Summer 2024

Nuggets assistant Ryan Saunders remains strengthened by his 'relationship with Christ'

The second-round NBA playoff series between the Denver Nuggets and Minnesota Timberwolves is knotted up at two games apiece after Denver’s 115-107 victory on Sunday night in Minneapolis, and in a true rarity, the road team has won all four contests. The Timberwolves captured the first two in Denver, but the Nuggets have stormed back with two straight road wins of their own.

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The Nuggets players aren’t the only ones who felt right at home in Minnesota — Nuggets assistant coach Ryan Saunders did as well, back in the state that has meant so much to him.

The 38-year-old Saunders spent five seasons as an assistant coach in Minnesota before being promoted to his first head-coaching gig. After taking over as the interim head coach of the Timberwolves in January 2019, he finished out the season well enough to stay on in the position. Saunders led the Timberwolves until being let go in February 2021.

Saunders’ roots in Minnesota run much deeper than his time as a coach, however. He was born and raised in the state, and he graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2008. His father, Flip Saunders, is an NBA coaching legend. He coached in the league for 20 years, 11 of them with the Timberwolves (1995-2005; 2014-15). Flip’s second stint in Minnesota was cut short due to a diagnosis of Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in 2015, and tragically he died that October.

Ryan joined the Sports Spectrum Podcast last September to talk about the immense pain of losing his father, as well as the joy of winning the NBA Finals with the Nuggets last season, and God’s faithfulness through it all.

“We never lost faith,” Saunders said of his family during his father’s cancer battle. “I think that was something that was really, really important and really special because it showed that I was growing in my relationship, and we were growing in our relationship as Christians as a family.”

Saunders said in 2020, while speaking to a church via a video call, that he cried out to God during the process.

“I remember there were times where I, you know, would ask … out loud … ‘Where are you, God?'” Saunders said. “But that really strengthened me and that strengthened my relationship with Christ.”

Saunders said that thanks to his parents, he was a frequent attendee at church services as a kid. Yet it wasn’t until college that he was overcome with the realization of what true faith in Christ meant. His realization happened because a teammate on the Golden Gophers’ basketball team invited him to church.

“OK, this is a relationship. It’s not just something … for me to attend and then you check a box. This is a relationship and how you live your life,” Saunders said on the podcast. “It’s kind of taken off from there. I am not a perfect Christian by any means, and I have a lot of things I need to improve on, but I also understand that I’ve come a long way in a lot of ways.”

Saunders has spoken at faith-based conferences, and he seeks to talk about his faith in Christ in the locker room whenever he can, simply because Jesus calls him to. He knows that nothing he does or doesn’t do will thwart God’s good plan for his life.

“Things will work out the way He wants them to work out,” he said on the podcast. “And it’s not gonna be on our timeline.”

>> Do you know Christ personally? Learn how you can commit your life to Him. <<

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