Iowa Wolves begin play on Nov. 2 at Wells Fargo Arena.
Coming soon to a theater near you — Wells Fargo Arena — is Iowa’s most talented group of roundballers. The Iowa Wolves are shooting to have basketball fans howling with excitement this season while offering premium on-court action, halftime extravaganzas and other exciting arena attractions.
NOTE: The G League is the NBA’s official minor league. It prepares players, coaches, officials, trainers and front-office staff to compete at the highest level. The G League’s 27 teams each have a one-to-one affiliation with an NBA
franchise. Iowa’s franchise serves the Minnesota Timberwolves.
The pack begins this season’s assault on the NBA G League during its premier week, Nov. 2, 3 and 6. The five-day stretch features three home games chock-full of NBA-caliber talent. The Salt Lake City Stars visit on opening night, and the matchup will most likely pit Naz Mitrou-Long, a former Iowa State Cyclone star, against the Wolves.
Onlookers at the Well should prepare for a whole lot of high-end hoops played above the rim, according to a man who knows about such things, the Wolves’ Ryan Grant, president of business operations. CITYVIEW sat down with Grant, the man orchestrating the action from behind the scenes, to give fans a preview of the upcoming season and opening weekend.
Ryan Grant — President of Business Operations
Last season was a successful transition into a new brand for both the G League — formerly the D-League — and the Wolves, formerly the Iowa Energy. Grant says he wasn’t sure what to expect in year No. 1, but he likes how it turned out. The team had a veteran staff to implement the new team brand, the Wolves won their first home game, averaged more than 3,500 fans per contest, and the team finished just under .500 (24-26). All of this has him looking forward to the upcoming November tip off.
“Think of it as a movie premier,” Grant says of opening night and opening weekend. “You don’t want to miss it. It’s the opening of our season and of our movie.”
The best films need not rely on glitz, glam and hocus pocus to propel the action at the box office. Grant says his home opener will be no different. There will be no posh red carpets intended to honor movie stars and celebrities, but there will be world-class basketball.
For the Wolves’ upcoming season, the mantra is “one pack, all in,” according to Grant. The roster is loaded with talent, and, hopefully, that will keep fans smiling. Offering high-energy entertainment in a family-friendly atmosphere is Grant’s goal.
Central Iowa offers an abundance options for having fun, and he wants the Wolves experience to rate highly.
“I just want to make sure the experience is good,” he says. “We’re trying to make our premium experience the best in Des Moines.”
Most fans are seated close to the court and witness extreme athleticism not otherwise available in Iowa. “This is the highest level of basketball (in the state),” he says.
The team must be doing something right. According to Grant, 90 percent of last year’s season ticket holders have already renewed.
For non-season ticket holders, Grant suggests catching one of the opening three games. And if you can’t make the premier weekend? What is one other home game Grant wouldn’t want to miss?
Grant pauses to give the question consideration before stating that, with all the entertainment, first-class amenities and on-going in-season delights, any game is a good one in his eyes, but if he could only attend one other game other than opening night, he suggests that you keep an eye on the G League rosters of upcoming opponents to see which future NBA stars will be on hand, and then you can select according to your preference.
Other reasons to go to G League games…
While Grant prefers to build the fan experience around the action on the court, he says the team is planning a variety of fun promotions as well. Involving local performers from the community and granting them access to a
larger stage is one way the team entertains fans when they aren’t fixated on the court. One example is the team’s high school hoops series. Local high school kids take the court to compete in regular season games. The kids benefit from testing their mettle under brighter lights, and they also get a chance to test out the state championship venue, Wells Fargo Arena. If their team makes it to the big dance, the experience is a bit of an advantage because they will be familiar with their surroundings.
Wrestling night is another example.
“We’ll be bringing back wrestling night,” says Grant. “It was really popular. They really drew a crowd a couple of years ago.”
Musicians also are afforded the opportunity to bask in the spotlight, and the team is planning a faith and family concert as well as a country music concert to enhance the fan experience at games.
The Wolves also feature a team mascot — named Alpha — a dance team, food and drink deals and other reasons to attend, Grant says to watch for the soon-to-be released promotional schedule.
This isn’t the NBA, but it is the next best thing in terms of talent. Starring on the court will be C.J. Williams. The newly acquired 6-foot-5-inch shooting guard signed a two-way contract this offseason.
NOTE: NBA rosters allow for up to two players to be signed to “two-way contracts.” These players generally spend
the bulk of their time playing for the organization’s G League team, but they are also allowed to spend up to 45 days with their NBA team. The team’s other two-way player is guard Jared Terrell.
Two-way contract players usually log significant G League minutes. Williams could become a favorite amongst the Iowa faithful. As a senior in 2012, Williams led North Carolina State to the Sweet 16. After turning pro, the former Wolfpack player has continually improved. Last season, Williams broke through to the NBA, and as a rookie with
the Los Angeles Clippers, he played in parts of 38 games — starting 17. He averaged 5.5 points, 1.5 rebounds and 0.8 steals in 18.6 minutes per game, proving he can play at the highest level.
In G league action last season, Williams played 16 games for the Agua Caliente Clippers, averaging 16.5 points per contest, including a stellar performance against Iowa.
“C.J. blew us up last year when we played him,” says Grant.
Last April, Williams was awarded the 2017-18 NBA G League Jason Collier Sportsmanship Award for his character
and conduct on and off the court.
Scott Roth, head coach
Directing the Wolves talent from the sideline is Scott Roth. The long-time NBA assistant and player scout returns for his second year leading the pack. During his playing career, Roth suited up for the NBA T-Wolves. Upon retirement, he learned his coaching craft by serving under one of the best basketball minds of this generation, NBA coaching legend Don Nelson.
A wolfpack of howling fans
For three years, Pete Erickson has been checking out the basketball action at Wells Fargo Arena as a season ticket holder. Erickson was on hand as the Iowa franchise — then known as the Energy — won the D-League title. He also witnessed the retirement of Curtis Stinson’s jersey in 2017. Stinson played eight seasons in the NBA D-League; his final six were with Iowa.
The central Iowa entertainment scene has much to offer, but Erickson and a group of 14 mostly millennial-aged fans make the Wolves a priority, and they’ll be attending the pack’s games again this season.
“It’s something fun to do,” he says. “Why not go checkout some pro-level basketball and see some rising stars?”
The group sticks together off the court with its own Facebook group, and they coordinate get-togethers for before and after games. Erickson and Co. sit courtside at Wolves games.
“We are the first seats they sell behind the ice rink divider,” he says. The group sits just off of the floor, row B, and almost dead center on the half court line. The group’s seats are up close to the action.
Erickson says he didn’t have much of an NBA fan affiliation with a specific team, but after being an Iowa Wolves fan, he is turning into a T-wolves fan.
“I now have a reason to follow an NBA team,” he says.
Wells Fargo Arena
NBA G League teams play a 50-game schedule with 24 home games and an all-league showcase that will be held in Las Vegas this year. The Wolves play home games at Wells Fargo Arena — 730 Third St., Des Moines. The G League is the NBA’s only official minor league. It bills itself as elite professional basketball at an affordable price in a fun, family-friendly atmosphere. The Wolves — formerly known as the Iowa Energy — are affiliated with the NBA’s Minnesota Timberwolves. The 2018-19 season begins on Friday, Nov. 2 at Wells Fargo Arena. For ticket information, contact the Wolves’ front office by calling 515-564-8550 or visit www.iawolves.com. ♦
GOOD MONEY IF YOU CAN GET IT
NBA G Leaguers playing under standard contracts earn a base salary of $7,000 per month or $35,000 for a full five-month regular season. If these players sign NBA contracts, G League pay is prorated for their time playing in the G League, and NBA pay is prorated by the number of days spent with their NBA team.
For G Leaguers who play under NBA two-way contracts, the pay is $77,250 per season, and that amount is prorated in the event a player is moved up to the NBA franchise. Two-way players can earn a maximum of $385,000.
Additional monetary bonuses can be earned, including the following:
• 25 percent of those playing under G League contracts averaged an additional $44,000 in NBA affiliate player bonuses last season.
• 50 players earned 60 NBA call-ups last season, earning a combined $11 million, or approximately $225,000 per player.
• Player bonuses are also paid to playoff teams and for those who win end-of-season performance awards. ♦
WHAT IS THE NBA G LEAGUE?
The NBA’s sole developmental league entered into a long-term partnership with Gatorade and changed its name from the NBA D-League. Also before last season, in a completely unrelated occurrence, the Iowa Wolves debuted at Wells Fargo Arena. The NBA Development League first tipped off in 2001. This will be the developmental league’s 18th season.
• Including the NBA G League Showcase, the G League regular season is 50 games.
• All G League players receive in-season housing, a travel day per diem allowances, continuing education opportunities, life skills development offerings and health insurance benefits.
• 53 percent of NBA players on end-of-season rosters had spent at least some time in the NBA G League at some point during their careers.
• Each of the NBA’s 30 rosters had at least six G League alumni on its end-of-season roster, and seven teams had 10 or more.
• At least 30 NBA G Leaguers have been called up to the NBA in each of the past seven seasons. ♦
MONEY. MONEY. MONEY.
More than a half-of-a-million high school hoopsters lace up high tops each year in America. Only about 1 in 100 will ever play Division I college basketball. And each June, the NBA selects 50 or so players from the collegiate ranks. Breaking into the NBA takes rare talent, but for those who beat the odds, the league’s average salary is more than $6 million per year, and its league minimum is $582,000. The odds of earning an NBA paycheck might be slim for the average Joe, but those odds change significantly for members of the Iowa Wolves. At the end of the 2017-2018 regular season, 265 players, more than half the players on NBA rosters — 53 percent — boasted NBA G League experience — an all-time high. ♦
NBA PHONE HOME?
When an NBA G League player gets signed by an NBA team, that is considered a call-up. More than 30 G League prospects received call-ups in each of the past seven seasons. A record of 101 NBA players were assigned to the NBA G League for development or rehabilitation last season, including 13 first-round 2017 NBA Draft picks. ♦
Iowa Wolves home games
Nov. 2 — vs. SLC (7 p.m.)
Nov. 3 — vs. SXF (7 p.m.)
Nov. 6 — vs. NAS (7 p.m.)
Nov. 18 — vs. TEX (4 p.m.)
Dec. 1 — vs. NAS (7 p.m.)
Dec. 2 — vs. MHU (6 p.m.)
Dec. 9 — vs. ACC (4 p.m.)
Dec. 13 — vs. STO (7 p.m.)
Dec. 27 — vs. SCW (7 p.m.)
Dec. 28 — vs. SCW (7 p.m.)
Dec. 30 — vs. SXF (4 p.m.)
Jan. 5 — vs. FWN (7 p.m.)
Jan. 6 — vs. OKL (6 p.m.)
Jan. 9 — vs. CTN (7 p.m.)
Jan. 13 — vs. GRD (4 p.m.)
Feb. 1 — vs. SBL (7 p.m.)
Feb. 2 — vs. MHU (7 p.m.)
Feb. 5 — vs. OKL (10:30 a.m.)
Feb. 7 — vs. ACC (7 p.m.)
Feb. 11 — vs. STO (7 p.m.)
Feb. 20 — vs. TEX (7 p.m.)
March 3 — vs. RGV (3 p.m.)
March 13 — vs. AUS (7 p.m.)
March 16 — vs. WIS (7 p.m.) ♦