BARCELONA, Spain — Ricky Rubio is promising NBA fans they'll get to see his razzle-dazzle, but not before the 2011-12 season — and not necessarily with the Minnesota Timberwolves.
In an interview with the Associated Press, the highly rated prospect said he won't leave the Spanish club of Barcelona before his NBA opt-out clause comes up after next season. The Timberwolves remain his team of choice, as long as they make improvements following a season where they finished 15-67, the second-worst record in the league.
If not, the Spaniard may want to make his NBA debut elsewhere.
"I'm open to everything," Rubio said courtside from Barcelona's Palau Blaugrana stadium. "You never know when all of this finishes if it will be with this team."
Although Rubio expects improvements from the team that took him with the fifth choice in last year's draft, he was ready to stand by a club that has called him the only "untouchable" player on its roster — even if he's not even on that yet.
"It's a young team that still needs to grow, that lacks experience now and even though this year it hasn't achieved many victories the players are evolving, and that's important," said the 6-foot-2 point guard, who described himself as a player in the mold of Magic Johnson and Steve Nash.
"It's a team that has confidence in me and that's very important. They may have only won 15 games, but they are in a moment of development and we have to see how they evolve next year because it's very important to be part of a team with vision. Let's see next year if things gel."
Rubio has had regular contact with Timberwolves president of basketball operations David Kahn. Rubio, who averaged 6.6 points and 4.4 rebounds this season, spoke warmly about his relationship with the 'Wolves and was in particular awe of his meeting coach Kurt Rambis, who watched Rubio in action here on May 27.
"They have the best possibility because they hold my rights, and they've shown me how much they want me and for that I have to be thankful toward them," said the Barcelona native, whose baby-face went unshaven ahead of Friday's afternoon practice.
The Timberwolves have said all along that they have no problem waiting for Rubio. Kahn actually sees it as an advantage to have the 19-year-old go through some seasoning in Europe to better prepare him for the NBA.
"The notion of him sort of wasting away over there is really far-fetched," Kahn said in May. "It's just the opposite. He's actually getting better over there on somebody else's dime and we're the ones that I hope will be able to benefit from that."
Although a star in Europe, Rubio remains relatively unknown in North America.
Apart from Internet highlights, most NBA fans' only glimpse of Rubio would have come at the 2008 Olympics when he helped Spain to silver behind the United States.
"When I play [in the NBA] we'll see how I fit in — I don't think we can speculate about that now," Rubio said. "There are people who think I will do well, there are people who think I'll never suit that type of game and there are those without an opinion. I think I can fit in. But until my first game I can't give any type of opinion."
While Rubio has paid particular attention to his outside shooting while trying to improve his overall game, he's also spent more time in the gym, bulking up as his smooth style of playing can make the transition to the NBA.
"A player who wants to make people happy with his play on the court, above all," Rubio answered as when asked to describe his game. "A colorful, attractive, spectacular basketball player."
Rubio nearly joined Minnesota last September before last-minute cold feet. He believes it was the right decision not too rush over at such a young age, and his subsequent move from DKV Joventut to Barcelona has seen him flourish as a player, too.
"This year was very important for me on an experience level. I had the pressure of having to win and that's only something you can learn playing at a club like Barcelona, to know how to handle and play in those pressure moments," said Rubio, who is on the cusp of closing his season with a Spanish league title to go with Euroleague and domestic cup triumphs.
Rubio speaks some English but will enroll in classes from next season. He has no hesitation in bombarding fellow Spanish players Pau Gasol and Rudy Fernandez with questions over life in the NBA and the United States, which he won't judge until he gives it a shot by living there. He already paid one visit to Minneapolis last year.
"It was summer, with nice weather, a lot of lakes and it was nice but I was only there three or four hours," he said. "I only visited the countryside, which was nice. I know they like their sports in Minnesota."
Although Nash, New Orleans Hornets point guard Chris Paul and Lamar Odom of the Lakers are the players he is looking forward to testing himself against, Rubio is also hoping Shaquille O'Neal hangs around awhile longer so he can drive down the lane at the Cleveland Cavaliers center, who is set to be a free agent.
"I always watched him on TV. He's a very big player and a very fun player," Rubio said. "But it wouldn't be 1-on-1 because he'd probably kill me."
But O'Neal and NBA fans will have to wait as Rubio could even stay on at Barcelona longer.
"We'll see after next year," Rubio said. "Now I have to take advantage of this great [Barcelona] team."
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