Wesley Johnson was all smiles after Friday night's exhibition game against the Detroit Pistons. The rookie wasn’t grinning because his team won the game, but because he was happy to be home again.
“It was a lot of fun,” Johnson said. “ I was tired and a lot of adrenaline was flowing, but I had fun. Seeing that 'S' on the court brought back a lot of good memories.”
Johnson’s Timberwolves won a lackadaisical preseason game against the Pistons 99-88. While it was a chance for the SU community to see a live NBA game; the game was all about the return of Johnson, Jonny Flynn, and Jason Hart.
Before the starting lineups were introduced, a video montage of highlights of Flynn and Johnson played on the jumbo screen.
“I got chills watching it, I couldn’t even describe it,” Johnson said. “I was like 'Wow!' Everybody was looking at me, like don’t cry.”
Timberwolves head coach Kurt Rambis went to Johnson on the first possession of the game. Unfortunately, the ball was knocked out of bounds and Darko Milicic scored the first T-Wolves basket of the evening. However, Johnson capitalized a few plays later when he scored his first two points on a jump shot from the right wing. In the midst of all the hype around Johnson, Rambis knew that his young star's emotions were running high and he wanted to get him the ball early.
“Wes was a little nervous coming home,” Rambis said. “He wanted to do really well and in a lot of cases he kind of forgot what he was supposed to do out there, but that’s youth and you expect that. He was very excited about being there, he was doing stuff in our shoot-around this afternoon athletically that I hadn’t seen him do in a long time, so I knew he was fired up.”
Most of the crowd's attention was focused on Johnson. Flynn did not play because of an injured hip. Jason Hart, being an older Syracuse alum, did not deal with the same attention as Johnson, but he wasn’t forgotten. The crowd started to chant “We Want Hart” during the middle of the fourth quarter. A few minutes later, Rambis granted the crowd’s wish when he checked into the game at the 5:34 mark
To the dismay of the crowd, there were few highlights during the game. Johnson scored just four points and Hart was held scoreless.
The first quarter was highlighted by the play of Detroit Piston’s forward Austin Daye. The versatile swingman scored 12 points in the opening quarter. The crowd constantly heckled former Detroit Piston and current Timberwolf, Darko Milicic, who was stripped twice in the opening quarter. But Milicic wasn’t alone, former Georgetown stars Greg Monroe and Dajuan Summers were consistently booed by the Orange faithful all night.
The game would take an exciting turn in the second quarter when two Timberwolves decided to put on a little dunk contest of their own. Kevin Love got the crowd on its feet when he followed a missed shot with a put-back dunk. Martell Webster returned the favor when he threw down an open-court slam after a Will Bynum turnover. Two plays later, Webster flew through the air for one more dunk finishing with 10 points in the quarter and 13 on the night. Love put up nine points in the quarter and led all scorers in the evening with 21 points and 10 rebounds.
The real highlight of the evening took place before the game even started when Coach Boeheim accepted his National Coach of the Year award. Players from his current team, and legends from the past such as Lawrence Moten, Derrick Coleman and Gerry McNamara surrounded Boeheim as he stood at half court. All-time SU greats Dave Bing and Billy Gabor were also a part of the 11,747 in attendance.
Wes Johnson battles for the basketball under the hoop during Friday night's exhibition game at the Carrier Dome. (Photo: Nate Shron)