Jared Berggren remembers sitting high atop the Target Center seats as a child, watching standout Kevin Garnett and the rest of the Minnesota Timberwolves with stars in his eyes. Berggren was years away from being big enough to compete at such a level, but he hoped to someday play on the same court as his idols like so many other kids.
On Tuesday, Berggren was back in the venue where his dreams began, trying to impress Timberwolves personnel and state his case as an NBA-caliber player during pre-draft workouts — a scenario even Berggren had to admit felt surreal.
“To make it in the NBA on any team would be a dream come true,” Berggren told reporters Tuesday. “It’s something I’ve been working for and dreaming about since I was a little kid, and now for it to be a possibility — especially if I can make it on the home team here — that would be a dream come true.”
Berggren, a 6-foot-10, 235-pound Princeton, Minn., native and former University of Wisconsin center, was one of 12 players invited to the Timberwolves’ pre-draft workout Tuesday. He is making the rounds to NBA cities across the country in the next month for individual evaluations that will help determine his professional basketball career arc.
The Minnesota workout was Berggren’s second with an NBA team during the lead-up to the NBA draft. He spent time at Brooklyn’s combine last week and told reporters he had workouts scheduled with Portland, Milwaukee, Atlanta and Orlando, among others, in the coming weeks.
Timberwolves president of basketball operations Flip Saunders described Berggren’s performance in Brooklyn as simply “OK” but noted Berggren would gain a better comfort level as pre-draft workouts continued.
“He’s a unique player,” Saunders said. “His whole thing he’s hoping is he’s a stretch four. What he can do is he can play the power forward spot and knock down 3s. That’s his formula to have an opportunity to make it into this league.
“I think one of the surprising things is he actually tested out pretty positive in a lot of the quickness drills and jumping drills as far as quickness.”
During his career at Wisconsin, Berggren developed into one of the better big men in the Big Ten. As a senior, he averaged 11.0 points, ranked sixth in the conference in rebounding (6.9), 15th in field goal percentage (.471), and first in blocked shots per game (2.1). He also set the program record for blocks in a career with 144.
But Berggren also understands what it means to work for his minutes. During his freshman season under coach Bo Ryan, he played a total of 77 minutes and averaged 1.1 points with 0.4 rebounds. His numbers improved only slightly as a sophomore (2.4 points, 1.1 rebounds).
“I bet I might’ve had some doubts at times,” Berggren said. “There was definitely frustrating times sitting on the bench when I felt like I could contribute in games and not getting minutes, but I stuck with it, never really hung my head or wanted to quit or transfer or anything like that. Those thoughts never crossed my mind. I was going to stick with it, kind of biding my time and waiting my turn. Keep putting in the time to when my opportunity did come I was going to be ready and give it 100 percent. That’s kind of where I’m at now, just continuing to build off that.”
Before Tuesday’s workout, Berggren met with former Badgers center Greg Stiemsma, who now plays for the Timberwolves. Stiemsma never averaged more than 3.5 points in any season at Wisconsin and played professionally overseas and in the NBA Developmental League before finding a home in Minnesota.
It is a journey that has taught Berggren to expect the unexpected.
“There’s a lot of different routes to the NBA,” Berggren said. “You don’t have to be a lottery pick or a first-rounder to make an impact in the league. Another good example of that, I think, is Greg Stiemsma. A guy playing for the Wolves now that also played at Wisconsin like myself who didn’t get drafted, didn’t get a lot of NBA looks coming out of college, but he stuck with it.
“He ended up taking a bit of an unconventional route, but he found his way now and he’s having some success in the league. I don’t know if that’s what it’s going to take for me. Whatever it takes, I’m going to stick with it and hopefully reach my goal of one day playing in the NBA, however I get there.”
NBA mock drafts almost universally do not list Berggren being selected in the June 27 draft. But Berggren’s performance during workouts such as Tuesday’s will go a long way toward determining his future, and he is grateful for the opportunity.
“The next month or so leading up to the draft is going to be a little crazy,” Berggren said. “You know, flying all over the place, getting a lot of workouts, spending a lot of time in the gym and hopefully making good impressions on teams.”
FOXSportsNorth.com’s Phil Ervin contributed to this story.