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Utah Jazz: Al Jefferson excited to face old team

Published: Tuesday, Dec. 21 2010 11:17 p.m. MST

Utah Jazz center Al Jefferson and Orlando's Dwight Howard wait for the ball to drop.

Mike Terry, Deseret News

MINNEAPOLIS — Al Jefferson had more pep in his step than a bailed-out prisoner when he was traded from Minnesota to Utah this past summer.

But his giddiness to get out of that town isn't why Big Al expected a chilly reception in his return to the Twin Cities with the Utah Jazz.

Truth be told, Jefferson has no idea how Timberwolves' fans will welcome him back tonight when he and the Jazz visit the Target Center.

"I don't know. I know I'm not going to get like a LeBron James (reception)," Jefferson said. "I'm curious to see how it's going to go. I was traded; I didn't leave. The fans always was good to me and I was good to them, so I think it's going to be OK. I don't think it's going to be that bad."

Jefferson does know what Mother Nature has in store for his return, including low temps in the teens — a point Jefferson jokingly made when the topic of his first visit to his old stomping grounds was broached at practice in Cleveland on Tuesday.

"It's going to be cold going back," he said. "I've got my big jacket."

Even without cozy winter wear, Jefferson maintains warm feelings for Minnesota, where he played three seasons before joining the Jazz.

He didn't love being on a perennial losing team, even if the Timberwolves were occasionally pesky (especially, it seemed, against the Jazz).

Nevertheless, the manner in which the Minnesota organization and the community treated him after he made the biggest mistake of his life remains fresh on Jefferson's heart.

On Feb. 28 of this year, Jefferson was busted for drinking and driving. He regretted it, publicly held himself accountable for his actions and apologized profusely, and made amends through hours of public service and a two-game suspension.

Jefferson learned a lot from that lesson, including how to treat others going through trials.

Minnesota taught the Mississippi transplant that.

And he deeply appreciates that the community — from the team to fans — forgivingly embraced him instead of ostracizing him for his admitted lapse of judgment.

Jefferson was touched during his tribulation.

"It showed when somebody is going through some real tough times instead of turning their back on me they supported me and helped me through it," Jefferson said. "That's one of the things that will always stick with me."

That's not the only thing that impressed him about the weather-hearty folk up Vikingland. Jefferson spoke highly of the Minnesota fan base, which has stuck with the T-Wolves through mostly thin and really thin times.

There were some good seasons, especially with Kevin Garnett, but the franchise went a miserable 61-185 while Jefferson was there.

"We didn't win a lot of games, but they supported us," Jefferson said. "They supported us night in, night out."

Jefferson also bonded with people in the organization. He specifically mentioned two guys: former general manager Kevin McHale, who's now a TV analyst, and perhaps the worst dancer in NBA history, Mark Madsen.

Regarding McHale, who brought Big Al to Minnesota from the Boston Celtics in the Garnett trade in 2007, Jefferson recalled: "We had some good times together when he was the GM and also a coach."

And while talking of his old teammates in general, Jefferson dropped this line about Madsen: "Mad Dog was a good fit and a guy that kept my head on right, so there's a lot of good memories there."

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