MINNEAPOLIS — On a recent walk through downtown Minneapolis, it took Bobby Jackson a while to collect his bearings.
The last time he strolled through these streets regularly, there was no Target Field. No food trucks lining Marquette Avenue. No light rail connecting the Warehouse District to Bloomington.
Now 40 years old, a little heavier and admittedly much more mature than when he left the Twin Cities in 2000, the Timberwolves’ new player development coach says he’s changed just as much as the metropolitan area he once captivated.
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“I was kind of a hothead,” Jackson said of his attitude while playing for the University of Minnesota and later the Timberwolves more than a decade ago.
Announced Monday as the replacement for elevated assistant David Adelman, Jackson has come a long way since he led the Golden Gophers to a later-forfeited Final Four appearance and earned his stripes as an NBA reserve for two seasons in Minneapolis. Once recalcitrant when it came to embracing guidance as a player, he now spends his work days and nights soaking up every bit of information and advice he can in hopes of bettering himself as a coach.
It’s why he spent the past four seasons on the Sacramento Kings’ staff, and it’s why he returns to Minnesota to reunite with two others that mentored him along the way.
“I have to say that I’m taking advice from the other guys and learning from the guys,” said Jackson, who was hired recently but introduced officially Monday. “Trying to get that knowledge is very huge for what I’m trying to do in the future.”
Given his past experience, Jackson feels he’s come to the right place to absorb more.
Once an electric, 6-foot-1, 186-pound guard, Jackson played for Timberwolves president of basketball operations Flip Saunders and current coach Rick Adelman — David’s father — during the early stages of his 12-season NBA tenure.
Reunions with both of them, he said, became one of the biggest draws to leaving his wife and five children in California and coming back to the Land of 10,000 Lakes.
“Bobby has the respect of players around our league and did a great job working with the young Kings players this past season,” Saunders said in a statement. “Both Rick Adelman and I are very familiar with Bobby and are excited to have him on our coaching staff.”
Saunders whipped Jackson into less raw form. Adelman molded him into an off-the-bench sparkplug.
After spending his rookie season in Denver, Jackson played for Saunders in Minnesota from 1998-2000. He was still adjusting to the professional game at that point and averaged just 16 minutes per game those two years.
But he did learn what not to do. To this day, no NBA coach has ever been tougher on him, Jackson said.
“If I made a mistake,” Jackson said, “he would let me know about it.”
Following the 2000 season, Jackson signed a free-agent deal with the Kings. In five seasons in Sacramento — all under Adelman — Jackson averaged double figures in scoring while excelling as the Kings’ top substitute. In 2002-03, he notched career highs in points per game (15.2) and field-goal percentage (46.4) en route to NBA sixth man of the year accolades.
Adelman and his staff at the time deserve a ton of credit, Jackson said.
“They gave me the opportunity to be the player that I was capable of being,” Jackson said. “I was an energy guy offensively and defensively. I changed the game whenever I came in the game. If you can play defense for Rick — like I’ve stressed to the younger guys (in Minnesota now) — that’s what really started our relationship, because I played defense and I changed the game when I got on the court.
“I didn’t try to step outside my lane.”
Jackson went on to spend one year in Memphis, a year-and-a-half in New Orleans and half a season in Houston before rejoining Sacramento in 2008-09, then hanging up his game sneakers. He remained there for four seasons, working one as a team ambassador, one as a regional scout and player development coach and the past two in an assistant capacity.
The Kings bid adieu to coach Keith Smart and the rest of his staff this offseason but planned to carve out a position to keep Jackson around.
It wasn’t the one he wanted, though, and Minnesota presented him a “better opportunity.”
“I wanted to coach,” Jackson said. “(Sacramento) didn’t give me an opportunity to coach.”
The Timberwolves did, and even among the uncertainty of Rick Adelman’s future, Jackson jumped at the chance when Saunders contacted him about two months ago.
Adelman’s wife Mary Kay suffers from seizures. Saunders fully expects him to coach this season, and after several discussions with Adelman himself this summer, Jackson said he does, too.
But he didn’t sound nearly as sure about the staff’s long-term structure.
“I have no clue,” Jackson said. “Rick is a private guy, so he’s not gonna tell anybody what he’s going to do. The opportunity for me to come out and coach and to be able to coach under and work under him and learn from him, even if it’s for one year, it’s huge for me.”
Big enough for Jackson to move away from his wife, son and four daughters during basketball season. His children range in age from 4-19, and the family felt better keeping them in the same school and community they’ve inhabited since 2000.
Kendrick Jackson, 17, is a junior at Granite Bay High School near Sacramento and has a couple major-college scholarship offers, Bobby Jackson said.
“They love the sunny weather,” Jackson said with a grin. “The only one of them that wants to move is my 4-year-old, so it’s like, ‘You on your own, dad.'”
However, starting with Adelman and Saunders, Jackson has enough familiar faces around to feel like he’s somewhat at home.
Longer-tenured local sports aficionados remember his long, white tube socks, stellar senior season that earned him Big Ten player of the year honors, 36 points in a double-overtime NCAA tourney victory over Clemson and the University of Minnesota’s run to the 1997 Final Four.
But they also recall his involvement in one of the most expansive cases of fraud in NCAA history. Two years after Jackson left for the pros, it was found he and as many as 20 other Gophers players had academic coursework completed by a former academic counseling office manager.
He was stripped of his individual awards, and Minnesota vacated all wins from the 1993-94 campaign through 1998-99.
Jackson has long since apologized for cheating and said if given the chance again, he wouldn’t have done so. It became one of the first of many learning experiences for a guy who’s learned to relish them.
Yet another — though of much less gravity — came Sunday.
After three days of putting rookie draft picks Shabazz Muhammad, Gorgui Dieng, Lorenzo Brown and free-agent re-signee Chase Budinger through extraneous dual-practice sessions, Rick Adelman told him to ease off a bit.
“I’m a workout monster,” Jackson said. “I go hard, so (Adelman) called yesterday saying, ‘Hey, you’re working the guys too hard. I want them to have some legs before training camp.’ So I had to cut the workouts to one instead of two.”