MINNEAPOLIS -- The Minnesota Timberwolves weren't going to find an immediate-impact player with the 26th pick in the NBA draft, so they went with a project.
Their next choice was an even bigger reach, though an admittedly sympathetic selection.
High-school forward Ndudi Ebi became Minnesota's first pick Thursday night, and the Timberwolves stayed within state boundaries for their second-rounder: University of Minnesota forward Rick Rickert.
Ebi, whose name is pronounced IN-dee EE-bee, is a 6-foot-9, 195-pound small forward with a smooth outside shot who was an excellent shot-blocker for Westbury Christian High School in Houston.
But he's 19.
"You hope he can play a little bit," said vice president Kevin McHale, who first spotted Ebi at the McDonald's All-America Game this spring and was impressed by the way he didn't shy away from No. 1 pick LeBron James as some of the others did.
"He didn't shut him down," McHale said, "but he got after it. He showed a lot of heart, no fear whatsoever."
Rickert left school after two seasons, and his lack of strength, quickness and defensive ability clearly kept most teams away. Second-round picks don't receive guaranteed contracts and face extremely difficult challenges in making a team's roster.
The Wolves, in fact, essentially admitted they only picked Rickert out of proximity.
"I wanted to give Rick a shot," said McHale, who grew up in Hibbing, not far from Rickert's hometown of Duluth.
"It was a little shocking," Rickert told the Star Tribune after the draft. "But what happens, happens. Now I have to make the best of the situation. I'm going to fight for my spot and work and give it everything I have."
He said that if he was going to slip to the second round, there's no team he'd rather play for than the Timberwolves.
"They know me and they know my game," Rickert said. "It's not the end of the world, but it's not what I would've been expecting."
Owner Glen Taylor pointed out that with only four selections left in the draft, just about every other player the Wolves could've taken would be available minutes later as a free agent.
Rickert -- like Timberwolves Rasho Nesterovic and Terrell Brandon -- is represented by agent Bill Duffy, a former college roommate of McHale's at Minnesota.
Saunders joked that strength coach Joe Sharp now would have the toughest job of anyone in the organization, an allusion to Rickert's thin 6-foot-11 frame.
"This can go one of two ways," Saunders said. "You either put your head down and pout and blame other people, or you can roll your sleeves up and go to work."
Rickert appears too slow to play on the perimeter, so he'll have to improve enough defensively to play power forward.
He wouldn't have been discussed as an NBA draft pick, though, if he didn't have some strengths. Rickert possesses impressive shooting touch and range for someone so tall.
"There are things he can do. It's not like he can't play," said Saunders, who indicated Rickert might've fallen because prospective draftees don't get much of a chance to play 5-on-5 in workouts around the league and therefore aren't able to show some of their skills in team situations.
The Timberwolves, like just about every other team, fan or analyst, said Rickert should've stayed in school for at least another season to develop.
"These kids should all stay in college," McHale said.
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