Andrew Wiggins was happy to see a pair of former Kansas basketball players sign free-agent contracts with the NBA’s Minnesota Timberwolves this past offseason.
“It’s wonderful. We’ve got more than one Jayhawk on the team now,” said third-year Timberwolves guard Wiggins, welcoming aboard 2008 NCAA champions Cole Aldrich and Brandon Rush, who toiled for the Los Angeles Clippers and Golden State Warriors in 2015-16.
Wiggins played for KU in 2013-14.
“The best thing about it is now we get to play in Sprint Center. We get to play in front of the home crowd. I’m looking forward to it. I’m excited. I know they (Rush, Aldrich) are excited, too,” Wiggins added in advance of Saturday’s 7:30 p.m. exhibition contest between the Timberwolves and Miami Heat at the Sprint Center.
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The 6-foot-8, 21-year-old Wiggins, who averaged a team-leading 20.7 points a game last season, was speaking about the exhibition as far back as July 14 — when he met with reporters at his summer camp for youths at Sports Pavilion Lawrence at Rock Chalk Park.
“It was more one big family,” Wiggins said of his experience during his one-and-done college season in which he averaged 17.1 points and 5.9 rebounds a game for the Big 12 champion Jayhawks, who fell to Stanford in the second round of the NCAAs.
“Kansas felt like home to me,” he said.
He enters Saturday’s game as a sure starter — Rush and Aldrich are expected to come off the bench in 2016-17 — ready to take on leadership duties for first-year Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau’s squad.
“I feel I’m a lot more vocal than I was the last two years,” Wiggins said in a recent interview with Minnesota reporters shown on the Timberwolves’ NBA.com Website. “I keep trying to get louder and louder. I’m trying to push myself. I feel comfortable doing it. I feel comfortable talking.
“To me, I feel this was a big summer for me, mentally too, just knowing where I’ve got to be at this year, the responsibility I have this year.”
Wiggins — he will make $6 million this season in the third year of his rookie contract — is concentrating on “rebounding.”
He averaged 3.6 boards a game last season.
“That’s a big thing for me, rebounding, getting out in transition, pushing the ball up the floor and creating for other people,” Wiggins said.
The 6-11, 250-pound Aldrich — he turns 28 on Halloween — averaged 5.5 points and 4.8 rebounds in 13.3 minutes per game last season in Los Angeles. The seventh-year pro scored 21 points and grabbed 18 rebounds in a game against Utah on April 8.
“I had a few (good games) when DeAndre (Jordan) was sick for two games, which was unheard of. He’d played in the previous 400 games. I guess I had to kind of step in and fill that void,” said Aldrich in a recent interview with The Star. The former Bloomington, Minn., Jefferson High standout’s three-year deal with his hometown team will pay him $21.9 million. “I was able to do that, find a way to win basketball games.”
Kansas City native Rush, 31, signed a one-year deal worth $3.5 million with Minnesota after playing in 33 games last season for the Western Conference champion Warriors. He averaged 4.2 points, connecting on 41.4 percent of his threes.
There are no Jayhawks playing for Miami. Former Kansas State shooting guard Rodney McGruder, 25, signed a three-year, partially guaranteed contract with the Heat in the offseason. He’s played in the NBA DevelopmentLeague as well as in Hungary since leaving K-State in 2013.
The Timberwolves have embarked on a five-game road trip, which will include five cities over nine days. Included is a game against the Denver Nuggets on Wednesday in Lincoln, Neb. The Heat will play Brooklyn on Monday in Miami.
He wants to dunk on Embiid
Wiggins was recently asked by Foxsports.com the question: “If you could posterize someone right now, who are you dunking on?”
The answer? “My boy, JoJo Embiid. from the Sixers. I never got him (as a KU teammate) in college. It’s time to get him now.”
KU’s players, coaches to attend
KU coach Bill Self said at Thursday’s Coaches vs. Cancer event at Bartle Hall that the Jayhawks would practice Saturday morning, then attend the KU-TCU football game before heading to Sprint Center for Saturday night’s NBA exhibition.