On the Air and On the Trail: The Man Behind the Microphone

MN Timberwolves & Lynx’s John Focke on Radio & Running

For Minnesota Timberwolves and Lynx fans, the name—and voice—of John Focke is fondly familiar. Currently serving as Executive Producer & Studio Host for the Timberwolves/Lynx radio network, Focke has been a voice of the organization for just over seven years.

Focke has always been passionate about basketball, knowing from an early age that he wanted to be a play-by-play announcer for the NBA. He remembers being eight or nine years old, watching the Pistons and Bulls compete in the Eastern Conference Finals, and one thing stood out to him – watching Marv Albert open the show and interact on television. Every big game, every highlight play, Marv was there. “I was young enough that you still think you could play in the NBA,” laughed Focke, “but that was the moment I remember thinking, ‘That is what I want to do.’”

At only 13 years old, Focke’s natural “on-air” voice was noticed. He tried his hand at acting when he auditioned for a Gatorade commercial. The acting part didn’t pan out – but when he was given the script, he read it like he heard TV and radio announcers speak. The talent agency affirmed his speaking skills, and the rest is history.

From that point on, Focke seized every opportunity he could – hosting high school events, announcing baseball games, and eventually majoring in video production at Ohio University. “Every chance I got, I was in front of a microphone.”

Focke nabbed an internship with KFAN in 2001-2002, and it was that position that finalized his career goal. Although previously considering a television sportscaster, he much preferred the challenge and on-air time of a radio personality.

“I [worked] on the PA Show or the PowerTrip when it first got started, and we had three hours of content we had to fill,” explained Focke. “That was way more enticing than spending all day for two minutes of television time.”

Focke landed his first job in Albert Lea, where he covered high school sports and gathered additional experience. Following that gig, he went to Northern Michigan University, where he covered play-by-play for the Division I hockey team.

It was from NMU that Focke moved directly into the Timberwolves & Lynx job in 2007. In addition to his duties as studio host for both the Wolves and Lynx, Focke serves as the radio play-by-play voice for the Lynx during road games. Fans will also recognize him as the voice of the popular “Wolves Minute” audio bits during the NBA season.

Alan Horton, Timberolves play-by-play announcer, weighed in: “[Focke]‘s been an integral part of everything we’ve done over the last 7 seasons. His ability to handle all the things that go on behind-the-scenes as well as focus on his studio hosting and play-by-play roles is what makes him so valuable, and he is a big reason why I think we have one of the best broadcasts in the NBA & WNBA.”

***

Most Timberwolves fans are well-acquainted with Focke’s colorful commentary and deep knowledge of basketball. What many may not know, however, is the man behind the microphone.

Meet John Focke, the runner.

And when I say runner, I mean runner. Not only has Focke competed in numerous marathons, but he is now an avid ultra runner. The standard definition of an “ultra run” is anything past the marathon, or 26.2 miles. However, the shortest standard distance that is considered an ultra is the 50 kilometer distance, or 31.07 miles. Ultra courses Focke has completed over the past couple years include the Voyageur 50, the Mount Hood 50-mile race in Oregon (twice!), a self-supported run around the Grand Canyon,[1] and the Patagonia 63K.

How did he get here? Eight years ago, Focke ran his first marathon.

And although he had always been an athlete, a lover of sports, it wasn’t until 2006 that Focke took up endurance running.

“I always said I could [run a marathon],” he said. “Even when there was no way I could even run a mile […] and then one day, I decided to do it.”

Focke planned to run the 2006 Twin Cities Marathon, but landing the job in Michigan changed those plans and extended his training period—something that, in hindsight, proved beneficial. “It was almost a blessing in disguise. I had never run like that before, and I didn’t know what I was doing.” Focke laughs now at his rudimentary attempt at preparing for the race, training inconsistently and eating loaves of crazy bread from Little Caesar’s on his way up to Duluth – “you know, carb loading.”

Focke ran Grandma’s Marathon with his brother Alex; according to John, the race went terribly. He said the following:

“We killed the first 18 miles. We were flying. And then the wheels came off. For both of us. We weren’t running together when they came off, but they came off [...] it was like nothing I’d ever experienced before. You can read all the books, read all the training stuff, but there’s no way you can actually wrap your mind around it.”

Whereas many people might have found the experience overwhelming and called it their first and last marathon, Focke had other ideas. “I made the decision that I could do it, and it was through the failure that caused me to wonder what I did wrong.” Determined, he continued to train and improve, all the while learning to enjoy the running experience as a whole. Focke enjoyed having an outlet to both exercise and enjoy time to himself after a busy work schedule that often began at 4 a.m. but allowed him a whole afternoon free.

“It’s fun,” he said. “It’s a break in the day. My job is listening to people talk and talking myself, so for me it’s time to put on music or just be silent and go out for an hour, two hours, three hours—and just be.”

Focke’s original motivation was to increase speed, get the numbers. “I thought I could run fast. I thought if I trained right I would be able to qualify for Boston [Marathon].” Soon, however, running  became less of a goal and more of a passion.

And although he enjoyed completing marathons, it was the trail running and ultra running that truly proved rewarding for Focke:

“I love the woods. I love running. Now I can do them both together,” he said. “It pushes that line even farther to see what you’re actually capable of. There’s a physical side to it; there’s a mental side to it. It becomes a lifestyle … an holistic thing.”

Focke Pic 2

Thus far, the Patagonia 63K—in which he competed in September 2013—proves one of the most memorable races for Focke. The international competition took place in Chile, and it was Focke’s first time out of the country. “The biggest challenge was that I didn’t speak Spanish,” he acknowledged. Focke traveled on his own, and he fortunately connected with three young runners who spoke English and were able to translate all of the details and race information for Focke prior to the run. He explained both the challenge and rewarding experience of preparing for the event:

“My alarm went off at 3:30 a.m., but we didn’t start running until 8:00. It was an hour-and-a-half drive, and because they were shutting down the road [for the race], the bus had to get us there two hours early. We get there – it’s dark, and we’ve already been up for several hours. We just had to sit and wait around, and it was freezing […]. But when the sun came up and we saw where we were, it was absolutely unbelievable.”

The Patagonia event is unique in that it is completely waste free. Typically in marathons or ultra runs, aid stations will be set up along the route to provide runners with cups of water. Because this area of Chile is known to be one of the windiest places in the world, however, the organizers of the event are intentional to keep the beautiful landscape and park free from trash.

The experience was certainly a new one for Focke, but one he found entirely rewarding. An excerpt from his blog reads, “the first 20K was relatively flat, and the views were breathtaking.  We headed out away from Lago Grey only to wrap around and see the mountain range that helped contribute to that glacial runoff; the snow-covered peaks seemed to just go on and on and on, no end in sight.”[2]

Focke Pic 3

For Focke, there is also no end in sight to running and the new challenges it brings with it. His next planned run is the Voyageur Half, a marathon that will take place in Duluth in July.

And after that?

“My goal is to run a 103-mile race up on the Superior Hiking Trail,” said Focke.

The task seems impossible to most people. But for an ultra-runner, it’s just another stop on the map.

 


 

[1] The Grand Canyon run was not a race, but Focke and two friends completed the “rim to rim to rim” trek as a self-supported run – meaning there were no aid stations, and they carried everything on their back.

[2] To read more about the Patagonia 63K and Focke’s other running adventures, follow his blog at http://talesfromthefoke.blogspot.com/2013/10/patagonia.html

 

*all photos used with permission

Per Sources: Flip Saunders to Serve as Timberwolves Head Coach

Sources told the Associated Press Thursday morning that Flip Saunders will be serving as the next head coach for the Minnesota Timberwolves. Saunders was hired as President of Basketball Operations prior to the 2013-2014 season.

As Timberwolves fans are well-familiar with, Saunders holds extensive history in Minnesota. He coached the Wolves for 10 years: from 1995 through the end of the 2005 season. During his time with Minnesota, Saunders led the Wolves to eight playoff appearances, including the Western Conference finals in 2004. Those times during Saunders’ coaching stint proved Minny’s only postseason appearances in franchise history.

Overall, Saunders holds a career record of 638-526 in 16 years as an NBA coach—411 of those wins belonged to the Timberwolves.

(photo credit: Star Tribune)

(photo credit: Star Tribune)

A hunt for a head coach has been in place since Rick Adelman retired at the end of the season. It’s no secret that a large part of the coaching search is also affected by All-Star forward Kevin Love’s uncertain future in a Wolves jersey.

Possible candidates swirled, with names such as Tom Izzo and Fred Hoiberg dropping around the Internet, but nothing came to fruition. Minnesota held conversations with Memphis coach Dave Joerger a couple weeks ago, but Joerger eventually turned the offer down.

With Love vocalizing a desire to leave the Wolves and trade rumors persisting, it’s possible that head coach candidates see a red flag in Minnesota.

Saunders is expected to maintain final say over all personnel decisions while continuing to share that charge with general manager Milt Newton.

According to the Star Tribune, Saunders may add assistants to his coaching staff who would potentially take over down the road. Former Timberwolves player Sam Mitchell is one such option. Mitchell played for Saunders from 1995-2002.

For now, Timberwolves fans will welcome a familiar face back to the sidelines and see where the season takes us.

 

The Minnesota Timberwolves will host a press conference on Friday to introduce the team’s new head coach. The press conference will take place at the Target Center and will start at 1 p.m. It will be streamed live on Timberwolves.com. This story will be updated with press conference content at a later time.  

 

Offseason Update #1

The last time you heard from Timberpups, you were reading a recap of the final Minnesota Timberwolves game of the season. Remember? No? Ok, well they lost. It sent most of us into a dark place, mentally. Pair the post-season depression with other obligations and you’ll get an inactive blog. However, the show must go on.

There’s been a lot that’s happened since the end of the season, so the review will come over the next few weeks. Let’s do a quick rundown.

Record: 40-42. Third in the Northwest Division, 10th in the Western Conference — the second best team in the West that didn’t make the postseason [Phoenix Suns finished in the 9th spot out West].

Rick Adelman Retires. The moment many had been waiting for came into fruition just shortly after the season ended. Adelman leaves behind a legacy that will go somewhat unfulfilled. Although his motion-based offensive system has left remnants scattered about schemes all around the league, Adelman was never able to achieve the ultimate goal; he is not an NBA Champion, but don’t let that take away from any of Adelman’s achievements. And there are many.

I wrote some words about Adelman’s final season on an NBA sideline, and how the Wolves didn’t exactly give him a ride out of town on a horseback into the glorious sunset. Read them by clicking this link.

 

The Wolves need a new coach. Names such Fred Hoiberg, Kevin Ollie, Tom Izzo, Billy Donovan, among others, have all surfaced as potential candidates. Look for more coverage from Timberpups on the search and hiring process, soon.

It should be noted that Flip Saunders has been mentioned, in some circles, as someone that may coach the Wolves next season. It’s known that team owner Glen Taylor doesn’t want this to happen. I don’t believe it will, but as each day passes I worry more and more that Flip will ultimately be coaching the Wolves next season. I’d give those odds about 10 percent, right now.

 

More to come from Timberpups.

-zb

Snow Falls in Minneapolis, Wolves Fall to Jazz; 130-136

Well, it’s over now.

Last night, the Minnesota Timberwolves dropped the season finale to the Utah Jazz, at home, and it was possibly Rick Adelman’s last game as an NBA Head Coach. What you would think would be a passionate, emotional, send-off type of performance, honoring one of the league’s greatest coaches, turned out to be just-another, underwhelming performance that ended in disappointment.

It’s been openly suggested, myself included, that Adelman may have lost the proverbial coaches-spirit long ago. The type of passion, necessary to spark an inspired, second-half run into the postseason was just not something the 68 year old was capable of doing. There are other variables at play, like player-performance and things like luck, but ultimately I believe Adelman is going to be pegged with many of the things that went awry this season. I also believe we’re going to find out that last night’s game against the Jazz was, indeed, his last game as the Wolves coach. [Read more...]

Two Games, One Season, Many Outlooks

Spreak Break in Florida? 

Only fitting, the Minnesota Timberwolves ventured across the state of Florida — from South Beach to Orlando — shortly following last Friday’s thrilling, uplifting victory over the defending champion Miami Heat.

Yes, the Wolves had won a game against arguably basketballs greatest team. However, they were going to need another breakout performance from role players, such as Chase Budinger’s 24 point output in Miami, if they were going to take care of business against one of the league’s worst the following evening. Well, after Budinger went down in the first minute against the Magic, things went awry quickly and never went the way they were supposed to.

Just when it seemed the Wolves had attained some hope, rhythm, and excitement nearing the end of another disappointing season, the proverbial sky was getting darker and the light that shined on the team, via local media outlets, was glooming dark overhead, again. Timberpups did not report on the Daunt Cunningham arrests over the weekend because the legal process has a right to run it’s course, NBA players are apart of the union, and the Wolves did not suspend Cunningham after either arrest. Flip Saunders, in particular, receives the most heat for this decision. He could very easily de-activate Cunningham, but it would be a paid-leave as the team cannot take disciplinary action until he is convicted in a court of law.

He met the team in Orlando, but because the Wolves were without Kevin Martin, Kevin Love, Shabazz Muhammad, and Budinger, for all-but one minute of the game, the efforts of Cunningham and the active Wolves were performed in futility. The Magic avenged a loss from earlier this season, the Wolves opener — 100-92.

Tuesday, back at Target Center

The headlines focused on Cunningham up until Rick Adelman’s pregame presser, when it was announced that Cunningham would be dressed and available to play in Tuesday’s make-up game against the San Antonio Spurs. However, after tip-off, all of the negative light shed on the situation diminished, the Minnesota Wild were competing for their postseason lives across town, and a basketball game — that was never supposed to be played — started with very little looking-on from the seats at Target Center.

Nickola Pekovic, Kevin Martin, Chase Budinger, and Shabazz Muhammad were all out, albeit Martin was dressed to play whereas the others sported classy suits. Ricky Rubio, Corey Brewer, Kevin Love, Gorgui Dieng welcomed Robbie Hummel to the starting lineup for the first time since the season’s early goings. The Wolves, who had underachieved in the game following an inspirational victory of the prolific Heat (…), faced another one of the league’s best in the machine that is the San Antonio Spurs.

Tony Parker was sidelined, leaving Corey Joseph to start at point guard — he was accompanied by Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, Tim Duncan and Boris Diaw. The Spurs machine usually just plugs-and-plays it’s components as necessary and rarely misses a beat, but Gregg Popovich may have elected to cut the power once they arrived in Minneapolis.

First Half

The Wolves took the lead and never looked back. Rubio led the way in scoring throughout the opening quarter with nine points, he also had two assists but those were negated by two-turnovers. Love, who, dare I say has struggled by his standards as of late, continued to clank the iron and shot only one for seven from the field during the opening frame. Despite the struggle to score, Love’s refined his passing throughout the year as a point of Adelman’s emphasis, and he tallied three assists passing out of the high post and Wolves led the Spurs, 27-19, after the first.

It was Rubio and Brewer that carried the offense throughout the first half, as they combined for 23 points on 9 of 13 shooting from the field. Brewer added three steals that contributed to easy buckets in transition. The Wolves had captured a 20 point lead on a virtually non-existent Spurs club that showed no interest in trying to win the game. Minnesota allowed just 34 first half points, the second-least points scored by a Wolves opponent in a half this season (Utah, 23 in 1st half on Jan. 18). On the night, the Spurs shot only 4-of-17 from three-point range, and they were 0-for-6 in the first half alone. This is a testament to the Wolves effort to contest shots, making everything as difficult as possible for the already lackadaisical visiting opponent.

Second Half 

The Wolves were outscored by the Spurs during the second half, but the margin was a single point and if you’re doing the math at home you’d know that it wasn’t enough to make a difference. San Antonio was flat, and the Wolves played with the same intensity that the State of Hockey’s team was doing across the way in St. Paul. The Pups weren’t performing in front of a very large audience, and the effort they played with on the court was reflective of a team that wanted to win in order to sustain their own moral moving forward.

Love and Rubio combined for 20 in the third, but dissipated bench failed to score. The Spurs, behind eight points in the frame provided by the short-statured Patty Mills, matched and surpassed the Wolves scoring output during the frame. Yet, the game looked emotionless as both teams were content just going through the motions. This inexplicably, and inspirationally, changed during the fourth as the bench could be season screaming, cheering, and applauding the effort of their brethren who were looking to put the hammer down on San Antonio before the game was over.

Ronnie Turiaf hammered home two, alley-oop dunks within the final five minutes, a heavy-hearted Cunningham seeked to score unruly baskets within the final minute, and Othyus Jeffers even entered the game on the same day as he was signed to, yet another, 10-day contract.

The Wolves defeated the Spurs by 19, and what was most impressive about the victory is that they did it for themselves. There was no sold-out stadium, no role of spoiler to fulfil, and no playoff hopes to sustain going forward. With nothing left to play for, the Wolves did everything they could to win — and with the uncertainty that is this team’s future — that’s the most illuminating thing to take away from the weekend, and into Wednesday.

Three Stars

  • Ricky Rubio — 23 points on 10 of 17 shooting. He’s progressed, and more importantly, stayed healthy, throughout the year and seems to be improving in certain areas, offensively. I don’t currently have the stats to back it up, but expect a post on it soon.
  • Luc Mbah a Moute — 11 points, 5 of 7 shooting from the field — nice to see him getting playing time against solid opponents like we saw against Miami and last night.
  • Ronnie Turiaf — LOVE his energy, but it’s been missing on-the-court for most of the season. If there’s anyone that can keep this locker room glued going forward, it’s this guy. Seeing him score 10 points on 4 of 5 shooting, including his emphatic reactions to slams during the final quarter.

 

Minnesota Acts as Spoiler, Takes Down Grizzlies 102-88

After back-to-back losses to Brooklyn and the Clippers, the Timberwolves rolled to an easy home win over Memphis Wednesday night. The Wolves continued their season trend of hitting 100+ points, and Kevin Love notched his third triple-double of the year with 24 points, 16 rebounds and 10 assists. Kevin Martin added 21 to the board. The 102-88 final score brought Minnesota’s record to 37-37, and the Grizzlies are barely clinging to that No. 8 playoff spot in the Western Conference.

Memphis came in to the Target Center for the last of a five-game road trip, and the Wolves took advantage of this.

Minnesota shot an impressive 53.1 percent from the floor, and the team also grabbed five three-point buckets on the night. Fan favorite Ronny Turiaf made his return Wednesday, and the big guy added the energy and enthusiasm needed for the Wolves, who are out of the playoffs and just fighting for a strong end to the season. Turiaf was 100 percent from the field, tallying 11 points, seven points and three blocked shots. There’s no doubt about it, having Turiaf back immediately improved Minnesota’s defensive game.

(photo credit: knoxnews.com)

(photo credit: knoxnews.com)

Head coach Rick Adelman said the following after the game:

“Just a quality win against a quality team. It is nice to see us play a team that grinds it out and we were able to do the same thing back to them, defend them well and executed offensively. Thirty-one assists. And I thought Gorgui (Dieng) and Ronny were terrific at protecting the basket. And, of course, Kevin had a triple-double. It was a nice solid win.”

Rookie Shabazz Muhammad also had another solid performance.  The 21-year-old went 4-for-5 to tally eight points in just 14 minutes on the floor. Those numbers combine with his last four home games for a very impressive stat: 13/14 shots for 93 percent shooting. Since Muhammad has gotten more playing time in the last few weeks, he has certainly showed the potential for which he was drafted. Point guard Ricky Rubio also pulled his weight on scoring, grabbing 14 points and dishing out seven assists. Rubio tends to play inconsistently, but he found his groove–for the time being–against Memphis.

In contrast to Minnesota’s offensive effort, the Grizzlies appeared disjointed and sluggish. The team didn’t play well together, and the players collectively made petty errors that kept them out of the game.

“A lot of time zones. A lot of traveling. A lot of battles,” said Memphis’ Mike Conley. Conley, who is currently averaging 17.1 PPG and is historically one of the biggest threats against Minny, shot only 20 percent and finished the contest with seven points.

kevin love_memphis

Overall, Wednesday was a win the Wolves needed to keep team morale high. Despite being out of the playoffs themselves, the team can now act as a spoiler. If nothing else, the fact that the Grizzlies were one of the Wolves main competitors for the postseason gave them an extra drive for the “W.”

“We wanted to find some sense of motivation and that’s what we found tonight,” Love said. “We just wanted to knock off a team that is fighting right now.”

Adelman echoed the idea, saying, “”Everybody else has something on the line [...] So we want to go out and play as well as we can and spoil it for them and see if we can’t be a factor in it.”

The Grizzlies will return home to face Denver Friday night, while Minnesota will head south to take on LeBron James and the Heat Saturday night. Tipoff is set for 6:30 p.m.

Timberwolves Struggle in Third Quarter, Fall 104-114 to Griffin-less Clippers

The Los Angeles Clippers have won 16 of their past 18 games, and their momentum didn’t slow when they rolled into Target Center Monday evening.  Both teams lived up to their high-scoring reputations, but in the end Minny ended up on the short end of the 114-104 final score. Kevin Love led the team with 20 points and 13 rebounds. On the other end, Darren Collison exploded with 28 points and seven assists.

Going into the contest, it Minnesota appeared to hold the advantage. The Clippers were playing the fourth game of a five-game road trip, and they were doing so without Jamal Crawford and Blake Griffin, both out with injuries. The first two minutes were scoreless, and then the Wolves took an early 4-0 lead off a slam dunk and layup by forward Corey Brewer. The good feeling didn’t last, however.

LA point guard Chris Paul told his teammates the following: “Fellas, let’s be who we are. We got who we got, let’s keep the train moving [...]. No excuses.”

Wolves_Clips

Despite the Timberwolves being able to make it a competitive game throughout the entire first half, the third quarter proved dismal for the midwest team. The Wolves took a 59-57 lead at the 9:26 mark of the third quarter, but any sense of control was ripped from their grasp. From that point on, Minnesota just could not score. Collison took over, and the Clips went on an unstoppable 31-5 run.

“We just went into the third quarter and it was like we missed every shot we took,” said head coach Rick Adelman. “It’s weird that we scored seven or eight points right off the bat and then we couldn’t score forever. The worst part is that it was like a three-on-two break every single time. It wasn’t like we were making them work. They were just getting layup after layup.”

The Wolves battled back in the fourth quarter, but they were unable to cut the lead to less than eight.  It was actually Minnesota’s reserves that came in and scored 38 points for their team in that final push. Chase Budinger scored 12 points off the bench, and Robbie Hummel and Shabazz Muhammad each added 11.

Nikola Pekovic started the game for the first time in several weeks, but the center played only seven minutes before re-injuring his ankle.  Fortunately for Minnesota, rookie Gorgui Dieng has been playing extremely well since getting his chance to start in mid March. Dieng came in for Pek, and the 24-year old scored 14 points. With Pekovic struggling so consistently with the ankle injury, Wolves fans can expect Dieng to play a major role in the lineup for the remaining games.

Following the game, Love summed up the frustration surrounding the team:

“It’s definitely tough right now. We’ve got to try to finish this thing strong and just try to play well. … We’re a little beat up right now, but we still have to come and play and try to give it our best. But that’s a very good team right there.”

Up next, the Wolves will host Memphis on Wednesday evening. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m.

 

Sideline Note:

According to NBA.com, with his made free throw at 2:13 in first quarter, Love passed Tom Gugliotta to become the single-season record holder for the Timberwolves. Gugliotta set his record in the 1996-1997 season.

Love has averaged 27.2 points, 15.8 rebounds, and 5.2 assists in the three games against the Clippers this season, but he is only averaging 16.5 ppg in the last four games and scored 20+ points for only the second time in the last five games.