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Bleacher Report – Vikings

How basketball helped shape Adam Thielen’s NFL career

By Matthew Coller

It wasn’t long after Robb Flint took his first head coaching job that he discovered there was a lot of work to be done if Detroit Lakes high school was going to become a competitive program.

Flint had been a very good college basketball player himself, earning All-Conference honors and Team MVP at Concordia, but became a live-breathe-sleep basketball guy as a graduate assistant at Augustana.

His plan to get the Lakers going was to push them like a college coach.

“We weren’t very good,” Flint said. “I came in and tried to make the guys play to my system. I wasn’t very smart. I was pretty new.”

The Lakers started out 5-14 under their rookie coach.

But one night, the fortunes of Detroit Lakes basketball started to turn. Flint’s team traveled to Perham to face off with the 18-3 Yellowjackets.

“I wasn’t expecting much,” Flint remembered. “I just wanted our kids to play hard.”

That night Adam Thielen dropped 38 points on the jackets and the Lakers took home a huge upset.

”I knew he could score, but against a team that was good quality and the way Perham is coached, they could defend,” Flint said. “He shredded ‘em that night. We walked away like, ‘Wow, he’s special.’”

The Lakers won five games to finish the year.

“We got a little momentum going into the next year, it made sure that I didn’t get run out of town, thanks to him,” Flint said.

If you pan the Minnesota Vikings’ locker room, you will find all sorts of players who excelled in other sports. Defensive tackle Shamar Stephen was a state champion basketball player, Linval Joseph a state champ weight lifter, Stefon Diggs, Danielle Hunter and many others were sprinters.

What makes Thielen’s basketball story different is that he thought at age 17 that college basketball was going to be his future.

“Basketball is my favorite sport,” Thielen said Thursday. “I wanted to be a guard. I wanted to play in college.”

As the all-time leading scorer at Detroit Lakes and the only player under Flint to average more than 20 points per game, Thielen was convinced that if he could drop 38 on a good team, he could play against anybody.

“Maybe I was delusional, I don’t know, but I’m a confident guy,” Thielen said. “Whenever I’m playing a sport, I think I can be the best at it. I had that mindset in high school. I felt I could play at a high level. Obviously college coaches didn’t feel that way.”

Flint didn’t feel that way.

“I was thinking junior college basketball, maybe get a Division-II scholarship,” Flint said. “Coming from Division-II, I didn’t think he was there yet. A lot of D-III [schools] were on him and I thought that would have been a good option for him.”

Thielen instead chose Mankato because it was a higher level and they offered a scholarship. Of course, it was only $500 per semester, but still.

Flint was shocked when he found out that Thielen would be playing college football at Mankato.

“Football wise? I went to some football games, we didn’t throw the ball very much, so I had no idea he was going to be an NFL wide receiver,” Flint said.

The descriptions of Thielen’s physical game, knowing that he is currently one of the NFL’s top wide receivers and signed a contract with $11 million guaranteed, are now pretty hilarious.

“He wasn’t exceptionally quick,” Flint said. “He wasn’t a great leaper. He didn’t play above the rim, never had a dunk in high school. He wasn’t exceptionally athletic.”

But Flint added that many of the skills he sees on Sundays from his former pupil were there on the basketball court.

“He was smart and great ball skills,” Flint said. “He had great hands, a soft touch, he was a great golfer, those things that carry over to what he does now, you could see it. He wasn’t going to be the guy that dropped a pass or bobbled a rebound.”

Thielen still plays basketball, especially in the offseason, and shouted out former Viking Matt Asiata as an exceptional baller. He used to play with receiver Charles Johnson and still balls out with punt returner Marcus Sherles.

”I think it helped me get to where I am,” Thielen said. “Playing receiver, you have to have that background, in my opinion, because of your body control, how to move your body when the ball is in the air. I think it’s important to play in the offseason. I also think it helps with injury prevention, making those cuts and doing things you wouldn’t be doing in training.”

So let’s say that Thielen had worked as hard at basketball as he did football. Would he have ended up on the Minnesota Timberwolves?

”No I don’t think so at all,” Flint said. “I think he would have been successful if he had played basketball, grinded it out, played junior college for a couple years, get a scholarship. And he would have been happy with it because he’s that kind of guy, thankful for everything that comes his way. But thank goodness he didn’t go play college basketball.”

Thielen shrugs.

“Maybe not, but a lot of people said I wouldn’t be in the NFL too, so…” he said.

In March 2016, Flint stepped down as the Lakers’ coach to focus on his fight with skin cancer.

He finished his Detroit Lakes career as the all-time leader in winswith a 149-101 record, three sectional finals appearances and a section championship.

When he stepped down, Thielen reached out.

“I just said I was praying for him,” Thielen said. “I still keep in contact with him and see him around Detroit Lakes. I have a lot of respect for him. Tough to see him have to step down because I think he’s a really good basketball coach. That’s what we loves to do, so someday hopefully he will be back.”

He came in as a young, fresh, right-out-of-college coach and he was a lot of fun,” Thielen added. “He had a lot of enthusiasm, he knew the game extremely well.”

Flint’s cancer was removed and didn’t spread. This March will represent a major milestone. If he can make it two full years cancer free, then the chances of it returning drop significantly.

He teaches at Detroit Lakes elementary and officiates games in the winter to stay around the game, but said he hasn’t decided if/when he’s going to return.

“I have a daughter who is in first grade and another daughter who is three, so if I do come back it might be on the girls side, but that’s a ways down the road,” Flint said.

Around Detroit Lakes, the kids all wear Adam Thielen jerseys on the school’s “jersey day” and Flint sees Thielen’s parents from time to time. The town is proud of its most famous resident – though Flint may be the only one who still thinks of him as a basketball player, saying he was grateful for Thielen “laying the foundation” for his success at Detroit Lakes.

Thielen is grateful for his former coach’s approach, which helped him at the next level in Mankato.

“I learned a lot from him about how to be professional, how to play at the next level because he had been a Division-II college coach,” Thielen said. “He brought that mindset to high school.”

And as much as he loves the game, Thielen is also grateful he picked football.

The post How basketball helped shape Adam Thielen’s NFL career appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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