Former Timberwolves coach Flip Saunders, now coaching the Washington Wizards, is a big booster of Ricky Rubio, the dynamic European point guard who is reported to have signed with the Wolves and will join them for next season.

"I think Rubio is going to be a better NBA player than a European player because it's a much more open style of play, which is kind of his forte," Saunders said. "Very, very good in the open floor, great passer. He's going to have a couple of highlight passes every game.

"He's a very exciting player to watch. He's got to work on his perimeter shooting, very limited perimeter shooter. Defensively as far as being able to contain the ball, he's got quick hands. He'll get a lot of steals."

Saunders believes Rubio is going to have to make an adjustment to the physical play of the stronger point guards in the NBA.

"Points guards in our league are so explosive, so fast," Saunders said. "It's usually the biggest transition anybody has, as far as learning to defend those guys. I mean, I think that you've got a choice. Are there other veteran players that are better than him right now? Yeah. But if you're a team that's building as Minnesota is, and you're building for the future and you've got some young players, sometimes you have to let guys like that just go out there and cut their teeth and learn, as much as anything, through some of the mistakes that you make. That's the situation they'll go through."

On McHale's new job

Saunders believes Kevin McHale, who he played with on the Gophers and worked with on the Wolves, will be a good fit as the new coach of the Houston Rockets.

"I think there's two things," Saunders said. "I think being away from the camaraderie, whether it's coaching or the GM, I think it was something that he missed. I think he decided that if he had the right opportunity, he was going to jump back in. Houston, for him, is a good opportunity. His in-laws are down there so he's got his family ties down there.

"And [the Rockets have] got some big, young kids that he can work with. I think those are the things that he really, really enjoys."

Saunders said the only reason he was surprised by the hiring was that McHale often said he didn't like the travel or coaching.

"Even when he coached before, he said that's not something that he really wanted to do, as far as long-term," Saunders said. "That surprised me, but I'm not as surprised because I think normally what happens with most guys that have been involved in basketball their whole lives is that when you're out of it for a year or two, all of a sudden you realize how much you miss it. I think that's what he found out, that he really missed it a lot."


On Thursday they had standing room only at the Church of St. Patrick in Edina as family and friends sang the praises of a great man in former Gophers football player and benefactor Pinky McNamara, with the Rev. Michael O'Connell presiding over a great memorial service.

Former Twins relievers Matt Guerrier and Jesse Crain are having years similar to what they had last year. Guerrier has a 3.25 ERA in 27 2/3 innings pitched for the Dodgers, striking out 22 and walking 12. Crain is 2-1 with a 2.59 ERA through 24 1/3 innings pitched for the White Sox. Crain has given up only one home run this season after allowing an average of 4.6 per season in his seven years with the Twins.

Pat Neshek, who was up and down with the Twins last season, has a 2.13 ERA through 12 2/3 innings in 12 appearances for the Padres this season. Neshek has struck out 13 batters and walked eight.

Glen Perkins was the ace of the Twins bullpen with a 1.59 ERA in 22 2/3 innings before he strained his oblique while warming up in the bullpen on May 22 and was put on the 15-day disabled list. "[The injury is] coming back better than I thought," Perkins said. "Initially I thought it was going to be a little bit longer than it's going to be, so that's promising." Asked why he's shown such a big improvement over last year, when he even struggled at Class AAA Rochester, Perkins said: "I think just getting past the shoulder stuff that I've had over the past couple years and getting healthy and getting used in positions where I can succeed. [Twins manager Ron Gardenhire] has done a good job getting me in there when the situation is right."

Joe Nathan, who missed all last season after Tommy John surgery, apparently is still recovering and is on the disabled list. "That's the plan," Nathan said. "Obviously you don't take it easy. We're going to do what we can, work on what we can, and just let my arm calm down. It's just a little setback and something that everybody goes through, and unfortunately mine is in the middle of the season. Most guys are normally in the offseason right now. It's just timing for me. I've got the whole season in front of me. You don't ever expect this. I don't think there's a person that comes back and expects to be on the DL. Guys that expect to probably don't belong in this game."

Wilson Ramos has cooled off a bit after starting out strong for the Washington Nationals this season. Ramos was hitting .358 through April but hit .167 in 66 at-bats in May, with one home run and five RBI. Ramos is now hitting .252. ... Jose Morales is hitting .233 with only 52 plate appearances for the Rockies this season, but he does have a .327 on-base percentage.

The Gophers football team will get great exposure in their opening game Sept. 3 at Southern California on ABC, with a chance to excite the Maroon and Gold fans if they should score one of the great upsets in school history. ... Look for the Gophers football captains to do a good job conducting practices this summer. Every single player will be in summer school, including the players who signed this year. ... Gophers baseball players Nick O'Shea and AJ Pettersen were named to the Capital One Academic All District Five baseball team.

Edina's Devin Crawford-Tufts, the defending Class 2A 100 and 200 meters champion who has signed a football tender with the Gophers, will also be allowed to take part in track, according to Gophers track coach Steve Plasencia. Crawford-Tufts recently pulled a hamstring and might not be able to take part in this year's state meet.

Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on WCCO AM-830 at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. •