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In an era of specialization, Wainright has now successfully switched sports twice. The journey has taken him across the Atlantic and back, all in hopes of supporting his young family. He’s gone from playing alongside Bills quarterback Josh Allen to future Hall of Famer Chris Paul, two of the best passers in their respective sports. His return to basketball coincided with the game changing to the point that it fit his skill set better. “I don’t know that you can find another guy (with his career arc),” said Jerome Tang, the Kansas State coach who was an assistant when Wainright played at Baylor. “It just shows that there are many ways to get there, but the common denominator is perseverance and hard work.”
Wainright played sparingly with the Suns but earned a reputation as a cultural fit who left it all out there when he did play. At the end of last season, Wainright’s contract was converted to a standard NBA deal. This season, he’s back on a two-way deal with the Suns and has seen an uptick in his playing time as he continues to make his way into the rotation. “He reminds me of most of the guys who spent a lot of time in college,” Suns coach Monty Williams said. “They’re used to the grind, they’re used to tough film sessions and being coached. But then you add the football element. I’m sure there’s a different approach to it all. The football guys that I know, I’ve lived in the neighborhood of a few of them, you see them leave in the morning around 6 and they come home around 7. That’s a different day compared to most NBA guys. I’m sure that’s helped him understand how long days, tough film sessions, how they work.
Still, Murphy isn’t going to Salt Lake City just happy to be there. “I’m trying to win it,” he said. While he’s unlikely to be a favorite, Murphy believes he can rise to the occasion once he gets to experience the bright lights. “It’s a special night. You know it’s one of those nights when everybody is watching you,” Murphy said. “They’re expecting a show. I feel like, myself, I’m a showman, and I try to get the crowd excited. Get the crowd involved. And I’ll make sure I show myself in my best light.”
Porter has not dealt with an injury that has kept him out of the game since he suffered a bruised thigh last season that sidelined him for a significant amount of time. This time, his mindset was the same, as he did not think he would be out of the lineup for as long as he had. “No,” said Porter when asked if he thought his injury would sideline him for a substantial amount of time. “For any injury I have suffered, I felt like I could bounce back. My body is usually good at bouncing back. So, definitely, I thought I was going to be back faster.”
And he may have gotten a bead on Zemmel and her wing woman because, once upon a time, Frelix used to sneak into the Target Center too. Were it not for the benevolence of a longtime leader of security for the Wolves, Frelix may never have been in that position last April, which led to his hiring as a full-time security guard by the team last summer. “I thank God every day,” Frelix said. “As soon as I step in an arena at home or on the road, I look up and say, ‘Thank you, God.’” His play on the protestor earned the quiet, humble security guard interview requests from “Jimmy Kimmel Live” and dozens of other media outlets, all of which he turned down in the heat of the moment. His journey to that moment, the story of where he came from, is so much more than that split-second save.
Adams did end up plucking him from the Target Center staff to join the Timberwolves. He now travels to all of the games and was able to let go of his other jobs, giving him more time with his sons. He still volunteers for special education at Minneapolis Public Schools. “He told me he got the job, I felt like now I know somebody in the NBA,” Emory said of his friend. “He’s not playing, but I can say my buddy, my brother, works for the Timberwolves. That’s a blessing in itself.”