Rickert rolls with the punches
MINNEAPOLIS -- To get from Williams Arena to Target Center, most people drive west on Washington Avenue across the Mississippi River and into downtown. It's about a 10-minute trip in good traffic.
Rick Rickert took the long way.
East to New York City. Across the Atlantic Ocean. Over to Slovenia. To several basketball courts around Europe. Back across the ocean. Back to Minneapolis. Finally over to the Minnesota Timberwolves' practice facility in the Target Center basement. Total travel time: one year.
Earlier this week, after a preseason practice with the Wolves, Rickert stood courtside and took a question from a reporter.
He paused a moment before answering, but still managed to be believable.
"No. I don't believe in regrets," Rickert said.
The question: Would he have done anything different had he known what he knows now? Knowing that he got bad advice from people who told him he was a sure first-round pick in the 2003 NBA Draft. Knowing that more than a year after his decision to leave college, he'd be in a dogfight with several other prospects for one precious spot on an NBA roster.
For those who don't remember, Rickert is the former Duluth East star, former sought-after college recruit, former Gophers star forward, former Big Ten Freshman of the Year, former late second-round NBA draft pick and current Timberwolves longshot.
He left college after his sophomore season to enter the draft, believing he had a good chance to hear his name called in the first round and get a guaranteed contract.
But that didn't happen. The Wolves made him a mercy pick with the 55th pick that Thursday night.
Rickert was in New York with his family and fiancee that night, in a hotel room near Madison Square Garden where the draft was being held. Back in Minneapolis, reporters waited at Target Center, hoping to speak to Rickert via conference call after his selection. But he didn't call.
So what was going through his head that night?
"It was," Rickert said.
A long pause.
"Shock," he finally said. "Shock and disappointment."
What followed was a season spent playing overseas with Krka of the Adriatic Basketball Association of Slovenia. The Wolves retained his rights and kept an eye on his progress.
Rickert says it was a positive experience because he learned a lot about international basketball and life.
"You've got to adapt to a different culture," he said.
One of the things he's known for most these days is an offseason run-in with Kevin Garnett during a pickup game. The league MVP reportedly punched Rickert on the chin, causing a cut that needed stitches.
But here's the point: Rickert went right back to the gym for another game with Garnett. That takes some guts.
And whether he can make this team, he's shown the same kind of guts by taking an ego blow in the draft and coming back for more.
"You've got to roll with punches in life," Rickert said, with no pun intended.
"I'm just rolling. Gotta roll with everything as it comes."
Andres Ybarra can be reached at email@example.com