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Timberwolves welcome Terrence Shannon Jr. after his trying final year at Illinois

Illinois guard Terrence Shannon Jr. (0) plays against Duquesne in the NCAA Tournament, Saturday, March 23, 2024, in Omaha, Neb.

MINNEAPOLIS — Terrence Shannon Jr.’s journey to the NBA was longer than that of most first-rounders, including a trying last year in college with an off-the-court challenge that cast doubt over his professional prospects.

Shannon landed with the Minnesota Timberwolves in a place that sure looks like an ideal fit.

The Timberwolves took Shannon out of Illinois with the 27th overall draft pick, their original selection, in the first round last week after making a trade with San Antonio to obtain the eighth overall pick for the rights to Rob Dillingham from Kentucky.

Shannon was found not guilty last month on a rape charge after a jury in Kansas spent less than two hours deliberating. He’d been accused of sexually assaulting a woman in a bar last year while on a road trip to attend a football game, leading to a suspension by the school that eventually was halted by a federal judge’s ruling that his civil rights had been violated. Shannon testified at the trial he’d never seen the woman. His lawyers called the case a “blind accusation.”

The seriousness of the situation loomed over Shannon and the Illini all season, but they rarely wavered. Shannon, who was an All-Big Ten first team and All-American third-team selection by The Associated Press, was voted the Most Outstanding Player of the Big Ten Tournament after a three-day thrill ride at Target Center gave the Illini the title.

“It made me a better leader,” Shannon said Wednesday. “I just gravitated toward my team and my coaches more, my family.”

The two rookie guards were introduced at a news conference in the Target Center atrium on Wednesday, after they each threw out ceremonial first pitches on Tuesday night at the Twins game across the street.

When the accusation arose last December, Shannon for legal reasons stopped doing interviews despite being the star player of a top-15 team that reached the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament before getting blown out by eventual champion UConn. Two months ago at the NBA pre-draft combine, he finally broke his silence, though because the trial was looming he stopped short of discussing any subject beyond basketball.

“I feel like I’m a good kid. I make sure everybody’s good, and I just take care of everybody around me,” Shannon said then in Chicago.

The Timberwolves were adamant about the quality of Shannon’s character. President of basketball operations Tim Connelly said the team did “a ton” of due diligence and was nothing but encouraged about the person and the player it was getting.

“He was on the wrong end of a really unfortunate situation and his ability to play through that and play winning basketball for a great coach in Brad Underwood, we just think he brings toughness,” Connelly said.

On a team already established as a true championship contender that has all but one reserve — Kyle Anderson, who’s on his way to Golden State — coming back from the regular rotation, Dillingham and Shannon can learn from a stalwart like Mike Conley and watch a superstar like Anthony Edwards without being forced into too much action too soon.

“I wouldn’t think I’d go to a contender right off the bat,” Dillingham said. “I’m just happy that I’ve got to learn from so many vets on the team.”

After averaging 23 points per game and becoming one of the best two-way players in the country last season, Shannon at age 23 with five seasons of major conference experience — he started his college career at Texas Tech — ought to be as rotation-ready as any of the recent draft picks on Minnesota’s roster. Dillingham is just 19. Shannon is older than second-rounders from the previous two drafts, too: Jaylen Clark (22), Leonard Miller (20) and Josh Minott (21).

“There’s roles to be had,” coach Chris Finch said. “There’s roles to be earned.”

Picture of Associated Press

Associated Press

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