MINNEAPOLIS (AP) John Thomas grew up in Minneapolis, becoming a prep star at Roosevelt High School before playing at the University of Minnesota and bouncing around the NBA for five seasons.
One of those seasons toward the end of his career was with his hometown Timberwolves and he had always hoped to one day return to the organization. That day finally came on Thursday when the Wolves hired him as vice president of community engagement.
''There's a real shift in mindset and the direction the team wants to take,'' Thomas said. ''I'm really honored and happy about that direction and look forward to being a part of the voice and trying to create it.''
The Timberwolves created the position for Thomas and have tasked him with helping the current players get involved in community projects, helping the team's youth basketball academies grow and developing a network that brings alumni from the Timberwolves and Lynx, the WNBA team, back into the fold in ways the organization has not done in the past.
''Understanding who has been in that locker room, who has been on that floor, who has been a champion of that community,'' Thomas said. ''For us it's about circling back and properly telling the story of why we care. ... Getting them back involved with a franchise that cares about them and wants to see them flourish is a win for everyone.''
Wolves CEO Ethan Casson has made engaging in the community and reconnecting with alumni top priorities since he returned to the franchise last summer. He came to the Wolves after working for the tradition-rich San Francisco 49ers and it struck him how stars of the football team's past continued to spend time around the team long after leaving.
''Certainly seeing first hand some of the greatest players of all time in and around the office every day, at our games, at our community events, giving back, participating in corporate outings, you develop this culture of family,'' Casson said. ''I want to do that with our staff and I want to do that with anybody associated with the game of basketball.''
Prior to joining the Wolves and Lynx, Thomas was working for Ultimate Hoops, a basketball program tied to Life Time Fitness, a Twin Cities-based chain of fitness centers with a club in the basement of Target Center, where the Timberwolves and Lynx play. Thomas has been a regular presence at the arena over the last few years and he eventually started to have conversations with Casson about joining the team. Thomas's outgoing nature, playing experience and Minneapolis roots made him a natural fit.
Thomas also has connections to Timberwolves coach and president Tom Thibodeau, who just completed his first season running the basketball operations. Thomas was a first-round draft pick of the New York Knicks in 1997. The Knicks were coached by Jeff Van Gundy and Thibodeau was one of his trusted assistants.
''I worked with him and Brendan Malone all summer,'' Thomas said. ''They would grind me to a fine powder, which I loved and appreciated.''
Thomas said he could see his role with the team expanding to provide counsel to a young core that includes Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine.
''I've got my job to do on many fronts,'' Thomas said. ''But if you know anything about me, I care about our people. Being a former player, I think it's a natural thing that will happen. Whether it's quick conversations or lunches that will occur, I owe it to those players and I owe it to the franchise to help put them in the best position possible to understand how to become successful.''
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