Saturday, May 25, 2019


Rookie coach has Wolves on top of their division

Larger view
Dwane Casey is animated on the court. (Brandt Williams)
The Minnesota Timberwolves go for their 14th win of the season under rookie head coach Dwane Casey Friday night, when they take on the Portland Trailblazers at the Target Center. Casey has led the Timberwolves to a 13 and 10 record, tops in the Northwest Division of the NBA's Western Conference. Casey is the seventh head coach in Timberwolves history. He replaced the team's most successful coach to date Flip Saunders who was fired last year.

Minneapolis, Minn. — Early in the first quarter the Timberwolves lead the New Orleans Hornets by seven points in a game earlier this week. Coach Dwane Casey stands near the bench directing the team's defense. He's animated and verbal. Casey waves his arms and points several fingers in the air as the Wolves try to smother the New Orleans shooters.

As the fans shout about the second personal foul called on starter Marko Jaric, Casey turns to his bench and calls for guard Troy Hudson. Hudson and his teammates continue to put the defensive pressure on their opponent. As a result the Hornets only make 30 percent of their shots in the quarter.

The Timberwolves cruise to a 19-point victory -- and break a four-game losing streak. The Wolves hold their opponent to just 69 points. This performance is typical of Casey's style. He's a stickler for fundamentals, stressing aggressive defense. He's also known to spend long hours watching video tape of opponents in preparation for each game.

"I have other interests too," says Casey. "I enjoy reading. I enjoy politics. I enjoy keeping up with politics -- what's going on with the world. "

Dwane Casey is 48-years-old. He was born in Morganfield, Kentucky a city of about 16,000 people located in the state's western coal field. Casey grew up in the 1960's and remembers what it was like to be among the first black students to attend integrated schools.

"I think my first month of school I fought almost every day until I made friends with people very quickly," he says. "So, it was the best and worst of times."

Casey says it was the best of times because he made friends then with people he is still close to today.

"It was the worst of times because I saw the looks on people's faces as I was going to school as a fourth grader, scared to death. Parents yelling, calling me names and that type of thing," says Casey.

Casey says these experiences helped shape his vigorous work ethic. He says when he brought home stories about the troubles he faced in school, his family members encouraged him hang in there and study hard. Casey's studies and athletic skill landed him a scholarship to the University of Kentucky. He says he was only the fifth or six African American to be granted such a scholarship. Casey earned honors as an athlete, lettering four times. He later became an assistant coach under Kentucky basketball coach Eddie Sutton in the late 1980's.

Sutton and Casey both left the University following a recruiting scandal that rocked the program. After UK, Casey spent five seasons in Japan coaching in the Japanese Basketball Association. He still runs a basketball camp there every summer.

"I learned a lot about Japanese culture. I learned about their society, how their society is really changing," he says. "Their young people are changing, a lot like our young people."

Casey says he's seeing a trend among young athletes. He says they're not as coachable, or respectful as they used to be. Casey says that's because these days, pro athletes are making millions of dollars in salaries and endorsements. But he says that attitude is not present in the Timberwolves highest paid and best player.

"Kevin Garnett has been great," says Casey. "He is a pro. He wants to be coached. He wants to be led. He is a leader."

Casey's most recent coaching experience was as an assistant under Nate McMillan at the Seattle SuperSonics. McMillan is now the coach of the Portland Trailblazers, the Wolves' next opponent. Casey is looking for his third win in a row against his mentor.