Were it not for a falling-out with his team in Greece, 6'11" Dean Garrett might be in the midst of his eighth season playing overseas. Instead he has found a home at last in the NBA as the Timberwolves' starting center. "I never understood why no team would sign me," says the 30-year-old Garrett, the league's oldest rookie. "I'd be across the water, reading that the league was having trouble coming up with quality big guys."
In 1988 Phoenix used the 38th pick in the draft to choose Garrett out of Indiana. Garrett was the other juco transfer who started for the Hoosiers' 1987 NCAA champs—the more memorable one being guard Keith Smart, who hit the 17-foot jumper with five seconds to go that beat Syracuse 74-73 in the title game at the Louisiana Superdome. Garrett missed the 1988-89 season with a broken foot, and was cut by the Suns before the '89-90 opener. He headed to Europe and over the next seven seasons played for four teams in Italy and Greece that each paid him close to $1 million a year.
Last year Garrett averaged 10.6 points and 8.1 rebounds for PAOK in Thessaloníki. But the day before the final regular-season game, he was suspended by the team for breaking its midnight curfew. While Garrett claimed it was an isolated incident, the media in Greece had often cited him for after-hours partying. When Papagos upset PAOK 85-79 in the finale, there were allegations—never substantiated—that the game had been fixed. Among those making the allegations was Garrett. "They tried to ruin my name in Europe," he says. "They were going to lose and wanted to put the blame on me."
Garrett publicly apologized to the team for missing curfew but then left for the U.S., forfeiting two months of his salary. He spent the summer working out with the Bucks and the Timberwolves and accepted Minnesota's offer of the league minimum for veterans, $270,000, even though it represented a huge pay cut. Since replacing Stojko Vrankovic in the starting lineup, Garrett has averaged 9.6 points, 11.4 rebounds and 2.5 blocks, and the team is 8-5. After he had 11 points, 12 boards and four blocks in a 107-96 win over Phoenix on Sunday, Timberwolves coach Flip Saunders said, "We're getting to the point where he's the one guy we cannot afford to take out of the game." That's a long way for Dean Garrett to have come.