Scoggins: Challenge for Rubio, Wolves to show grit with glitz

  • Article by: CHIP SCOGGINS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 9, 2011 - 11:53 PM

Now if the kid can only play. That pretty much sums up the great Rubio experiment that commenced Friday with the opening of Timberwolves training camp.

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Now if the kid can only play.

That pretty much sums up the great Rubio experiment that commenced Friday with the opening of Timberwolves training camp. Finally, the wait is over. No more guessing or speculating or clicking on YouTube to watch his fancy passes.

We can see the real thing in the flesh. Ricky Rubio, the point guard.

For the first time since Kevin Garnett packed up and moved out, the Wolves have a player who creates a buzz, makes people take notice, brings some intrigue to a team that couldn't give tickets away in recent years. Maybe even creates some hope for the true diehards.

But here's the thing: Can he play? Can he shoot, or shoot well enough? Can he handle stronger and more athletic point guards who undoubtedly want to see if there's substance behind his hype and cool name?

Those questions will be answered in short order as the NBA returns to work with a crammed 66-game schedule. Even those connected to the team sound curious to see what this Rubio character is all about now that they can get their hands on him.

"We'll find out what he can do," coach Rick Adelman said. "But I know he's a very talented kid. Everything I've read about him and heard him talk about, he's unselfish. It's going to be fun watching him. Watching him on tape is one thing. But to have him on the floor and dealing with him is another."

The Wolves face a fascinating tug-of-war in how to proceed with their 21-year-old Spanish point guard. They want to promote and market his appeal while also setting realistic on-court expectations.

Team officials, cheerleaders, employees, fans and media greeted Rubio at the airport in a rock-star arrival for his introductory news conference this past summer. This for a guy who might start his career as a backup.

The Wolves understandably want to maximize Rubio's charisma and mystery factor. The organization has been beaten to a pulp on the court, in public relations and internal morale. The Wolves finally have something -- and someone -- who brings excitement and energy to the place, so why not put a spotlight on it? Can't blame them for that.

Rubio has revealed a quirky sense of humor in his few media sessions, his broken English adding a dose of charm. In one interview, he marveled at how large bags of chips are in the United States, talked about needing to learn the maze of skyways around downtown and admitted he was so impressed by the elaborate costumes of a few trick-or-treaters in Hollywood that he wanted to get his picture taken with them.

His game apparently has a certain style and flair to it, too, but his success as a player will be determined by more than that. We don't know his true basketball chops yet, so it's probably wise to resist the temptation to become intoxicated on hype. At least until he plays in an actual NBA game.

The Wolves must weigh the basketball side of the equation and what's best for Rubio's development. That might require some patience because his initial impact isn't as simple as flipping on a light switch.

Rubio is learning a new system, team and level of basketball in a shortened training camp and condensed preseason while also adjusting to a new culture. Adelman said he doesn't know enough about his rookie point guard yet to lay out his expectations. The two met for the first time as they posed for pictures on media day Friday.

"I know one thing is he can really pass the ball," Adelman said. "He's got great instincts. He's interesting because sometimes he has a pretty easy pass and he'll go another direction and make the same pass a lot harder. But he does it."

Adelman said Rubio reminds him of Jason Williams, his whirling dervish point guard in Sacramento years ago. The veteran coach sees similarities in their passing, their flashy style, their flair in open court. In that case, Adelman better keep a bottle of antacid on the bench, although he seems resigned to the fact that those maddening moments might be inevitable.

"I'm prepared because I went through a lot with Jason," Adelman said with a smile.

In other words, expect the unexpected. At least Rubio is no longer a myth. He's finally here. He even took a picture of his jersey hanging in the locker room Friday and sent it to his friends back home.

Now we get to see what he does with it on.

Chip Scoggins • ascoggins@startribune.com

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