Ricky Rubio made his public debut at Target Center Tuesday, the 20-year-old basketball phenom was originally drafted two years ago and the Timberwolves have finally brought what they hope will be a franchise player home to Minneapolis.
Rubio could be the first "next big thing" in Minnesota basketball since future All-Star Kevin Garnett joined the Timberwolves in 1996. He was drafted by the Timberwolves in 2009, during a reboot of the franchise that forced out Minnesota native Kevin McHale as team vice president and coach.
The Spanish point guard has been playing professional ball since he was 14, and is widely regarded as one of Europe's hottest prospects. He has been playing for Barcelona for the last two seasons — while the Wolves and basketball fans waited — and wondered if he even wanted to play in Minnesota.
He had a contract to play in Spain, one that the Wolves couldn't initially afford to buy out.
"In the last two years, I grew up a lot as a player," Rubio said. "My mind grew, too, because we fight to titles like Euroleague ACB, and I learned a lot about this experience."
Rubio's family watched Tuesday as he fielded questions in Spanish and English and talked about everything from the Mall of America to his ability to adapt to the NBA.
Team president David Kahn said winning them over was a key factor in luring Rubio to the Timberwolves. Rubio himself admitted he'd relished playing with friends in Spain and winning championships there.
That's an unlikely prospect for the immediate future in Minneapolis.
Rubio's new team finished at the bottom of the NBA standings in April with a record of 17-65. The league is in negotiations with players for a new collective bargaining agreement and could join the NFL in a lockout. The future of head coach Kurt Rambis has also been in doubt as his team skidded to a dismal finish — just 1 and 15 in its division.
But Kahn, head of basketball for the Wolves, said Rubio is the kind of player that can turn a team around.
"We need to be patient and allow him to be a rookie, but he also has some very rare gifts in terms of the way he plays and the way he can organize a team, as he mentioned, as a point guard," Kahn said. "He's also got something, it's hard to describe, that it factor."
Kahn also tamped down rumors that Rubio was headed for the trading block. Minnesota has the number two pick in Thursday's NBA draft, and the Wolves are trying to rebuild a team that by its own admission hasn't had much talent on the floor.
"Ricky Rubio will not be traded by the Minnesota Timberwolves. He's here for a long, long, time," he said.
Rubio said he's looking for a house and buying warm clothes. He could make his professional debut on an NBA court in October.