The Minnesota Timberwolves’ charter plane landed Friday afternoon in Kansas City, giving KC native Brandon Rush plenty of time to visit family and friends in advance of Saturday night’s NBA exhibition game against Miami at the Sprint Center.
“I got to see my mom, grandmother, uncle, cousins, some of my old teammates,” said 31-year-old former University of Kansas standout Rush, who scored 11 points off 4-of-6 shooting (3-of-5 from three) in the Wolves’ 109-100 victory over the Heat. He is in his first year with the Timberwolves after playing the last two seasons with the Golden State Warriors.
“Me, Mario, Brady … we went to Houston’s on the Plaza. I got me a nice little steak. It’s been real chill. I always enjoy coming back here,” added Rush, who played on KU’s 2008 national title team with Mario Chalmers and Brady Morningstar, who have yet to announce where they’ll be playing pro ball this season.
Another of Rush’s ’08 title teammates — current Timberwolves center Cole Aldrich, who had four points and six rebounds in Saturday’s game — couldn’t join in Friday’s mini KU reunion.
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“My wife (fellow KU grad Britt Claflin) and a few of our friends went to grab an early dinner. We were just hanging out, just because we’ve got a long road trip. It starts tonight (five cities, nine days),” noted Aldrich, who was to head to Charlotte, N.C., with his teammates right after Saturday’s game.
The 6-foot-11, seventh-year pro signed a three-year, $21.9 million deal with his hometown Timberwolves after playing last season with the Los Angeles Clippers.
A third former KU player on Minnesota’s roster — 21-year-old, third-year pro Andrew Wiggins who makes $6,006,600 this season — also did not venture out Friday with any former teammates from his one-and-done college season (2013-14).
He totaled 19 points off 3-of-11 shooting (13 of 16 from the line) in the game played before 13,042 fans.
“I enjoyed my time here (at KU), so I’m happy to be back,” said the 6-foot-8 Wiggins, the only one of the three former Jayhawks expected to start for Minnesota this year. “It’s a great city. It’s good to be back before the home crowd,” added Wiggins who visited with current KU players Tyler Self and Svi Mykhailiuk as well as former KU guard Evan Manning and current assistant coach Kurtis Townsend in the stands after the game once the arena had cleared.
The 2016-17 Jayhawks attended the game and sat in a suite, junior guard Devonté Graham at one point moving down closer to the action, fans responding by taking a batch of selfies.
Minnesota, which went 29-53 last season but has hopes for the playoffs this season under first-year coach Tom Thibodeau, has projected starters in Wiggins, Ricky Rubio, Zach LaVine, Gorgui Dieng and Karl-Anthony Towns (20 points, 10 boards Saturday) and a projected second-team of Rush, Aldrich, Kris Dunn, Shabazz Muhammad (14 points) and Nemanja Bjelica.
“Veteran experience,” Thibodeau said, asked what Rush brings to the table after averaging 4.2 points (off 41.4 percent three-point shooting) in 33 games last season for Western Conference champion Golden State. The 6-6 guard signed a one-year deal with Minnesota for $3.5 million.
“His shooting opens up the floor. He knows when to shoot. He knows when to pass. He’s proven to be a very good player in the league for a long time (nine years). He’s coming from a team that won a championship two years ago. They were one game short last year (losing in Finals to Cleveland). He’s started. He’s come off the bench. He’s done a lot of different things I think are very helpful to this group,” Thibodeau added.
Asked about his role on the squad, Rush said: “Come in as a shooter, defender, being ready when my name is called, being a guy who has experience and is trying to lead some of these guys in the right way.”
Rush simply had a blast playing for his new team Saturday in his hometown. He visited with a batch of family members in the stands following the contest.
“It felt amazing,” Rush said of playing in KC. “My oldest brother, JaRon, was here. It was fun. We spread the floor and our guards got the shooters the ball.”
Aldrich said the KU fans in the arena fired up the three Jayhawks who play for Minnesota.
“It was great coming in during warmups and seeing all the Jayhawk shirts and blue and crimson,” he said. “It’s special to play here.”
The Jayhawk trio played a lot Saturday, Wiggins working 28 minutes, Rush 22 and Aldrich 21.
“It just worked out that way,” Thibodeau said, laughing. “I told them it was a home game for them.”
Former Bishop Miege and Saint Louis University center Willie Reed scored seven points and grabbed five rebounds in 21 minutes, while former Kansas State guard Rodney McGruder had six points in 14 minutes for Miami.