Survey the Timberwolves locker room and their NCAA tournament allegiances for all of March’s ecstasy and agony have been split every which way, from Kentucky, Kansas and Duke to Louisville, UCLA, Michigan State and Arizona.
In the coaches’ room, however, top-seeded Villanova clearly was the favorite until the defending national champions’ second-round upset loss to Wisconsin on Saturday busted both brackets and hearts.
Assistant coach Ed Pinckney forever is a part of Villanova history, having starred on the 1985 team that stunned Patrick Ewing and mighty Georgetown in the Final Four title game and won the school its first NCAA championship.
Assistant coach Rick Brunson is the father of Wildcats star point guard Jalen Brunson, who this time last year became part of the only other Villanova team to win it all.
If there was an NBA arena television nearby this season on a night Villanova’s game was televised, you could be sure the figure underneath it staring up for the score and some of the action was Brunson.
He attended three games this season whenever the Wolves’ schedule allowed and watched the rest whenever and wherever he could, live or recorded.
“I don’t mind watching them on TV,” Brunson said. “I’ve got to watch.”
He watched with a combination of joy, angst and body language that leaves no doubt that the father is invested in his son’s game.
“Oh, I’ve seen him watch those games,” Pinckney said, laughing.
Brunson groomed his son almost all of Jalen’s life for moments like these, often obscuring the line between demanding coach and caring father. He raised Jalen the same loud, tough way famed Temple coach John Chaney raised him, a stubborn college kid who had grown up without a father present.
“Coach Chaney was the closest thing to my father,” Brunson said. “The things I learned through life and on the court, I tried to instill in my child. I was the type of kid who had to be broken down and built up the right way. Fortunately, I was able to build my son up from the day he was born.”
An NBA point guard who played for eight teams in nine seasons, Brunson trained his son for success in the college game. He did so by, among many other things, outfitting his son with a weighted vest for summertime conditioning runs and requiring Jalen to purify his left-handed shooting stroke by taping his right thumb to his palm.
Pinckney and Brunson both attended Villanova’s Final Four championship-game victory over North Carolina last April, neither knowing they’d end up back with coach Tom Thibodeau after they had been together on his Chicago coaching staffs.
Pinckney is immortalized on a 150-foot mural that commemorates the 1985 title team on Villanova’s campus in Philadelphia.
“That’s still the most noted thing on my résumé,” Pinckney said. “It’s always good to be remembered for something positive like that.”
Pinckney last year sat near 1985 coach Rollie Massimino and watched Villanova win it again 31 years later on a buzzer-beating three-pointer.
Pinckney celebrated that night with his coach. Brunson celebrated with his son.
He hoped to do so again until Wisconsin sent Villanova home Saturday for the season with a final 32-4 record.
“It was surreal,” Brunson said about last year’s unforgettable finish. “When I was in college, I got to the Elite Eight, but I never got a chance to go to the Final Four. To watch your own child who you’ve spent hours and hours with in the gym achieve a dream, a goal he has been trying to reach since high school, that’s something to remember.”
• Boston coach Brad Stevens left the college game nearly four years ago now, after leading his hometown Butler University team to consecutive NCAA Final Four championship games in 2010 and 2011. You can take the coach out of college, but you can’t take all of the college out of the coach.
“One of the things I always wanted to do was really appreciate those times,” he said. “With the opportunity to go through that and live those back-to-back Final Fours but also the multiple NCAA tournament wins and appearances, I feel like I lived a lifetime in just 13 years in the college game. I don’t reminisce too much about it, but I certainly appreciate the opportunities and more so the people I got to go through it with.”
• The Wolves’ only visit of the year to Boston and its Garden brought back memories for Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau, who both won a title there as an associate head coach to Doc Rivers in 2008 and also used to come from Connecticut to watch the Celtics in his younger days.
“When I went to school up here, they weren’t very good the first year and then when Bird and McHale got here, we couldn’t get near the place,” said Thibodeau, who played at nearby Salem State. “So we watched like everyone else. But it was great. You watched the games, you listened to [famed Celtics announcer] Johnny Most on the radio. The mid-’80s and the Celtics, that era was unbelievable. … There’s no other organization like this, and it’s special to be part of it. To win a championship with that group of guys, you join the other 16 championship teams. It was a special group.”
WOLVES’ WEEK AHEAD
Sunday: 5 p.m. at New Orleans
Tuesday: 8:30 p.m. vs. S. A.
Friday: 9:30 p.m. at L.A. Lakers
Saturday: 9 p.m. at Portland
Sun. FSN+; Tue. FSN/ESPN; Fri., Sat. FSN
Player to watch: DeMarcus Cousins, Pelicans
The Wolves get their first look at a Pelicans team with not one star big man but two: Anthony Davis and now Cousins, who are trying to jell in time for the playoffs.
“Yeah, that’s probably true.”
Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau when told last week in Boston that old-timers there remember him as a defense-optional player at Salem (Mass.) State long ago.
Twitter: @JerryZgoda, E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org, Blog: startribune.com/wolves