Former Timberwolves big man Reggie Slater used to work tirelessly with his two oldest sons, teaching them the finer points of basketball. He conducted all sorts of drills, including being able to shoot layups and dribble with both hands.
So much for that.
“As soon as I’d finish with the drills, they’d go right inside and watch football,” Slater said.
Slater’s oldest son, R.J. Slater, now 24, ended up playing on the offensive line at Air Force, finishing up in 2018. And his middle son, Northwestern tackle Rashawn Slater, 22, is a shoo-in first-round selection in the NFL’s April 29-May 1 draft.
A number of analysts project Rashawn to be taken with the No. 14 pick by the Vikings. If so, he would follow his father as a professional player in Minnesota.
“Whatever team he goes to, he’s fortunate,” Reggie said. “I tell him he’s got to put in the work 100 percent every day.”
That’s what the 6-foot-6 Reggie Slater did to last eight seasons in the NBA as an undersized post player who was undrafted in 1992 out of Wyoming. After two years playing overseas, he played in the NBA from 1994-99 and 2000-03 with seven different teams. He averaged 5.6 points and 3.0 rebounds for his career.
Slater played 81 games for the Timberwolves in 2000-01 and 2002-03, averaging 4.1 points and 2.7 rebounds. He spent his NBA career constantly battling for a roster spot and put in time in the minor leagues.
“I always had to fight,” Slater said. “I was undrafted, a little undersized for my position, so I always had to work a little bit harder than the next guy. I was consistently a hard worker.”
Slater, 50, has done all he can to pass on his work ethic to his four children in Sugar Land, Texas, a suburb of Houston. He and his wife Katie also have a daughter, Aliyh, 26, and a son, Rylan, 16, who does not play organized sports.
“My dad is amazing,” Rashawn said last month at Northwestern’s pro day. “Throughout my life, he’s always been that athletic influence. He played center at 6-6. He was definitely a grinder and taught me everything I know about his work ethic and being able to battle through adversity and stuff like that.”
Rashawn, who played basketball until middle school when he decided to focus on football, was an immediate starter at left tackle for the Wildcats as a freshman in 2017, then he was third-team All-Big Ten as a sophomore in 2018. He opted out of his 2020 senior season last fall to prepare for the NFL Draft, and has been working out lately in Dallas.
“That was a tough decision because Rashawn had a deep bond with the Northwestern school and the coaches and the players. But when the Big Ten initially canceled the season (last August due to the coronavirus pandemic), he said, ‘Look, I’m going to focus on my next chapter,’ so he signed with an agent and found a place to work,” his father explained. “When the Big Ten backpedaled on it (and decided in September to play), he stuck with his decision. He’s a man of his word.”
The 6-foot-4, 304-pound Rashawn said he’s “the best tackle in the draft,” but some believe he might be better suited to play guard since his arms aren’t especially long at 33 inches. ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay said on a conference call last Monday it’s “likely” the Vikings will take an offensive lineman with the No. 14 pick, and he has projected Slater to be their selection.
“With Penei Sewell of Oregon and Rashawn Slater form Northwestern and Alijah Vera Tucker from USC, I think they’re all plug-and-play starters right away,” McShay said of the top three tackles available. “I think they’re going to be really good pros and probably three of the safest picks in the first round.”
Sewell likely will be out of reach for the Vikings unless they trade up.
Wherever his son ends up, Reggie is planning to attend all his NFL games. He went to all but two of his 38 games with Northwestern, missing one at Wisconsin due to a flight situation and a 2018 game at Minnesota when he was sick. That was the only game the Wildcats played at Minnesota during Rashawn’s tenure.
Reggie hasn’t been back to the Twin Cities since shortly after being released by Timberwolves on Jan. 6, 2003, which ended his NBA career. But he said he “enjoyed my time in Minnesota,” and he gives some credit to then-members of the Timberwolves ownership group for helping him get a start in the business world.
His company, the Slater Group, owns eight oil-change businesses in the Houston area, known as Auto Service Express and Kwik Kar. He also owned the gym Slaters Sports Zone during much of the past decade before selling it.
“One of the things I loved about Minnesota is that some of the minority owners would come out to practice, and I would always have conversations with them,” he said. “I would ask them, ‘How did you become a minority owner with the Timberwolves?’ And they would tell me what type of businesses they were in and how they got started.
“I was always interested in business, and I’m a fan of competition. And I just transferred that to the business world. If I’m in a meeting with Pennzoil or Mobil or Chevron or any other company negotiating contracts, I bring that same focus, determination and energy to that.”
Reggie Slater said he’s handed down that passion for competition to his children. He’s also passed down athleticism.
“I’d say it comes down to two things,” Rashawn said of what has helped him in life. “Good genes and just hard work. I had a lot of lessons from my dad.”