“He’d say, ‘Mom, someday I’m going to play in the NBA,’” Sharry Stiemsma recalls. “And I’d say, ‘That’s a good goal.’”
Unlike many other boys, though, Stiemsma realized his goal. After an outstanding high school career, a college career marked by a bout with depression, and a less-than-easy path to the pros, Stiemsma’s son Greg is now a center for the Minnesota Timberwolves. And while Sharry is unquestionably proud of her son, she still struggles to balance her support for her son with concerns for his well-being.
Raising a Prodigy
From a young age, Greg showed athletic talent. He started playing competitive basketball – and baseball – in a travel league around age 10. Sharry and her husband Rick (and daughter Erin) supported Greg’s athletic aspirations, but his athletic schedule took a toll on the entire family.
“As soon as basketball would be finished, boom, baseball would start the next day,” Sharry recalls. Family vacations were inevitably scheduled around basketball tournaments. “I haven’t taken a vacation without basketball for years,” Sharry says. “I wouldn’t give that up, but someday, we are going to travel somewhere that’s not related to basketball.”
The entire Stiemsma family worked to make sure that Greg stayed grounded, even when he became a star and basketball standout at Randolph High School. Greg led the team to three consecutive state titles, but rather than letting the attention go to her son’s head, Sharry stressed an attitude of gratitude.
“The one thing I always tried to stress was that his talent came from God,” Sharry says, “and that he should make sure to thank Him every day.”
That faith came in handy when Greg faced setbacks. As a high school student, Greg was already attracting the attention of college coaches; when he was a sophomore, he was invited to an exclusive Nike basketball camp. He did well there, and was invited to another camp – but ended up having to decline the invitation (and sit out for a period of time) because he tore ligaments in his knee.
“That was a very dark time in all of our lives,” Sharry says. Her son was in pain, his future was in question, and Sharry could do little more than support and pray for her son.
Triumph and Setback
Greg recovered from his injury by the end of his senior year, he was ranked #37 nationally for high school basketball prospects. After graduation, he enrolled at UW-Madison and started playing Badgers basketball.
But in his sophomore year, his grades began slipping. Thanks to an alert athletic trainer, Greg was diagnosed with clinical depression.
“That was a very, very difficult time for me,” Sharry says, “because I also have dealt with depression for years. So when he came home and told me, I was just devastated, because I felt like I had given it to him.
“I saw what he was going through, and wondered, ‘How can he endure this?’ she says. “But it made me stronger. As a mom, you have to be strong to endure these things.”
Greg’s depression improved with treatment, and he made the decision to share his story with the world. Seeing her son speak publically about such a painful time inspired mixed feelings in Sharry. “As a mom, I’m proud of my son, but I don’t want that ever to happen to him again,” she says.
Today, Greg’s depression is under control, and he’s happily playing center for the Minnesota Timberwolves. But his “happy ending” was neither quick nor easy.
After completing college, Greg entered the 2008 NBA draft – and remained undrafted. Undeterred, he played basketball in Turkey and South Korea. Sharry, while proud of her son’s determination, remained concerned for his safety and well-being. “When he got to Turkey, he had to figure out where to buy food, how to ask for food, all that kind of stuff,” Sharry recalls. “And the first time he played in Turkey, there were soldiers dressed in riot gear at the corners of the bleachers. The soldiers had helmets, guns and everything for riot control. That made me nervous.”
Greg returned to the States in 2009, when he was drafted by the NBA Development League. But although he won the 2010 Development League Defensive Player of the Year Award and attracted the attention of several NBA teams, he didn’t see any playing time in the NBA, and went back to playing ball overseas.
His big break came in 2011, when the Boston Celtics signed him to a minimum contract, and he blocked a record six blocks during his NBA debut. The Minnesota Timberwolves signed him as a free agent in July 2012, and Greg has been a Timberwolf ever since.
But while Sharry is understandably thrilled to see her son living his dream, she still worries about him also.
“I still get so nervous when the games are on,” Sharry says. “The best thing for me is when I see him on TV with a big smile.
Now that he’s playing for the Timberwolves, I’ve seen that a few times when he comes back to the bench. He’ll have that big grin on his face, and I know he’s happy. When I don’t see that, well, there are some things that a mom just knows.”
REMAINING 2013 TV SCHEDULE
Saturday, March 2 @ Portland 9 PM NBA TV Monday, March 4 – Miami 7 PM NBA TV
Sunday, March 10 – Dallas 6 PM NBA TV
Friday, March 15@ Houston 7 PM NBA TV
See Greg play in person!
Get tickets at www.nba.com/timberwolves