Wessel: All that hype? Ricky Rubio has lived up to it and much more
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There have been few athletes in the recent Twin Cities sports landscape to evoke as much interest and curiosity as the Minnesota Timberwolves' rookie point guard from Spain.
From the moment he was drafted in 2009 to the time he was introduced in an event that seemed more like a rock concert than it did a press conference, Ricky Rubio has been discussed with equal parts interest, intrigue and adoration.
I am not sure if it has more to do with his unique skill set or his across-the-pond roots, but Rubio has a hold of people in this town of the like I have never seen.
Now granted, I don't have the career longevity of, say, my colleague Patrick Reusse, who can rattle off details of a 1970s Twin road trip without having to pause to think which September rookie call-ups were with the club that year. But I have seen a number of athletes come and go in about a half-decade since I began poking around professional locker rooms.
I can't remember being asked about an athlete more than Rubio. I am by no means qualified to write his biography but I have spent a good deal of time around him since he arrived in Minnesota and I can tell you what I know, and what I know is this: Rubio is the real deal.
He is one of the more approachable players in a locker room full of approachable players. There is no ego with him -- if anything, he could be considered shy. He is a kid whose talent on the court is only matched by his humbleness off it.
And I have to admit, I had him pegged wrong. Much like everybody else, I had read the stories by national reporters claiming Rubio would never play in Minnesota. When I envisioned him, I -- someone who knows more about European soccer players than he probably should -- pictured him as another Euro prima donna who had his ego pumped out of control by handlers well before he turned pro at age 16.
But I was wrong. He has no entourage, at last check he still lives by himself and he has the hope that his family -- including a sister who wants to play basketball in the states -- and girlfriend will move out here next season.
In talking to people with the organization, this isn't just a clever front Rubio puts up when the cameras are rolling. Rubio has happily met every one of the countless demands for his time in a whirlwind rookie season that has him playing more games in a week than he would play in entire month in Spain.
He is willing to talk about any subject you bring up in his always-improving English. The one thing subject he is clearly uncomfortable talking about is himself. He almost gets downright bashful.
When you ask him about a great game he just played, he'll immediately deflect all praise and heap it on his teammates, saying he couldn't do any of it without them and they were the real stars of the game.
When the team as a whole played a poor game and lost, Rubio -- who takes losses more personally than just about anybody -- immediately shoulders all the blame, again praising his teammates, insisting that he needs to play better.
As it turns out, everybody bought the Rubio hype bred from years of YouTube highlight montages. Everybody except Rubio, that is.
And those teammates whom he is constantly praising love the guy even more than the fans who pack Target Center to see him play every night. It isn't just because of how often Rubio effortlessly hands out highlight-reel passes -- you can see their admiration for their 21-year-old rookie teammate on and off the court.
Take last week's last-second win over the Utah Jazz. Rubio had struggled, turning over the ball six times and was benched down the stretch. Rather than sulking, he assumed the role of head cheerleader and when Derrick Williams was made a shot plus the foul, he erupted off the bench in the best point guard dance seen in Minnesota since Sam Cassell's big-you-know-whats trot down the court in the 2004 playoffs.
There has been talk the grind this season may have begun taking a toll on Rubio and his production the final 30 games may decrease. While that may be the case, it shouldn't diminish everything that he has accomplished this season on and off the court.
He came into town with sky-high expectations and has somehow lived up to or exceeded every single one of them.
It may have taken him two years to get here, but now that he is, fans should soak up and appreciate every moment of it.