NBA Teams
Nick Friedell, ESPN Staff Writer 358d

No time to rest as well-traveled Wolves land in China

NBA, Minnesota Timberwolves

SHENZHEN, China -- Karl-Anthony Towns has already proven to be adept at learning high-level NBA skills early in his career, but as the Minnesota Timberwolves roll into the Chinese portion of their 18-day, worldwide training camp, one which includes two preseason games against the NBA champion Golden State Warriors, Towns said he has another trait a lot of his NBA brethren have not mastered.

"For me, I'm a traveler," Towns said after Monday's first practice. "I never minded the flight. That's one thing about me, I change time zones very quickly. I just never have a problem with the long flights. I'm very fortunate to have, I guess, that ability. It was a good flight. I had a lot of fun getting to catch up on movies, catch up on TV shows I haven't been able to watch. It was a lot of fun."

That fact that Towns said that just hours after getting off a 14-hour flight -- which started in Los Angeles after a week-long training camp in San Diego and a preseason win on Saturday over the Los Angeles Lakers in Anaheim and included a refueling stop in Anchorage, Alaska -- is impressive. The 21-year-old, who is a member of the Dominican Republic's National team, has already racked up an impressive amount of stamps in his passport. His first trip to China came last summer, he spent some of this summer traveling in Denmark and he took a trip to the Bahamas a couple of years ago as a member of the Kentucky Wildcats.

"I think the only thing that's missing from my Chinese experience is seeing the Great Wall," he said. "I don't think it's going to happen on this trip, but I'll probably see it next summer."

As Towns continues checking things off his exotic travel list, he and his teammates must also get set for the fast-approaching regular season. It's a reminder veteran head coach Tom Thibodeau hammered home in the form of a practice right after the Timberwolves' charter landed in China.

"We didn't even really have time to unpack," Taj Gibson said. "We just got our gear, came back, got some shots up, got some cardio, and that was it. ... [Thibs] just doesn't want to waste a day. He understands the regular season's around the corner.

"We're trying to get as much done as possible. We still have a young group, we still have a lot of kinks we have to work out, but [we're] looking forward to it."

Gibson, who spent five seasons with Thibodeau as a member of the Chicago Bulls prior to signing with the Timberwolves this summer, couldn't help but crack a smile after finishing his first practice almost 7,500 miles away from home in a foreign land. As much as the affable forward might be looking forward to exploring new places during his time in China, Gibson understands that his head coach isn't going to allow for too much sightseeing.

"I don't even expect to see a new culture, really," Gibson said.

The balancing acts that Thibodeau, and his counterpart, Warriors head coach Steve Kerr, are trying to pull off have many challenges. The Warriors landed safely on Monday night but don't have a formal practice scheduled until Wednesday. Kerr is expected to rejoin the team in Shenzhen after visa issues forced him to miss the team's original charter flight over the weekend. Kevin Durant and eight of his teammates took part in an optional workout on Tuesday while other players and team personnel took a trip to Hong Kong. Stephen Curry, Andre Iguodala and Klay Thompson opted to hit a golf course outside of Shenzhen.

On the other hand, Thibodeau, a man who has built his career by trying to outwork his opponents, has a practice scheduled on the books each day as he tries to mold his young players with the older ones.

"With the NBA, if you want to find an excuse [for being tired], you can pretty easily find one every night," Thibodeau said. "The travel is the travel, you got to travel during the season. So [the challenge is] how quickly can we adapt and get ready to play."

Playing in a back-to-back is one thing, but a 14-hour flight offers its own set of challenges for both teams. Timberwolves All-Star swingman Jimmy Butler found a different way to pass time during the long journey.

"I went to sleep," he said. "Had a glass of wine with Cole [Aldrich]. Talked about life and country music. It doesn't get too much better than that if you ask me."

Once both teams touched down, they arrived at a basketball-crazed country ready to embrace some of the biggest stars in the game. Butler, like many of his teammates genuinely seems excited about the opportunity in front of him this week.

"When you're on social media, when you're on the internet, you're here, you see how big basketball is here," Butler said. "You're walking down the street and you'll see a [Dwyane Wade], a Steph [Curry] or whoever's jersey it might be. They really love basketball here. So to be able to come here and spend eight days over in China, it's huge. It's huge for a lot of people's brands and for the brand of basketball here. If you ask anybody, you see everybody smiling, because we're happy to be able to play basketball, but definitely here in China."

As the Timberwolves and Warriors get set to play their games this week, they do so in the middle of a week in which China is observing a national holiday. The usual billboards and advertisements that accompany the NBA's Global Games aren't as prevalent yet, but the excitement will certainly be there on Thursday afternoon during the NBA's first game here. No matter the circumstances, Thibodeau refuses to give his team any built-in excuses regarding their travel or circumstance.

"I think just so you can try and stay on the same schedule," Thibodeau said of why it's so important to practice right after landing. "You're a little bit fatigued getting off the plane. You don't want to lose a day. It didn't have the intensity of a regular practice where you're having contact, but it does allow you to work on timing and making corrections and then get ready to have a good day tomorrow. But just getting into the gym, I think it will help tonight, too, adjusting to the time difference and everything."

Towns doesn't need the extra help. He's just excited to be back in a place where, just like in the United States, he has already become a big star.

"It's awesome," Towns said. "I've been here last year, it was a great experience. To be again in front of the Chinese fans, but this time get to play the game that I love at the highest level in front of them, it's a lot of fun and it's a great experience. I can't wait to play."

^ Back to Top ^