Another homecoming for Jackson

by Michael Dougherty

Splash a little maroon and gold paint around, raise the floor a couple of feet and the Arena Health Club might seem like Williams Arena with the handful of former Gophers running around the court.
Former Gophers guard Bobby Jackson made his debut in a Wolves practice jersey Thursday night at the team’s first practice since the NBA collective bargaining agreement was signed, ending the 204-day lockout.
Jackson and former Timberwolf and Indiana Hoosier Dean Garrett were traded to the Wolves from Denver in a three-team deal which also included Toronto.
Former Gophers center Trevor Winter, a teammate of Jackson’s on the 1996-97 Final Four team, was also at the practice. Winter is a free agent trying to land a spot on the squad.
Wolves coach and general manager Flip Saunders, a 1977 graduate of the University, said the trade is a positive step for the young team and added he is thrilled to have Jackson on his team.
“We loved Bobby when he came out, but at the time it just wasn’t right,” Saunders said. “But we’ve worked on some things and when it came down to it, it was a good situation. We saw it as an opportunity to not only get Bobby, but also get Dean back.”
Saunders’ boss is Kevin McHale, a 1980 University graduate and the vice president of the Timberwolves.
McHale said the trade for Jackson will have a great impact on the team, but added Jackson will have to work hard for playing time behind point guard Stephon Marbury.
“Bobby is going to have to come back here and earn his minutes,” McHale said. “You know Stephon Marbury is a helluva basketball player, so (Jackson) has got to come in and earn his minutes through tough practices and competitiveness. And I’ll tell you I don’t think anybody has ever claimed Bobby Jackson was not competitive.”
Marbury is in the last year of his contract and is currently negotiating an extension with the Wolves. But for now he is hands-down the starting point guard for the team.
He said he welcomed the addition of Jackson, adding that it gives the team some much-needed depth. However, Marbury said he wouldn’t mind the Wolves adding some Georgia Tech alumni instead of all these Gophers.
“By Bobby coming to play with us it’s definitely going to add a new dimension to our game,” Marbury said. “By him playing it will not only help me as far as in practice, but also in games when he comes in to spell me and he can bring that same quickness and explosiveness to the table.”
Jackson averaged 11.6 points, 4.7 assists and 4.4 rebounds per game last season with the Nuggets. But he was involved in a couple of somewhat embarrassing instances during Denver’s 11-71 season. Jackson once yelled at a coach when he was taken out of the game, and also refused to go back into a game after he was taken out.
But Minnesota offers a fresh start for Jackson, who learned of the trade on Sunday. He said he was happy to come back to a place where he has a lot of friends and fan support.
“A lot of players don’t get to go back to where they played college ball and play professional ball,” Jackson said. “But I’m one of the exceptions. I’ve got a lot of friends here, so I don’t think there will be a lot of pressure on me because they know how I play the game.
“Whatever Flip and Kevin ask of me that’s what I’m going to do. I’m dedicated to this organization.”

Note: Saunders and McHale both denied rumors that former Gopher and current Los Angeles Laker Sam Jacobson would be sent to the club in a possible trade involving Phoenix-bound Tom Gugliotta.
According to McHale, former Gopher Willie Burton, who was thought to have a good chance at making the club, was not able to make the practice because of a leg injury he suffered in private work outs.