When the San Antonio Spurs' bus parked at Target Center Saturday morning for the team's pregame shootaround, the memories started flowing for Tre Jones.
He's been here, a lot.
The former Apple Valley star won two state high school titles in the arena. He saw countless Lynx and Timberwolves games, watching brother Tyus begin his NBA career on the team both grew up watching.
"There are a lot of emotions that come with walking into the building," Jones said hours before the Spurs faced the Timberwolves. "I remember walking in for our state tournament games, seeing everything when my brother was here, looking up at the banners the Lynx have put up. … This is one of my favorite arenas, because it's home."
The schedule-makers did Jones a favor, but COVID-19 not so much. Saturday was his 25th birthday, and what better place to celebrate it but his "home" arena? But the pandemic removed fans from the game, so on the night of his first pro game in Minnesota, the rookie from Duke faced none of the scrambling for tickets for friends and family that would usually occur.
"The stands, there are covering over all the seats, nothing's open,'' he said. "It's a super weird feeling. I definitely did not think this would be how my homecoming would be. But it's fun. Obviously I'll be looking forward to having fans in here [when he plays here in the future]. But it will have to be a different time. But I'm going to enjoy it, no matter what."
In another scheduling quirk, the Spurs opened the season Dec. 23 in Memphis, where Tyus Jones is now playing. Their mother, Debbie, was able to travel for that game, though she wasn't at the arena.
Tre Jones, taken in the second round of the NBA draft by the Spurs, has played sparingly, averaging 3.7 points and 3.3 minutes entering Saturday's game. But he said he was ready for it, having talked with his brother and Gary Trent Jr., another former teammate at Apple Valley and now with Portland.
"I knew that could be a possibility," Jones said. "Especially with how quick we hopped into things this year. We only had about a week of practice before preseason games started. So I'm just trying to learn everything as quickly as I can, but knowing it's going to be a different year than everyone is used to. I'm trying to be myself, continue to learn, be the best teammate I can and help this team win any way I can."
Still, it was nice to spend his birthday back home.
"It's crazy how the schedules were able to line up," he said. "To be able to open against my brother, to have my mom down there, be able to come back home on my birthday. I'm fortunate to be going through all of this."
• Wolves coach Ryan Saunders said forward Jarred Vanderbilt could play alongside centers Karl-Anthony Towns and Naz Reid in the future. "He's a fit there, too. It's no secret we need to be better with rim protection, rebounding the basketball. Jarred adds to that. He's made the most of his opportunities."
• Josh Okogie missed his sixth consecutive game because of a left hamstring sprain.