Colleen Jacks of St. Peter never has attended a Timberwolves game, but she took a break from Christmas shopping in downtown Minneapolis on Monday afternoon so she could hustle over to Target Center for the team's scrimmage.
Why? "Ricky Rubio," she said.
Of course. She wasn't alone in that regard.
"He's why I came down," said St. Paul resident Brad Matala, who had his 7-month-old son Mikko in tow.
Two middle-aged businessmen in suits shared the same sentiment as they scurried back to work.
"Rubio," one said.
No further explanation needed. New Wolves coach Rick Adelman seemed amused by the whole "Rubio watch," as one team executive referred to it.
"Yeah, there's a lot of people hyping Ricky," Adelman said, smiling. "Who are those people?"
Um, well, now that you mention it. (Hand raised.) Hey, why not?
For the first time in a long time, the Wolves are compelling to more than just pure diehards. They offer intrigue and an interesting cast of characters, namely Rubio, a slimmed-down Kevin Love, first-round pick Derrick Williams, Michael Beasley and a proven coach in Adelman.
We won't know how good this team can be until it starts playing actual games. Nobody really expects a sudden turnaround. But unlike in recent years, people are excited about the Wolves again. They finally see some signs of hope.
The Wolves distributed 15,013 tickets to their preseason opener Saturday night, a 117-96 victory over Milwaukee. That was their largest crowd for a preseason game since 1999.
The team estimated the crowd at 2,500 for Monday's free lunch-hour scrimmage. That many fans wouldn't have shown up for a scrimmage last season if the Wolves gave away $100 bills at the door.
"We've seen a spike in absolutely everything that we're doing," team President Chris Wright said.
Many are simply curious about the rookie point guard from Spain, which is understandable given the two-year holding pattern that preceded his arrival. Rubio's jersey already is a hot item in the arena gift shop. Sports Illustrated dispatched a writer to pen an upcoming piece on him.
Jacks, a noted Lynx fan, wanted to see what the fuss is all about with her own eyes Monday.
"Whether he's going to live up to all the hype that's been around him," she said.
To his credit, Rubio doesn't act overwhelmed by the attention. He appears relaxed in different situations. As part of Monday's festivities, he got down on one knee and sang "Happy Birthday" to a female fan. He also performed the Dougie dance in the rookie talent skit, although not very well, he acknowledged.
"It was embarrassing," he said.
That's OK. The Wolves want him to run the offense and distribute the ball, not win dance contests.
The vibe around this team feels completely different this season. It's not all doom and gloom, and predict the number of losses.
"It's pretty cool," Love said. "We have a young, energetic group. There's electricity behind us. Hopefully we can take that and move it into positive things. By positive things, I mean wins. I think it's a little bit too early to tell now. I think by opening night, we'll have a good grasp of where we're at."
Love joked that he hopes the Wolves didn't give fans "false hope, so to speak" with their performance against the Bucks on Saturday. Sorry, but they're not going to make 90 percent of their three-point shots in the first half every game. This team is young and still trying to figure things out.
The opening part of the schedule isn't exactly a cakewalk either. They face Oklahoma City, Miami and Dallas in the first week. Ready or not ...
But that, too, is part of the fun and excitement surrounding this team. Fans won't have to wait very long to see how much progress the Wolves have made and how all these new parts fit together.
Finally, fans have reason to watch.
"You can really tell the whole community is really looking toward basketball season," Williams said. "Kind of anxious. People on Twitter, Facebook, things like that, they're getting the buzz back. It's already changing."
Chip Scoggins • firstname.lastname@example.org