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James Nunnally had many distant whistlestops before arrival with Timberwolves

September 15, 2018

The new practice facility with a pair of courts for the Timberwolves and the Lynx opened in the summer of 2015. There had been new logos adopted by the teams more recently, and this led to giving an early refurbishing to the hardwood.

The courts have been sanded down and repainted, with a new Wolf on one and a new Lynx on the other, and there was a gleam to the place late Friday morning, as a collection of Timberwolves were completing a workout.

Ive been here for three weeks, James Nunnally said. I want to get acclimated to the working environment, get to know some teammates and people who work here get to know a new city.

Nunnally is 28 and six years removed from an excellent career as a 6-foot-7 wing for Cal-Santa Barbara. He has become familiar with numerous working environments and international cities in the pursuit of whats now an actual NBA opportunity:

A two-year contract agreed to with the Timberwolves on Aug. 7.

The disappointment had started for Nunnally when he went undrafted in 2012, after his senior season at Cal-Santa Barbara. The Gauchos had won the Big West tournament title in 2010 and 2011, and went 20-11 before losing in the tournament final in 2012.

Reporter on Friday: The coach you had at Santa Barbara was fired a year ago.

Nunnally: Bob Williams. He was there a long time.

Reporter: Were you close with him?

Nunnally, after a pause and with a smile: No, I played hard for him, but we didnt get along that well. Orlando Johnson and I were the two top players on the team. The coach pushed Orlando and didnt do much to boost me.

Johnson was drafted in the second round by Sacramento and traded that night to Indiana. He played 103 games in the NBA from his rookie season through 2016, and most recently played for a team in Beirut in the Lebanese Basketball League.

Thats one of the leagues in Europe and the Mideast where Johnsons Gaucho teammate, Nunnally, has not played.

Nunnallys first excursion to Europe and beyond started in August 2012, when he signed with Kavala in the Greek Basket League. They werent paying him close to in full and he came home three games into the regular season.

He had two seasons with the Bakersfield Jam in whats now the G League, and that earned him three NBA 10-day contracts in 2013-14: one with Atlanta (four games played) and two with Philadelphia (nine games).

He played eight minutes for the 76ers against Brooklyn on April 5, 2014, and that was his last NBA game.

Until October 2018 with the Timberwolves. Hopefully.

Nunnally has played in Spain and Israel, then in Italy in 2015-16, and the past two seasons for powerful Fenerbahce in Istanbul.

We were way down south in Italy in Avellino, Nunnally said. It had been a terrible team the year before. My wife, Jennifer, and our baby, Jalyn, were there, and we didnt like it at first.

Then, we started discovering the city, and we started playing better, and got up to second place at one time, and I was voted the MVP of the league.

Nunnally started scooting through his cellphone and said: I just got this photo from an Avellino fan this morning. Look at the tattoo its me, hes got this huge tattoo of me playing basketball on his leg.

Nunnally didnt get the same star treatment for Fenerbahce. It was a loaded roster: the Euro League champs in 2017, and runners-up this time. Some nights, they would turn him loose; some nights, he didnt get significant minutes.

When he played 20 minutes a game last season he made three-pointers: 46 of 83 in 29 games for 55.4 percent. And those threes, along with ability as a defender, finally put Nunnally on the radar for an NBA contract.

Houston was interested, but Nunnally has wound up with a team much more in need of a shooter than those three-point hoarders: the Timberwolves, the team that made fewer threes than any NBA team last season.

Asked about Nunnally, basketball boss Tom Thibodeau said: He was the best shooter in the Euro League. And he has a good basketball IQ.

Late last season, Thibodeau developed a fondness for a three-guard offense off the bench: Derrick Rose, Tyus Jones and Jamal Crawford. The Wolves now need to fill the Crawford spot, and with someone to make threes at a higher rate than Jamals 33.1 percent last winter.

I can play a spot like that, Nunnally said. I can make threes, but I also make the right reads and play defense. I dont just chuck it. I play an all-around game.

Music to Thibs ears right there, if accurate.

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