For rookies Ellington and Flynn, NBA experience is humbling
ORLANDO, Fla. — Minnesota Timberwolves rookies Jonny Flynn and Wayne Ellington are living out all the madness of March again, only this year it's lower case and lacking an exclamation point.
This time last year, both played NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 games drenched with energy and noise.
For Ellington, it was a stop on the way to a national title with his North Carolina Tar Heels and his Final Four Most Outstanding Player award.
Fast forward 12 months to their new careers, their new lives, their new team, which has lost 14 consecutive games and 20 of its past 21 with nine games left to play in their first professional 82-game season.
"It's crazy, a crazy difference," Ellington said after practice Thursday in Orlando. "So much changes in one year. It's a different kind of madness than it was last year."
Flynn planned to gather with some of his teammates at Damien Wilkins' Orlando home Thursday night to watch Syracuse, his home-state team where he spent two seasons, play (and eventually lose to) Butler.
He was asked to compare his March a year ago with this one. "I don't look at it like that," he said. "My March last year was definitely different, but this is the world I want to be in. I'm happy for all my friends on that team, but I wouldn't trade this for anything."
This is a season when Flynn no longer is the fastest, strongest, best player on the floor at his position, not even close many nights.
This is a season when the Wolves are starting to get ESPN SportsCenter recognition in late March because they now own two of the NBA's three longest losing streaks of the season, behind only New Jersey's season-opening 18 gamer.
"Sometimes you have to go through tough times in your life to make yourself a stronger individual, a better basketball player," Flynn said. "This is really a humbling season for me right now. I'm really learning a lot from it."
They have quickly learned they are not in Kansas (City) anymore. "This is always the dream for players, this is the top level," Wolves coach Kurt Rambis. "You go through elementary, junior high school, high school, college, all these steps to get here. Once you get here, it's such a giant leap. Things are totally different.
"It's now a business. There are a lot of expectations and a lot of difficulty that come with it because the athletes are so elite. They're playing on average every other night and then you add the late nights and travel and it's completely unlike anything you've ever seen before."
Ellington lost four games all last season with his champion Tar Heels. Flynn lost 10 with a Syracuse team that lost in the Sweet Sixteen round.
This season, they lost 10 games before the season was three weeks old. They've lost 58 so far.
Ellington calls that number "maybe more games than I've lost in my entire life. If you're a true competitor, you never accept losing. I hate losing."
Given the two players' pedigrees, does Rambis worry that they'll come to accept it? "I hope not," he said. "If you're a true winner and a true competitor, there's nothing that would ever put out that fire inside."
Last season, Wolves center Al Jefferson replaced a television at his home during the final two months he spent watching the team's games while recovering from knee surgery.
Flynn promises the TV will be safe, no matter the outcome of the Syracuse game.
"It gets intense when I watch those games, I'm not going to lie," he said. "A lot of guys on that team are my close friends, part of my circle. I always want them to do well, but I'm not going to damage something of mine watching a basketball game."