Sportress of Blogitude

Ryan Saunders opened coaching debut with late dad Flip’s favorite play

Ryan Saunders made his head coaching debut with the Minnesota Timberwolves Tuesday night with a thrilling 119-117 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder. How he opened up the game with a tribute to his late father, Flip, was particularly fantastic.

While running his first practice Monday following Tom Thibodeau’s shocking dismissal Sunday, the 32-year-old Saunders installed one of his dad’s favorite plays, called 5-52 Twist. He decided to run it during the first offensive set of Tuesday’s game.

The play worked, with Andrew Wiggins scoring the first of his 40 points in the victory.

“I only told my mother before the game, I had an idea we might be able to get something off of it,” Saunders said after the game, “but I didn’t know if it was necessarily going to work out but I said, just in an ode to him, I’d feel good about myself if I ran his favorite play (in) the first play of the game.”

It was a great start to an evening filled with moments that evoked a lot of Flip-related memories and remembrances.

“The way Ryan Saunders, wearing a Flip pin on his lapel, held his notes, clutched in a roll, in his hand,” wrote the Star Tribune’s Kent Youngblood. “The way he squatted down. The way he encouraged players on the court and congratulated them coming off. The tug of the neck.”

Flip Saunders of course is a beloved, iconic figure in Timberwolves lore. He passed away at the age of 60 in October 2015 after a battle with Hodgkin lymphoma. At the time of his diagnosis, Saunders was serving as the Timberwolves president of basketball operations as well as head coach in his second stint with the organization.

Ryan Saunders served on his father’s staff as an assistant and remained with the team afterward, up to and including Thibodeau joining the organization.

To say his head coaching debut could not have been more fitting tribute to his dad would be an understatement.