MINNEAPOLIS (AP) On one side of Karl-Anthony Towns is Kevin Garnett, the 39-year-old Alpha Wolf who ushered in a new era of teenagers in the NBA when he jumped straight to the pros in 1995.
On the other side is Andrew Wiggins, the 20-year-old reigning rookie of the year who knows all too well about the spotlight that comes with being the No. 1 overall pick.
No matter which way Towns looks as he embarks on his first training camp, the Minnesota Timberwolves have someone there to help him as he begins a career that has such high expectations. Coming from a powerhouse program like Kentucky that prides itself on preparing players to jump to the NBA, Towns is getting even more of an education in Minnesota.
The Timberwolves had been in the lottery 16 times in franchise history without ever improving its position or landing the No. 1 pick. In May, after another injury plagued season left them with a league-worst 16-66 record, the Wolves finally got a little lucky by winning the draft lottery. They chose Towns, the versatile Kentucky big man who has quickly won over a fan base disillusioned by 11 straight years without the playoffs.
''When I came here for before the draft and watched the young guys working out, I only needed like two minutes to see that he was the guy,'' point guard Ricky Rubio said, referring to a series of pre-draft workouts that included Towns, Jahlil Okafor and D'Angelo Russell. ''He has a lot of talent. He can shoot the ball. But the main thing that really impressed me was that he really wants to be here.''
Towns has sung the praises of Minnesota ever since he was drafted, an approach that stands out in a state often lampooned in NBA circles for its frigid winters and terrible teams. Towns' arrival comes on the heels of the Wolves acquiring Wiggins in a trade for disgruntled All-Star Kevin Love last summer and Garnett's emotional homecoming to ratchet up the anticipation.
In many ways, Garnett revolutionized the perception of what big men can do in this league. He didn't just set up shop in the post with this back to the basket. He ran the floor, handled the ball, passed it and shot from the perimeter. The well-rounded game mirrors what Towns aspires to be and KG alluded to the similarities when he said on Monday that ''I see a lot of myself in some of these guys.''
''I think the biggest thing I want to learn from Kevin Garnett, with him having a ring, is how do I become a championship player?'' Towns said. ''How do I see how a championship team looks like? How do I use myself to be a championship contributor?''
Garnett has never hesitated to make his voice heard, and he could be seen in the opening practice of camp taking Towns aside to deliver a quiet pointer or speaking up to the entire team to underscore a point being delivered by interim coach Sam Mitchell.
''Very talkative, very confident, which is two things you need in this league,'' Garnett said of Towns. ''Very skilled. I haven't seen other than what I've seen in the tournament. I look forward to working with him.''
Wiggins has a much quieter personality, but has the experiences of being the No. 1 pick fresh in his mind from last season.
''I feel like I went through my ups and downs last year,'' Wiggins said. ''I learned a lot. I was patient with whatever happened to me and my growth last year. I'm sure I'll be able to share my experience, my wisdom and all my knowledge that I gained last year with him.''
Towns and Wiggins have known each other for a few years now, and the two youngsters seem to complement each other well. Wiggins is soft-spoken and reserved in public, while Towns is outgoing and amiable.
''When you have a person like him who is going to tell you throughout the year about how to deal with little bumps in the road as the No. 1 pick,'' Towns said, ''there's no one better to have than Andrew Wiggins.''
Garnett, Wiggins and Towns. The past, present and future all rolled up into one powerful trio.
And their work is only beginning.
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