You don’t have to be an international basketball guru to recognize names like Dirk Nowitzki, Yao Ming, Manu Ginobili, Pau Gasol, Sarunas Jasikevicius, and Luis Scola. And to know that these players are going to play a significant role in their team’s success and most likely leaders in several statistical categories.
If you know names like Joaquim Gomes, Wang Zhizhi, Robertas Javtokas, Brad Newley, Pablo Prigioni, and Carlos Jimenez, congratulations. That means you’re moderately-knowledgeable about basketball outside of your country.
However, international tournaments always have a handful of little-known players that come in with much less fanfare and reputation, only to use that tournament as a springboard into national and international headlines.
About a week after the Olympics have officially ended, Interbasket will be profiling 10 of these players, over the next couple of week, that made names for themselves during the 2008 Olympics or furthered their reputation with their play.
One of the biggest stories this tournament was the play of the 17-year old Spanish guard Ricky Rubio. For those of you that have followed international basketball the last couple of years, it’s almost impossible for you not to have heard of this phenom.
The Rubio Legend Began in 2006
Rubio first became legend when he led Spain’s U16 National Team to the Under-16 Eurocup championship. And what was so amazing about Rubio’s performance during the tournament was that he was so obviously heads and shoulders above the competition.
In the seven games during the tournament, Rubio registered three triple-doubles, and one quadruple double. And to top it all off, he not only hit a halfcourt, buzzer-beating, three point shot from half-court, to force the first overtime In the 110-106 double overtime finale victory over Russia, but he scored 51 points, tallied 24 rebounds, passed for 12 assists, and had 7 steals for the game.
After his amazing performace in final game leading Spain to the title, and led the tournament in points, rebounds, assists and steals, Rubio was named MVP.
As the youngest basketball Olympic medalist, the teenager is so good that he plays a significant role as the backup point guard on the second-best team in the 2008 Olympics.
Rubio plays behind Toronto Raptors guard Jose Calderon, and ahead of former Utah Jazz guard and current starting point guard for Real Madrid, Raul Lopez.
And Ricky is so good, that Spanish coach Aito Garcia Reneses selected Rubio for the national team over another up-and-coming point guard Sergio Rodriguez, known as Spanish Chocolate on the Portland Trailblazers. Reneses also coachs DKV Joventut, the ACB club that Rubio plays for.
When Coach García Reneses was asked if he had any qualms about having a player so young on the court, he responded, “This 17-year-old kid is actually a very mature player, and I have no problem putting him on the court.”
Though Rubio’s Olympic stats weren’t all that amazing and his field goal percentage was downright horrendous at just 28% – his composure and the skills that he displayed at his age were impressive and certainly mature beyond his years. It probably helps that Rubio has played professionally for three years, joining DKV Joventut at the age of 14, but that alone doesn’t make Rubio such a great prospect. I mean, Rubio isn’t lightning quick by any means, he looks pretty weak, he can’t jump and his jumpshot looks like it’s out of the 1950s.
So then, what makes Rubio so special? The kid’s basketball IQ is GENIUS, he’s got lightning quick reaction time, quick hands, fantastic hand-eye coordination, patience beyond his years, and did I mention his genius-level basketball IQ?
Even so, none of Rubio’s statistics are overwhelming, but the overall look at his statline gives you an idea of Ricky’s all-around potential – 4.8 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists, and 2.1 steals.
But Rubio’s contributions don’t end at the numbers he accumulates, his legend grew in his first non-junior tournament with his Olympic performances – stealing the ball from his idol Chris Paul (unheard of in the NBA), dealing with defensive pressure from guards nearly twice his age, and many times his experience (Jason Kidd and Sarunas Jasikevicius), and he was key in Spain’s 18-point comeback win against China as he pressured China’s veteran guard Liu Wei, and stole the ball from both Yao Ming and Yi Jianlian.
During the Olympics, the young Spaniard never once seemed out of place or out of his league playing the world’s best. “I was nothing compared to him when I was 17,” said teammate and Spanish superstar Pau Gasol, who was drafted when he was 20. “His maturity and confidence level is extremely high for his age and for what’s he doing.”
Because of Rubio’s slight build, floppy hair, and infectious smile, many early observers have compared him to Pistol Pete Maravich. And though Ricky definitely has the flair of a Pistol Pete, Rubio is more a pure point guard than he is a scorer. Lang Whitaker, editor of SLAM magazine, thinks Rubio is more like Magic Johnson than Maravich, “Maravich was a scorer first, while Ricky seems suited to being a distributor first and scorer second.” said Whitaker.
I think he is a combination of Chris Paul and Manu Ginobili. Rubio has awesome handles, understands spacing, is a master of changing pace, and has a knack of seeing plays before they happen. And even though he is very talented on offense, what makes Rubio ultra-scary is that he has even a better understanding of defense. In his first year in the Euroleague, as a 14-year old, Ricky led the league in steals at 3.1 a game in just 18 minutes.
Not a bad start to be compared to Pete Maravich, Magic Johnson, Chris Paul and Manu Ginobili, most players would love to hear those comparisons, but when Ricky Rubio was asked which players he hopes to be compared to, or whom he patterns his game after, the boyish, 17-year old responded: “I’m Ricky Rubio. I play like Ricky Rubio.”
Links and Resources: Ricky Rubio Olympic Profile (Fiba.com), In Young Spaniard, NBA sees next Maravich (New York Times), Spain’s Rubio plays well beyond his years (NBC Olympics), Ricky Rubio Video Mix (YouTube), Other 2008 Olympic Breakout Profiles: Ioannis Bouroussis