Rubio Shines Against USA

Jonah Ballow
Wolves Editor/Writer

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Jonah Ballow with Tony Ronzone


Wolves editor/writer Jonah Ballow caught up with USA Basketball and Wolves director of player personnel Tony Ronzone to discuss Ricky Rubio's performance against Team USA and an update on Kevin Love from Greece.

Jonah Ballow: Tony, thank you so much for joining me, it's been a busy schedule for you, the team was in Spain competing in some exhibition games, some friendly matches, and now they're headed to Greece, and that's where you are now, preparing for the next contest.

Tony Ronzone: Yeah, we just landed about an hour ago [recorded yesterday]. I just got to the room, waiting for my bags to come up, so I can get organized.

Jonah Ballow: It sounded like quite a ride from the states here, over to Spain.

Tony Ronzone: First, we had an exhibition game against China in New York and also we played France before we left. During the time in New York it was crazy busy, still trying to get our team down to the 12 that are allowed to play in FIBA basketball for the World Championships. Now we're down to 13 players and we played Spain last night, in a great game, whose one of the favorites to win the World Championships, we beat them last night. Now we're in Greece and we got two days of training here and then we play Greece on Wednesday night, and then Thursday we leave for Istanbul, Turkey and then we play our first game on Saturday and we play Sunday and Monday.

Jonah Ballow: Let's talk about that contest against Spain, highly competitive game against that squad. They have Pau Gasol, who's not playing with them right now but they did have Marc Gasol, Ricky Rubio, and several players on that team that really forced USA down to the final minutes. What did you think of the resolve from your USA squad to get the victory?

Tony Ronzone: We've got 12 new players on this team from the previous Olympic team on USA. We've only had about a week and half, two weeks total of training camp with these guys. Spain has been playing together since 1999 when they won the gold medal against our USA team in Portugal, and four of those players are still on that team. It's the second best league in the world behind the NBA, the Spanish League, they're very organized, very talented league, and every year players are getting drafted out of there. On that team, beside the guys you mentioned, Victor Claver, drafted by the Portland Trail Blazers, they also got Jose Calderon from the Toronto Raptors, and they got Rudy Fernandez from the Portland Trail Blazers, and they got a guy named Felipe Reyes, that if he decided to come to the NBA, he would be a back-up for 20 teams in our league right now.

Jonah Ballow: Let's focus on Ricky Rubio, the Wolves draft pick a couple of years ago, this is one of those times where I really wanted to focus when he got on the floor on how he competed not only offensively against American players, NBA players, but defensively. I came away pretty impressed with his speed, his ability to really work around screens, I thought Ricky Rubio really turned in a solid performance.

Tony Ronzone: He did a phenomenal job. I was so proud of him. In one eye, we had to win for the USA, but in my other eye I was cheering for Ricky. Of course he's property of the Minnesota Timberwolves. But Ricky handled himself very well, we're very guard-dominated with our USA team, we have Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook, Stephen Curry, Rajon Rondo, Chauncey Billups are very athletic. Our whole situation here, getting ready to win this World Championship is that we got to pressure the guards internationally. We put a lot of pressure on Ricky, and it did not bother him at all. He handled it very well, he drove on us, took it to the basket. You kind of look at him and you think to yourself, if he would of been put on our team with USA, how many more assists and opportunities he would've had because the Spanish team is not as athletic as we are. They don't have Rudy Gay and Kevin Durant on the wings, they have good players, but they're more of an organized structure type of game to their system. So what Ricky did out there was phenomenal, I'm very happy for him. It's exciting times knowing that we have this kid under our name.

Jonah Ballow: Now looking at Ricky Rubio from an X's and O's standpoint, what do you see out of him as far as what his game will translate at that next level. What will Ricky Rubio do in the next couple of years in the NBA that you saw maybe of glimpse of in that contest against the USA team.

Tony Ronzone: One to handle pressure, the pressure is not going to bother him. He started when he was 17 years old in the Olympic game against us in 2008 in China. He has a skill as an NBA player to handle pressure, to create opportunities for scoring opportunities. That's his job to create opportunities for his team to be successful. His plus-minus in that game was at plus-22, which is pretty amazing. As soon as he got in the game, we were up, and he totally took over the game. That's the skill level he has. He got bigger, he got stronger in that last year or two, he shoots the ball well, he's got a great release. Probably the one thing he has to get better on is he just has to be more consistent knocking down that three-ball.

Jonah Ballow: As far as how he fits into an NBA game, that up-tempo style. He could probably thrive in a fast break type of offense that Minnesota would like to execute in the next couple of years.

Tony Ronzone: No question, he's got that skill and talent already. If you think about it, you put any kid in college or anybody right now to go against Derrick Rose, the No. 1 pick in the draft, Stephen Curry, and Rajon Rondo, who has won an NBA championship, you think about it, how many people can compete at that type of level. Ricky Rubio competed and played well, and never backed down, and defensively he was a warrior. He had four steals against us, that's pretty amazing.

Jonah Ballow: Definitely, his on-the-ball defense was impressive to me. Kevin Love, what's the situation with his injury status and his playing time here in the next couple of days preparing for Greece?

Tony Ronzone: First of all, Kevin Love's attitude has been fantastic. He is so excited to be part of the USA team. It's all about the three letters on the front of the jersey, U-S-A, not about the name on the back. He understands that. He's doing what we need, to fit into our system. He's the only guy on our team that takes charges, and can get in the post, and put a body on some of these international fours and fives that are big and strong. He's going to help us down the road, coming up. I was hoping that he could of went the other night, because we were planning on playing him but due to the fact that he did take a charge and hit his head, we had to sit him out under doctor's orders, he' going to be practicing Tuesday here in Greece. He will get on the floor Wednesday, that game is televised so all the Minnesota fans will get a chance to see Kevin on the floor on Wednesday.

Jonah Ballow: Yes, 11 AM Central Time on ESPN, Wednesday, against Greece. How fun is this for you to just follow these young guys? I know it's not the "Redemption Team" of 2008, but it's a young, core group of guys, that seem to be hungry and excited to wear that USA Basketball across their chest.

Tony Ronzone: Well it's great for the future of USA Basketball and it's great for the NBA because we have great, young talent that are going to continue to get better. What this group has done is they will push those guys that think they will automatically be on the 2012 team. It's not going to be that way; it's going to be a competition. USA Basketball is starting to be important for our kids in America that want to play and be part of USA. Moving forward, we're excited about the future, it's great to be around these guys, they have been a "together" unit and they're playing for their country and that's the most important thing.

Jonah Ballow: I think most people don't realize is how important the World Championship is to these guys. Especially USA Basketball to get an automatic bid into the Olympics. So these guys are hungry to get this title right?

Tony Ronzone: No question, if we can somehow win the gold medal at the World Championships, it's going to be very tough to do but we have a chance. We get an automatic bid to 2012 in London. If we do not win it and take second or third, then we have to come back next summer and re-group and qualify for the Olympics in the America Championships, which will be held in Argentina next year.

Jonah Ballow: Yeah so a tough road ahead, so hopefully they get the title there for the World Championship. You've covered a lot of European type of basketball; you've been overseas for a long time and know what the skill level is like over there. How important is it to represent the Minnesota Timberwolves also? I know you're working for USA Basketball but now to really be able to watch these guys and eye down some of the talent on some of these different international teams and bring that back to Minnesota when we scout and go in to the draft.

Tony Ronzone: Well that's what's great. When David Kahn hired me is the opportunity to have the advantage to be a part of this program. To see future, young talent on a first-hand basis in a high level competition and to also look at other players and to get a feel of how they react. Especially the European guys, there are always players to bring over as free agents, so you're always looking and finding ways to get better and that's what we're doing. We're excited about the future of Minnesota Basketball.

Jonah Ballow: Well you're a busy guy, I can hear the phones in the background and I thank you so much for taking time with me here today, and you're in Greece and got some games to prepare for, so I'll let you go do that. Tony, I hope I can catch up with you in the next couple of days after the team has gone through this next round of competition.

Tony Ronzone: No problem, call me anytime. I'll see everyone soon when I get back for Training Camp.

Jonah Ballow: We're looking forward to it, that's Tony Ronzone, handles Director of Player Personnel for USA basketball, and of course with the Minnesota Timberwolves and our front office here. We're excited to have Tony on staff and also excited for USA Basketball, Kevin Love, and Ricky Rubio. Thanks so much, Tony.

Tony Ronzone: Thank You, bye.

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