NBA: Jones says Saunders ‘in good spirits’
By Marcus R. FullerSt. Paul Pioneer Press MINNEAPOLIS -- Tyus Jones said news that Timberwolves coach Flip Saunders was taking a leave for cancer treatment hit him hard. But Jones, a former Apple Valley and Duke standout, has been in contact with...
By Marcus R. Fuller
St. Paul Pioneer Press
MINNEAPOLIS - Tyus Jones said news that Timberwolves coach Flip Saunders was taking a leave for cancer treatment hit him hard.
But Jones, a former Apple Valley and Duke standout, has been in contact with Saunders and said his coach is “fighting it” and “in good spirits.” Jones spoke Wednesday after a student event at Apple Valley High School as part of the Harbor by Jostens motivational tour.
The Timberwolves’ rookie point guard had a strong relationship with Saunders even before the team selected him late in the first round of the NBA draft in June. Saunders, a family friend, attended Jones’ high school games.
“You never want anybody to go through that, especially someone you’re close to,” Jones said. “When I heard that news, it was definitely pretty sad. I reached out to Coach Saunders, just let him know I was praying for him and I’m with him - that he would get through this.
“He’s fighting it. He’s in good spirits and he’ll definitely get through this and still be part of this team, this organization in a big way like he has been.”
Jones expressed confidence in Sam Mitchell, who will replace Saunders as interim coach this season.
“Me and Coach Mitchell have a good relationship that’s only gotten stronger throughout the summer,” he said. “I went on the (Wolves) caravan with him, spent three straight days with him. So we’ve built a stronger relationship and it will only continue to grow as he steps into the head coach role as the season gets started. He’s been around the gym every day just like I have.”
The Wolves have a young and talented roster that includes potential second-year breakout players Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine, as well as No. 1 pick Karl-Anthony Towns. But there’s also some veteran leadership with Kevin Garnett, Andre Miller and Tayshaun Prince.
Last season, the Wolves went 16-66, the worst record in the NBA. Jones said the expectation is to break a playoff drought that dates to 2004.
“I think that’s been very understood that’s our goal as a team,” he said. “We have a great balance of young guys, veteran guys, mixed with a lot of talent. When you’re going into the season, you got to have confidence and you’ve got to be willing to put in the work. That’s what we’re going to do.
“The goal is to make the playoffs and try to make a playoff run, try to turn things around from last year. It starts up in a couple weeks.”
On another note, Jones purchased 500 tickets for the Minnesota Lynx’s WNBA Western Conference playoff opener against Los Angeles on Friday night at Target Center. The Lynx gave the complimentary tickets away on a first-come, first-served basis on their website Wednesday morning. All of the tickets were scooped up as of early Wednesday afternoon.