It’s not always easy being a teenager, is it? Most of us lesser mortals have to deal with similar, sometimes frightening issues. Homework. Hoping to catch eye contact with that one cute girl in the library. Acne. Trying to get selected for the school basketball team. Arguments with nagging parents trying to spy on your Facebook account. A lot more homework.
There are a few exceptions though. Unlike you or me, 15-year-old Ricky Rubio had slightly different issues. He probably had to worry about curious parents and homework, too. But it must have been hard to plan the perfect guest list that Super-15th birthday party when, six days before his 15th birthday, he became the youngest professional player ever in Spain’s top division basketball debuting with DKV Joventut. It must have been difficult finishing that 10th grade Biology project when the 15-year-old Rubio had to focus on leading Spain’s U16 team to the gold medal and winning MVP of the FIBA Europe U16 Championship. Who really needs to be good at mathematics if you're putting up triple and quadruple doubles in the U16 Championship, scoring 51 points in the final win over Russia, and leading the tournament in points, rebounds, assists, and steals?
So while most of us worried about our Board examinations or had awkward conversations with that girl in the library, Rubio spent his latter teen years becoming the greatest young basketball player that Spain had ever seen. He won numerous personal and team accolades, in a league which is perhaps second only to the NBA in world basketball, including the FIBA EuroCup Championship and the ULEB Cup Championship with Joventut. From 2009, he played two seasons for Europe’s finest basketball team – Barcelona – with whom he won everything, including the Treble (Spanish League, Spanish Cup, EuroLeague) in his tenure there.
At 17, while most kids his age chose between ‘Science’ or ‘Commerce’, Rubio, as the point guard of Spain, had to choose whether to pass it to Spanish basketball legends Pau Gasol or Rudy Fernandez. Rubio and Spain went up against the best in the world to finish with a silver medal (behind the USA) in the 2008 Beijing Olympics. He continued to stack up trophies in his prolific career with the Spanish national team, winning EuroBasket in 2009 and again in 2011.
But like every teenager does, Rubio faced some trials and tribulations too. At 18, when we worry about college and student clubs, Rubio got drafted fifth in the 2009 NBA Draft by the Minnesota Timberwolves. Instead of heading to the American Northwest though, he chose to stay in sunny Barcelona for an extra two years. Critics attacked the youngster who, despite his massive amounts of experience in European and international basketball, still had much to prove in order for his game to to translate the NBA.
Not strong enough! He doesn’t have a jumpshot! Can’t keep up with the NBA’s pace! Opposing guards will eat him alive!
And then, 2011 happened, and finally, his belated career in the NBA began. The Timberwolves, coming off another awful season (17-65) suddenly had things looking sunnier for them. Their squad featured one of the unexpected superstars in the league in double-double machine Kevin Love. They had picked Arizona’s explosive forward Derrick Williams with the second pick in the draft. They added recent NBA champ JJ Barea to the mix, which also included complementary pieces like Michael Beasley, Luke Ridbour, Nikola Pekovic, Wesley Johnson, and Darko Milicic. To top it off, they hired one of the most talented coaches in the league – Rick Adelman – to be the brains behind this young team.
But it was the arrival of Rubio as the floor general that helped string all of the pieces together and helped the team improve on both the offensive and the defensive ends of the floor. After starting the first dozen or so games off the bench, Rubio’s impressive start in NBA basketball finally got him the starting role, which he hasn’t handed away since.
Now, behind Cleveland’s incredible rookie PG Kyrie Irving, Rubio has established himself as one of the best rookies of this year's class, and is once again giving encouraging signs of cashing in on that incredible potential he showed as a teenager. He is averaging 11.1 points, 8.4 assists, and 2.3 steals (second-highest in the league) per game this season. He is a joy to watch with his fancy playmaking ability on the offensive end and a pest for opposing point guards when he is defending them. And he has already led the Timberwolves more wins about halfway into this season (18-17) than they had all of last year.
At 21, you may have been in the final year of college. You may be applying for work, or internships, or looking to continue your further education. You may have lost touch with that girl in the library but would’ve laid your eyes on another one in the college canteen. Meanwhile, Ricky Rubio found a career for himself, too. At 21, Rubio has survived enough peaks and troughs that many professional basketball players don’t enjoy or suffer in their entire careers, from international and European acclaim to a legendary status on YouTube, from being questioned and ostracized by critics to being celebrated by the basketball world.
And watching this prodigious teenager grow into the shoes of a very talented basketball player, I get the feeling that the youthful brilliance was only the introductory chapter. The rest of the story – where only the sky is the limit for Ricky Rubio – is still waiting to be written…