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MINNEAPOLIS – As he prepares for the next step in his basketball career, Jared Berggren knows that hard work can help him one day make his NBA dream come true.
How does he know? All he has to do is look at former Badgers center Greg Stiemsma as proof.
Undrafted after his four-year career with the Badgers ended in 2008, Stiemsma spent three years bouncing between the NBA Development League, playing overseas in South Korea and Turkey and having two stints on a NBA roster without playing in a game.
But after continuing to work on his craft, Stiemsma eventually got his NBA opportunity with the Boston Celtics in 2012, appearing in 19 playoff games that season, and was signed by the Minnesota Timberwolves prior to this past season, playing in 76 games with 19 starts.
Never averaging more than 3.5 points in any season at Wisconsin, Stiemsma’s journey has taught Berggren there is no cookie-cutter approach.
"There's a lot of different routes to the NBA," said Berggren. "You don't have to be a lottery pick or a first-rounder to make an impact in the league … (Greg) 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."
Berggren, a 6-10, 235-pound Princeton, Minn., native and former University of Wisconsin center, met with Stiemsma prior to his Tuesday workout with the Timberwolves, one of 12 players invited to his home-state team’s pre-draft workout.
“It was good,” Berggren said of the workout. “It was a lot of fun. A lot of good players in the gym here. Obviously a lot of important people watching, so it's good to get in front of them, hopefully make a good impression on people and overall I thought it went pretty well today.”
While Princeton High School never made it to the state tournament, Berggren remembers vividly sitting in the upper deck of the Target Center watching Kevin Garnett and the Timberwolves play when he was as young as seven, cultivating his dream of one day playing in that arena.
A Minnesota Mr. Basketball finalist and setting school career records for points (1,561), rebounds (823) and blocked shots (434), Berggren continued to pursue that NBA dream by playing at Wisconsin, where he slowly developed his career by battling through injuries and learning from the veterans in front of him.
He played in just 77 minutes his redshirt freshman year and 200 minutes as a sophomore, averaging 2.4 points and 1.1 rebounds his second year. By the time he was a senior, Berggren 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.
“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," Berggren said. “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."
Having spent the last month training in Chicago, Berggren sees himself as a skilled big man who can play inside or out, able to stretch the floor with his athleticism and someone who is going to work daily to make those around him better.
Those traits made Timberwolves president of basketball operations Flip Saunders called Berggren “unique” and say that Berggren is only going to get better as he goes through more workouts.
“What he can do is he can play the power forward spot and knock down 3s,” said Saunders. “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.”
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.
Calling the next month “crazy” with the amount of workouts and travel he’ll experience before the June 27 draft, Berggren doesn’t know what path he’ll have to take to get a NBA opportunity. Thanks to Stiemsma, however, Berggren knows the opportunity is there regardless of what happens.
“Whatever will happen going through these next few months, I'm just going take it day-by-day, make the best of it,” he said. “Just thank God for this opportunity every day and try to take advantage of it.”