Rubio arrives in Minn., ready for season
Published 9:02 am Thursday, December 8, 2011
MINNEAPOLIS — On his first winter morning in Minnesota, Ricky Rubio could have taken one of the many skyways that connect his downtown hotel to Target Center to avoid the cold.
Instead, Rubio decided to walk the couple of blocks outdoors to take in all the sights, sounds and goose bumps that his new home brings with it.
“When I came to Target Center I decide to come in the street because I want to feel the weather,” Rubio said on Wednesday before going through a light workout. “It was a cold, a little.”
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The NBA’s owners and players are still ironing out the details of a tentative labor agreement they reached over Thanksgiving weekend that would end the five-month lockout. In the most obvious sign yet that there are still wrinkles to be taken care of, Rubio was locked out of the arena when he arrived on Wednesday.
“I was knocking on the door and nobody was opening,” he said with a chuckle. “I was like, ‘Cmon man.’”
Several Minnesota Timberwolves trickled into Target Center for voluntary workouts on Wednesday, two days before training camp is tentatively scheduled to begin. Wes Johnson, Anthony Tolliver, Michael Beasley, Darko Milicic and Nikola Pekovic joined All-Star Kevin Love, who has been in town for a couple of days.
But Rubio’s arrival is clearly the most anticipated. The Spanish point guard was the fifth overall draft pick in 2009, a much-hyped prodigy who had been playing professionally in Europe since he was 14. But a large buyout clause prevented Rubio from joining the Timberwolves before this summer.
Once the now 21-year-old finally decided to make the jump to the United States, the lockout kicked in and delayed his NBA dreams. He said he was worried at times that the season would be canceled, and he was contemplating going back home to play.
“Maybe … I was a little worried because I was seeing they weren’t in agreement and they were too far away and I was thinking about going back to Spain,” Rubio said. “But it was three or four days before the news come, they say there was going to be an agreement.”
If the lockout had a benefit for Rubio, it was that he had some time to himself to practice and work on his game for the first time in ages. He had been playing both professionally and for the Spanish national team for so long that the rare days he had off were more for relaxing and recuperating.
In Los Angeles, he was also able to ease into a new culture without the fanfare that made him a sensation in Spain, and he delighted in being able to walk the streets of LA during Halloween and going unrecognized.
And there are some other differences he is still growing accustomed to.
“I’m sorry, don’t get mad at me,” Rubio said sheepishly. “I prefer the Spanish food because I love it. But over here you can do a lot of things. The things are bigger. All the things. If you buy chips, it’s like a big, big box of chips.
“I’m kidding. I really like the way people live here because they are so nice and they try to help you a lot of the time. I really like the people here.”
Rubio spent most of his time in California working on his game with several veteran NBA players, including Chauncey Billups, Derek Fisher, Nick Young and Kevin Garnett, the former face of the Timberwolves who gave him a primer on what it’s like to live and play in Minnesota.
“More than playing, he gave me some advice to live,” Rubio said. “He said that people who are here are very nice. You’re going to feel comfortable. The fans are amazing because even in the years that are not great years for Wolves, they are still coming and they still support you and that means that they love basketball. They love you if you’re doing the right things and work hard. They’re going to keep supporting you.”
The words galvanized the slick-passing youngster and only made him more eager for the season to begin. His first game in front of his new fans will be on Dec. 17 in an exhibition against Milwaukee. The Timberwolves kick off the regular season at home on Dec. 26 against Oklahoma City.
He showed up at the Wolves’ practice facility with his black Nike wind pants tucked into his socks — European style? — that brought playful teases from Beasley and Johnson. But there’s no doubt his new teammates are looking forward to seeing him on the court.
“He’s a pretty electrifying player and definitely a great passer,” Tolliver said. “He gets you the ball where it needs to be at the right time. I’ve only played with a couple other point guards that are that aware.”
There is a lot to do between now and then. Rubio has to find a place to live, hit the Mall of America for some warm clothes to get him through the harsh Minnesota winter and get on the same page with Rick Adelman and the rest of the Wolves’ new coaching staff, including former All-Star point guard Terry Porter.
His childlike enthusiasm is infectious, but Rubio also knows that tougher — and colder — days lie ahead.
“It’s nice to see some snow in the street because I’m from Barcelona and I never see a lot of snow there,” he said. “It’s kind of nice … at the moment.”