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Feature Story

Iowa’s best basketball… bar none

11/6/2019

Men with elite athletic ability invade Wells Fargo Arena, as the Iowa Wolves begin NBA G League action.

Jordan McLaughlin is set to suit up for
the Iowa Wolves this season. The 6-foot
1-inch guard started all but one of his 128
career games at the University of Southern
California. As a senior, he dished out the third
most assists in the nation. Photo submitted

More than a half million students lace up basketball sneakers each winter for their respective high school squads. Statistically, each has roughly the same chance of being struck by lightning — 1 in 3,000 — than of ever hooping in the National Basketball Association.

NBA talent is rare. You already knew that. But you may not know that, at the end of last season, more than half the players populating the best basketball league in the world had some past
affiliation with the NBA G League.

When the Iowa Wolves begin G League play on Friday, Nov. 8 at Wells Fargo Arena, NBA-caliber talent will be on display in downtown Des Moines. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m.

Who Is Sam Newman-Beck?

Sam Newman-Beck, the new leader and head coach of the Iowa Wolves, is working to make Iowa a developmental hotbed for NBA talent. Photo submitted

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Meet Iowa’s new alpha dog

“These guys are really, really good players,” says Sam Newman-Beck, the new head coach of the Iowa Wolves. “These are guys who, for one reason or another, aren’t playing at the NBA level, but they are very, very close. And some of these guys are NBA players.”

This is Newman-Beck’s 11th year working within the NBA. After competing collegiately at Emerson College in Boston (2009), the coach spent a season learning with the Boston Celtics. Next he worked for eight seasons (2010–2018) as an assistant with the Minnesota Timberwolves before doing a one-year stint last season as an assistant with the Erie BayHawks. Newman-Beck is replacing Scott Roth in Iowa, and the first-time head coach is itching for the action to begin.

“I’m excited for the whole thing,” he says. “I’m excited to get to Des Moines, to move into my apartment, see the city, meet new people, and, with the basketball part, I’m excited for the opportunity. I’m looking forward to getting to work and instituting the system we want on the court and the culture we want off the court.”

The goal is to be player-centric and to become a developmental hotbed helping talent achieve their dreams. In order to accomplish that, Newman-Beck has three goals: 1) create a culture conducive to players enjoying their time with the team, 2) winning, which he says helps that, and 3) putting a fun product on the court that fans enjoy.

What will the Wolves roster look like?

There will be NBA-caliber players at Wells Fargo Arena this season, according to Newman-Beck, and they will be playing on both sides of the court. But as of CITYVIEW’s press deadline, which names will fill his roster was still in flux.

Teams are allowed to sign two players to something called a two-way contract. These players spend 45 days with their respective NBA club during its regular season. They play in the G League for the rest of the time. As such, barring the unexpected, at some point this year, Iowa’s roster will include the services of two-way contract signees Jordan McLaughlin and Kelan Martin.

Kelan Martin will likely be on the Iowa Wolves roster at some point this season. The 6-foot-7 forward played in Germany last season. Photo submitted

Who is Kelan Martin?

Forward Kelan Martin is a 6-foot 7-inch forward who played in Germany last season, averaging 13.7 points and 4.4 rebounds in 27 games. Collegiately, Martin played four seasons at Butler. He averaged 21.2 points and 6.3 rebounds as a senior while earning First Team All-Big East honors. Martin scorched Arkansas for 27 points in the opening round of the 2018 NCAA Tournament, and he followed up that performance with 29 points in Butler’s ensuing second-round loss to Purdue.

Who is Jordan McLaughlin?

After going undrafted in the 2018 NBA Draft, McLaughlin, 23, spent last season playing G League hoops for the Long Island Nets. The 6-foot 1-inch guard played in 39 games, averaging 15 points, 3.2 rebounds and 4.6 assists. The Etiwanda, California, native started all but one of his 128 career games at the University of Southern California, and, as a senior, he recorded a USC single-season record of 281 assists, more than any other Pac-12 player and third in the entire NCAA.

Newman-Beck coached against McLaughlin last season, so he already knows how he’ll help the team.

“He is tough,” says the coach. “He sees the court well. He is high IQ, poised, and he is a really good finisher.”

What local players could be on the team?

Former ISU guard Lindell Wigginton, 21, was working to make the Minnesota Timberwolves roster as of CITYVIEW’s press deadline, but due to the team’s deep roster, many experts believe he could end up in Iowa. The 6-foot 2-inch guard averaged more than 15 points a game to go with nearly 4 rebounds and 2.5 assists in two seasons for the Clones. Wigginton earned Big 12 Sixth Man of the Year honors, and he was also named to the Big 12 All-Tournament Team.

What style will the Wolves play?

Which players will take the court may still be up in the air, but the coach knows how he wants his team to play.

“We are going to be an up-tempo, fast-paced team that lends itself to creating easy offense, maximizing our best players and maximizing our role players, ” he says. “Our goal offensively will be to get great shots and to make it easy for guys to fit into our offense and for guys to improve their skill sets. I think it will be fun to see.”

After last season’s disappointing finish — 20 wins compared to 30 losses — the Iowa franchise
underwent coaching regime change from top to bottom. The turnover probably had more to do with the Minnesota organization overhauling its front office and installing a new head coach, 33-year-old Ryan Saunders, and a new president of basketball operations, Gersson Rosas; Tom Thibodeau formerly held both positions.

Newman-Beck was hired to install a system that syncs to coach Saunders’ in Minnesota. That way, if/when talent or draft picks come to Iowa, they will learn the big league club’s system and style. The coach has been working directly with Minnesota’s coaching staff during the offseason.

“If you live in Des Moines and you want to get a feel for what the Timberwolves are doing in
Minnesota, you are going to get that in Des Moines,” he says. “We’re going to have real synchronicity, which I don’t think we had before in Des Moines. You’re going to get a feel for a team that will play the right way. … I really like what Ryan is doing in Minnesota. It is going to be different for fans, and we’re going to do our best to mirror that.”

Having said that, the coach adds that the organization still wants him to have the freedom to
experiment. The Iowa team will at times serve as an on-court basketball laboratory for the Timberwolves, trying out new things and things that haven’t been done before.

“There may be things that Ryan wants to do during the season that he says, ‘Sam, I want you
to try this in Des Moines and see how it goes,’ ” says the coach. “Essentially, I’m an extension of the Timberwolves coaching staff.”

The best basketball team in the state…bar none

Proximity to this kind of talent at this price point is unheard of, according to Ryan Grant, president
of the Iowa Wolves. Fans sit roughly 10 feet from pro-caliber athletes. These are large human beings who can drain buzzer beaters from long distance. Grant also says that, while the University of Iowa, Iowa State, UNI and Drake all suit up fine Division I basketball teams, if you ask him, the Wolves are the best basketball team in the state. Bar none.

“Our roster is built of all-conference (college) players from all over the country,” he says.

Along with a complete overhaul of the Minnesota Timberwolves’ front office during the offseason, a new philosophy has emerged as to how to best use the Iowa affiliate. Grant says Minnesota’s new leaders plan to better use Iowa as a place to develop players. Formerly, the Timberwolves had a veteran-laden squad, and developing youth wasn’t a focus.

“We’re excited about the changeover,” says Grant. “We’re communicating a little bit more often from the basketball side, which is good, so I think that it’s going to be interesting to see how the coaching staff decides to utilize our team from a development perspective. We’re now really a part
of a team.”

But a Wolves game is not just about the basketball.

“The NBA lifestyle is about fashion and music,” he says. “That’s what’s so cool about our games. It iship music, and it’s constantly going for the entertainment value.”

Grant says the average fan loves it.

“I think our fan experience is one of the best out there,” he says. “It’s built around the proximity and access. When you think about the level of NBA player that’s coming into our arena night in night out, the accessibility to them is unheard of.

“It’s the best basketball in Iowa,” Grant says. “We’re ready to go!”

The first Iowa Wolves Hoops and Hops event is scheduled for Wednesday, Nov. 20. Fans enjoy watching NBA-caliber talent while sitting courtside and sipping select craft beer. Photo submitted

What is Hoops and Hops?

“I love craft beer, and I love basketball,” says Kyle Davy, vice president of business development for the Iowa Wolves, which makes him the perfect person to oversee Hoops and Hops.

“We work with a handful of breweries and host a series of craft beer festivals at courtside at Wolves’ games throughout the season,” he says. “Each night, we’ll feature anywhere from one brewery to up to three. It’s a special ticket package that fans can get.”

The events generally attract between 75-200 people, according to Davy, including a mix of craft beer lovers, basketball fans, people looking for a happy hour substitute, or all of the above.

The event often focuses on Iowa breweries, serving options within a roped off area at courtside. People can hunker down and enjoy the on-court action or mill about and socialize with other craft brew lovers.

“You don’t have to be a basketball fan,” Davy assures.

The complete schedule is still in the making, but Davy says there will be at least five events, including Nov. 20, Dec. 13, Dec. 27 and March 21. Tickets start at $40 per game and include a courtside ticket.

“You not only get to sit courtside at our game, but it comes with a commemorative glass, and you also get four pints of beer,” he says. “We do appetizers and snacks down there, we’re raffling off prizes from the breweries, and the brewers are there to talk about their beer.”

The first is scheduled for Wednesday, Nov. 20.

“Basketball and beer,” smiles Davy. “Nothing could be better.”

Pro wrestling arrives with Hall-Of-Famer Kurt Angle

Wrestlers and basketballers are akin to cats and dogs at high schools across Iowa. But the two go together like peanut butter and jelly at Wells Fargo Arena.

Pro wrestling arrives Feb. 1 along with Hall-of-Famer Kurt Angle making an appearance, one of the
most successful WWE superstars of all time. Angle originally achieved national prominence by winning a gold medal at the 1996 Olympics. 3X Wrestling matches will also take place.

Hooping like it’s 2011 while taking home Nick Nurse bobble heads

Power Forward Hakim Warrick is a former NBA first round draft pick. The 6-foot 9-inch 220-pound power forward averaged more than 12 points per game for Iowa last season, but won’t be back with the team for this season. Photo submitted

After reading CITYVIEW’s November 2016 season preview of the Iowa Energy — now known as the Iowa Wolves — a CITYVIEW reader noted online that former Energy coach Nick Nurse is a native of Carroll as well as a former standout hoopster at UNI and that he had won an NBA developmental league championship as head coach of the Energy.

“…Give him (Nurse) a couple more years, and he will be a great candidate for an NBA head coach,” added Dave Adkins on Nov. 16, 2016. “I’d bet on it.”

Hopefully he did bet on it, as Adkins nailed his prediction. Before the start of the NBA’s 2018-19 season, the Toronto Raptors hired Nurse to steer the ship, and he led them all the way to an NBA
title while becoming the first head coach to lead both an NBA team and a G League franchise to a championship.

Fans can enjoy an Iowa Energy throwback night — Friday, Nov. 15, at 7 p.m. On the court, the Wolves take on the Agua Caliente Clippers while wearing purple Iowa Energy jerseys.

A special appearance by former Energy coaches is also on the docket, including Nick Nurse himself. The first 1,000 fans will receive a Nick Nurse bobble head, and the throwback jerseys will be auctioned off during the game.

NOTE: Helping the Raptors and Nurse last season was another former NBA G Leaguer, a standout player named Fred VanVleet. VanVleet went undrafted out of college, but after winning a minor league title in 2017 — averaging 22 points during the Raptors’ NBA G League Finals victory — the point guard impressed NBA eyes around the league last season, averaging 11 points and nearly 5 assists off the bench during the regular season. VanVleet went on to nail frequent big shots against the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals. ♦

G LEAGUE TRIVIA

Some of the NBA names to have played G League hoops include: guard Eric Bledsoe, center Rudy
Gobert, guard Reggie Jackson, center Clint Capela, guard Danny Green, guard Gerald Green,
guard Jeremy Lin, center Hassan Whiteside, forward/center Chris “Birdman” Anderson, center
Marcin Gortat, guard J.J. Barea, guard Shaun Livingston, guard C.J. Watson, guard Rafer Alston.

The G League originated as the NBA Development League beginning with the 2001-02 season. This will be its 19th season overall and its second as the NBA G League.

At the end of last season, more than half (52 percent) of the players on NBA end-of-season rosters had at least some NBA G League experience. This number includes both players who were
assigned from the NBA to the G League and players who were called up from the G League to the NBA at some point in their careers. (Source: gleague.nba.com) ♦

IOWA WOLVES HOME GAME SCHEDULE

The Iowa Wolves 2019-20 season home schedule includes 24 games at Wells Fargo Arena. The team plays in the NBA G League and is an affiliate of the NBA’s Minnesota Timberwolves. For more information, visit https://iowa.gleague.nba.com.
Nov. 8 — vs. Sioux Falls (7 p.m.)
Nov. 13 — vs. Salt Lake City (7 p.m.)
Nov. 15 — vs. Agua Caliente (7 p.m.)
Nov. 16 — vs. Texas (7 p.m.)
Nov. 20 — vs. South Bay (7 p.m.)
Nov. 22 — vs. Austin (7 p.m.)
Dec. 2 — vs. Oklahoma City (7 p.m.)
Dec. 13 — vs. Maine (7 p.m.)
Dec. 14 — vs. Sioux Falls (7 p.m.)
Dec. 17 — vs. Oklahoma City (7 p.m.)
Dec. 27 — vs. Rio Grande Valley (7 p.m.)
Dec. 29 — vs. Rio Grande Valley (7 p.m.)
Jan. 1 — vs. Northern Arizona (7 p.m.)
Jan. 4 — vs. Memphis (7 p.m.)
Jan. 6 — vs. Memphis (7 p.m.)
Jan. 15 — vs. Santa Cruz (7 p.m.)
Feb. 1 — vs. Agua Caliente (7 p.m.)
Feb. 4 — vs. Westchester (7 p.m.)
Feb. 10 — vs. Stockton (7 p.m.)
Feb. 23 — vs. South Bay (7 p.m.)
March 8 — vs. Santa Cruz (7 p.m.)
March 21 — vs. Texas (7 p.m.)
March 23 — vs. Austin (7 p.m.)
March 25 — vs. Stockton (7 p.m.)
NOTE: The NBA G League Showcase will announce two additional 2019-20 regular season games at a later date. All dates and times are subject to change. ♦

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