Stepp Sits Out Summer Opener

July 7, 2004

EDITOR'S NOTE: The following story was written by Mike Wells of the Pioneer Press and reprinted with permission.

Pioneer Press

Tuesday was supposed to be the first step in rookie Blake Stepp's journey to making the Timberwolves' opening-day roster as team's third point guard. He was supposed to show his basketball smarts to coach Flip Saunders and vice president of operations Kevin McHale, who were watching several rows behind the bench during the Wolves' 79-67 loss to Philadelphia in summer-league play at the Target Center.

But instead, Stepp, the 58th pick in last month's draft, sat on the bench in street clothes because of a bone bruise on his left ankle.

"I injured it about six weeks ago while working out in Chicago," he said. "I sprained it, and it turned into a bone bruise. I'll be back (today), it was just a day off."

In most instances, it would be all right to sit out with an injury. But there's a different set of rules for players without guaranteed contracts trying to make the roster.

"We understand injuries, but at the same time, if it's something you can play through without hurting it worse, it's better to play on it," Wolves summer league coach Don Zierdan said. "I told him the best way for a second-round pick to make a team is to play in the summer league and show he's ready to come to veterans camp. He'll play in the last four games, so he should be all right."

A roster spot is available if Stepp can get healthy enough to show the Wolves his value. Wolves officials have said they plan on keeping three point guards next season after watching starter Sam Cassell miss most of the Western Conference finals with hip and back injuries, and backup Troy Hudson only played in 29 games because of an ankle injury. And if Tuesday was any indication, Keith McLeod is going to make his push for that third point guard. McLeod, who played in 33 games with the Wolves last season, scored 19 points and had seven assists against the 76ers.

"I told our guys coming out we were in the Western Conference finals last year, and there's not going to be a lot of spots available," Zierdan said. "So if you want it, being out there showing the coaches you can play is the best way to do it."

When Stepp does get on the court, he isn't going to be the quickest player out there. He won't be the highest leaper, either. But what he does bring is intelligence and a lethal jump shot. He was a second-team All-American his senior season at Gonzaga, and he ended his collegiate career fourth on Gonzaga's all-time scoring list.

"I wouldn't consider myself quick compared to a lot of guys in the league, but I have the quickness to get it done," Stepp said. "I'm a player that takes what the defense gives me. I can shoot or I can drive. It's all about adjustments."

Stepp is considered a combo guard, because he can play the point or on the wing. He switched to primarily point guard during his last two years at Gonzaga.

"We like what we've seen of him in the limited time," Zierdan said. "He knows how to play the game, and you can tell he was coached well at Gonzaga."



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