Timberwolves International Players, Pre-NBA: Ricky Rubio

Mar 8, 2016; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves guard Ricky Rubio (9) dribbles in the first quarter against the San Antonio Spurs at Target Center. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 8, 2016; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves guard Ricky Rubio (9) dribbles in the first quarter against the San Antonio Spurs at Target Center. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports /

The Timberwolves have had rosters with international flavor in many of their most recent seasons, and 2016-17 is no different with Ricky Rubio and Nemanja Bjelica in the rotation.

The road to the NBA for all the American basketball talents seems to be fairly similar: high school, college, pros. There are some exceptions to the rule, of course, like Kevin Garnett, Kobe Bryant and LeBron James, who all entered the league straight from high school, but these unique examples.

So, what if you’re an international player?

Well, in such cases, the pathway to the NBA is often a little bit different. Surely, with the number of international players in the league rapidly increasing, more and more talents from overseas decide to follow the same procedure by also attending colleges in the U.S.

This way, their chances of being spotted by the NBA scouts improve. However, many current international players in the NBA got there through a different route: by first proving their worth in Europe (or other continents). Such examples include the likes of Pau Gasol, Dirk Nowitzki, Tony Parker, and others.

This series of articles will, present the early careers of current international Timberwolves players and how they got where they are now.

The first on the list is the Spanish point guard Ricky Rubio.

Youth-Level and Competitions

One of the best ways to be noticed by scouts (including NBA representatives) is playing well in international competitions at the youth level, including under-16, under-17, etc. And Ricky Rubio certainly excelled at that.

Well, ‘excelled’ probably doesn’t even begin to describe the things that Rubio managed to do playing against his peers.

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In the 2005 Under-16 European Championship, playing against much older opponents, Rubio was in the tournament’s top-five for assists per game and averaged double-digits in points, helping Spain to reach the bronze medal. However, this was far far away from his show a year later in the 2006 Under-16 European Championship.

Rubio managed to guide his team to the title by being the tournament’s leader in four main statistical categories: points, assists, steals and rebounds.

Yes, you’ve read that right. The 6′-4” point guard averaged 12.8 rebounds over the competition and outperformed every single player on every team, including the power forwards and centers. And yet, that’s still not the most impressive thing about Rubio in that tournament.


As in 51 points, 24 rebounds, and 12 assists.

That seems like a stat-line that only Wilt Chamberlain would be capable of pulling off, right? Well, not exactly.

Rubio waited until the very last match of the tournament to show everything he had. In the double-overtime finale against Russia, he scored 51 points (almost half of all of Spain’s points that day), dished out 12 assists, stole the basketball seven times and grabbed 24(!) rebounds (out of 49 total for the team).

That seems like a stat-line that only Wilt Chamberlain would be capable of pulling off, right? Well, not exactly.

To this day, Rubio’s performance remains unmatched in any type of European youth (or senior) competitions.

Oh, and don’t forget that in that same final he also hit the equalizing buzzer-beater from mid-court over three defenders at the end of fourth quarter to force the first overtime.

Absolutely inconceivable. You can see the shot at 1:24:22 in the video below.

National Squad

Less than two years later, at age 17, Ricky managed to make it to the Spanish national team, the second-best national squad in the world at the time.

He played in the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games alongside such stars as the Gasol brothers, Juan Carlos Navarro, Rudy Fernandez or Jose Calderon. Rubio managed to finish in the tournament’s top-10 for assists per contest, alongside players like Šarūnas Jasikevičius, Chris Paul, Manu Ginobili, LeBron James and Andrei Kirilenko. He also became the youngest ever athlete to play in the men’s basketball final of the Olympics and came home with a silver medal.

Playing together with arguably the best generation in the history of Spanish basketball, Rubio, at 25, already has two gold and one bronze medal in the European Championship,  as well as a silver and a bronze from the Olympics. And he’s not done yet.

Spanish ACB and Euroleague

Joventut Badalona

Having started his professional career at just 14 years of age, Rubio didn’t get much playing time at first with Joventut Badalona. However, it didn’t take long for him to carve his name into the Spanish league’s (ACB) record books.

Rubio finished the 2006-2007 season as the league-leader in steals, becoming the youngest ever to do so at 16 years old. He then repeated the same accomplishment two years later, in 2009, also bringing home the Defensive Player of the Year accolade that season. One year before that he was chosen as the best point guard in the ACB, also winning the Eurocup (the second best international competition in Europe after Euroleague) with Joventut.

Related Story: Is Ricky Rubio Still Underrated?

All these impressive achievements led to him being considered as one of the most talented prospects in the entire 2009 NBA draft class. Not surprisingly, Rubio was selected fifth overall by the Minnesota Timberwolves.

At the time, however, he had already signed a contract with one of two strongest teams in Spain, FC Barcelona Basquet. He also didn’t think that he was ready for the NBA and thus decided to remain in his home country for a little longer.

FC Barcelona Basquet

Rubio’s stay at Barcelona could be looked at from two different perspectives. In 2009-10, he was once again selected as the best point guard in the ACB. Plus, he claimed the most-spectacular ACB player’s award and with the team even won the Euroleague trophy.

However, seeing him play in a slow-paced, long possession-based schemes was quite devastating. His stats weren’t impressive and by his second season at Barca it became clear that his time in Europe (or at least at Barcelona) must come to an end — otherwise his development as a player could have slowed to a halt.

Rubio is clearly a player who strives thrives in a fast-paced game. Knowing how good he is at passing and court vision, it seemed he’d find his place in the NBA.

Next: What To Watch For During The Timberwolves' Preseason

Rubio finally moved across the Atlantic in time for the 2011-12 season. And seeing his name constantly appear among the NBA’s top-five passers, I think it’s safe to say that he did find his place here. At least for this Wolves squad, he’s definitely a perfect fit.