Almost exactly two years in the making, Ricky Rubio finally arrived in Minnesota on Monday as a member of the Timberwolves, welcomed at the airport after a trans-Atlantic flight by fans carrying signs, holding a Spanish flag and offering a fresh fruit bouquet.
Team mascot Crunch, Wolves cheerleaders, many team employees, media members and fans -- an estimated 200 people -- gathered outside U.S. customs and greeted Rubio and his family when they arrived.
Wolves president of basketball operations David Kahn escorted Rubio through the crowd. If you didn't know better, you'd almost say that was a smirk on Kahn's face as he guided Rubio, who wore a black sport coat, white shirt, jeans and Wolves cap.
He will be officially introduced in a Tuesday morning news conference at Target Center, where he will play his first NBA game this fall if the league owners and players reach a new labor agreement by then.
"I can't believe it, I can't believe it," he later told the team's timberwolves.com website after he landed about the prospect of playing his first NBA game. "I can't wait for that day to come. Since you are a kid, you imagine you're playing on NBA Live on PSP or you see Kobe Bryant or something and you want to be over there one day. You just dream about that and never think it's going to come, and now I can do that."
Rubio signed autographs and exchanged hand slaps with fans as he was led to black limo-like van waiting curbside. The van's corporate slogan on its side seemed appropriate: "Exceeding expectations."
This is Rubio's second visit to Minnesota. Rubio and his father quietly flew into town for several hours two days after the team drafted him at age 18 in June 2009.
"He was young then and it was a whirlwind," Wolves assistant general manager Tony Ronzone said. "He'll be able to come now and say, 'This is my team. This is my new family. This is my state, where I'm going to live.' His eyes are wide open and appreciative to what he sees in his surroundings."
This time, he's staying a week. He'll join new teammate Wes Johnson at the team's Thursday night draft party during his visit to the Twin Cities, which will last about a week. During that time, he will tour the city and meet with team sponsors and season-ticket holders, who likely will greet him as enthusiastically as Monday's airport crowd did.
"It's nice when you walk in your house and your family's excited to see you," Ronzone said. "When you walk in and your family's not excited, it's not good."
Three days away from the draft, Ronzone was asked Monday morning if he still expects the team to select a player with the No. 2 overall pick and keep him rather than make a trade.
"Anything can happen, but right now we're going to keep 2," he said. "We like 2."
The Wolves own the second and 20th pick Thursday night. They are believed to be seeking a trade that would send that second pick and perhaps other assets away for a young center and a pick later in the first round.
• The team will hold its final pre-draft workouts Tuesday with a five-player group that includes UCLA guard Malcolm Lee and Kentucky guard DeAndre Liggins. The only player Ronzone said he had hoped to see but didn't was Georgia Tech guard Iman Shupert, who withdrew because of an injury. San Diego State's Kahwi Leonard also cancelled because he is expected to be taken after the Wolves' second pick and long before their 20th pick.
• Doors for Thursday's free Target Center draft party will open at 5:30 p.m.