program that he would smack on the court while he crouched and cheered on the Wolves.

He had not been back in Target Center since 2009, for a number of reasons, not the least of which was Garnett's trade to Boston in 2007. But he was back there on Wednesday night to see his favorite player.

''One thing he did when he was younger, and I haven't seen him do it in a long time, if he would miss a free throw and he was shooting two, if he missed that first one, the referee would throw the ball back to him and he would take the ball, one hand on each side of it, and bang it off his forehead four or five times,'' Beise said. ''It was crazy stuff like that that I remember. ... I'm excited to see him back.''

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THE FORMER BALL BOY: Ryan Saunders, the son of Flip Saunders, is a 29-year-old assistant coach on the staff now. As a young boy during Garnett's early days in Minnesota, Ryan Saunders spent hours with Garnett both inside and outside Target Center. He would rebound for KG, who would bark at him every time a pass didn't hit him right where he wanted it.

Garnett would preach to little Ryan the importance of perfection during the preparation process. Almost 20 years later, Saunders is a rising young assistant known for his obsession with film study and his detailed note-taking. And now he finds himself rebounding for Garnett again.

''When we found out a week ago we were acquiring him, a couple people made comments that I can be a little too meticulous on things,'' Ryan Saunders said. ''I want it to be perfect. And I think I did get that from KG. He did really just try to emphasize that that you have to do everything the right way. You have to try to be perfect in what you do with your preparation so then you're ready for whenever comes.

''I told him that (Wednesday) morning when I was rebounding for him. I was passing to him and it was in my head right there. He just laughed about it and said, `Man I didn't even realize that.'''

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THE BALLERS: Garnett spent long stretches of the summers in Minnesota, often meeting up with other basketball players who were playing overseas or played in local colleges at a local gym for pickup games.

The games were heated, but it was the story-telling, the hanging out, the bonding that happened when they were over that resonated to the players who got to run with the Big Ticket.

''We'd play games, then sit around and talk and laugh for a long time and then he'd say, `Hey, let's go.' And we'd all go eat,'' said Terrell Battle, who played in those games and also worked in community relations for the Wolves during Garnett's tenure. ''He'd treat us to eat. And this would be three or four days a week. He was that kind of person and it was not uncommon for him to just grab us all and meet at a place and I got you all.''

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THE UNKNOWING BENEFICIARY: Garnett was active in charitable efforts during his time in Minnesota, but he rarely publicized those efforts. He much preferred to make anonymous donations at the drop of a hat, like the one he did for former University of Minnesota basketball star Randy Carter one day.

Garnett would play ball with Carter in the summers and one day overheard him talking on the phone to officials at a local school that were in dire need of new computers. Garnett not only paid for 25 computers, but also paid for new wiring and infrastructure in the lab as well.

''He said, `How can I help? What do you need?''' Carter said.

''I was like, `You're willing to do all of that?'''

''He's like, `Yeah sure. Just let me know who we're supposed to talk to and what we need to do.''

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