Ricky Rubio is considered one of the biggest talents in European basketball. The Spanish point guard turned just 18 years old in October and is already the talk of basketball world – including the NBA, where he cannot play until the 2010-11 season at the earliest. heinnews.com’s David Hein caught up with him after his ACB club DKV Joventut lost at Alba Berlin in the Euroleague on November 13, 2008.
Rubio was unable to play in the game as he is still recovering from surgery on his right wrist. He did participate in individual practice at the O2 World arena in Berlin, going through lay-up drills and passing drills, using just his left hand. And he was seen voicing his opinion on questionable referee decisions from the bench and offering encouraging words to his teammates during time-outs.
heinnews.com: How frustrating is it for you, knowing you can’t help the team sitting on the bench.
Rubio: I want to play, I love to play. But I can’t. I have to have patience because if I come back two weeks before maybe my injury will get worse and I need more weeks to rest. I try to help the team on the bench, I try to talk to them. But this is all I can do.
heinnews.com: It’s not enough, you have to get out there.
Rubio: Yeah, I want to play (laughing). But coach says right now it’s impossible.
heinnews.com: What is the status? How far are you, how much longer do you still have?
Rubio: We are talking to the doctors and they don’t want to say a date because nobody knows. It’s difficult for me. It depends on my feelings. If I feel like I am ready I think I will play. Maybe between two weeks or 10 days. I don’t know. So, maybe two weeks.
heinnews.com: What are your feelings? This is first major injury, what do you think about being injured?
Rubio: It’s my first operation so I was scared. But everything went well for the moment. And I have to wait. The only thing I can do is wait and do physical work. I am only doing lay-ups with the left hand. Passes with the left hand. Anything I can do with the left.
heinnews.com: So, when you make it back to the court, now you can win a game with a left-handed lay-up with one second left, correct?
Rubio: (Laughing) I was talking with the coach and they said maybe you could play in our next game only with the left hand. I was laughing but it’s true. If I only used the left hand I could play right now. When I come back to the court I can use both hands. It’s better for me.
heinnews.com: Let’s talk about the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. You were 17 years old there and you were playing against the best players in the NBA – and not just the Americans NBA players, I’m sure guys you looked up to. What was that experience like for you? Was there any one moment where you said, wow, I’m actually at the Olympics playing for Spain?
Rubio: For me the age is not important. But to play in the Olympic Games is the best for an athlete – not only in basketball. We were not only playing against NBA players – also China and Germany. It was unbelievable for me. The Olympic Games was also a great competition. Phew, when I had a one-on-one against Chris Paul, I was like – Wow! This is Chris Paul! I was seeing him two weeks ago in the TV. And now I’m playing against him. That was a great moment.
heinnews.com: So you were a little bit star-struck?
Rubio: (Laughing) Yeah, a little bit.
heinnews.com: What is the biggest thing you learned from that experience?
Rubio: What can I do? I took all kinds of experience. People know me more. But that’s not important for me. Most important for me is to take the best from all the other guys. I take my experience against Chris Paul, Jason Kidd, Deron Williams – their best movements, I try to do on the court. And I just try to learn.
heinnews.com: How do you feel that you have changed as a person and as a player from that experience?
Rubio: It’s a big change. I don’t know what to say exactly. But when you’re playing at the Olympic Games, you are not at another level, but you play against the best players in the world. So you have more experience.
heinnews.com: There was a lot of talk that you could not talk to the media before you turn 18. What did you think about that and what was it like for you to actually then do these interviews?
Rubio: I wanted to talk before but I couldn’t because I was with my school with basketball. So I have to do a lot of things. Now I go to school but less hours so I can make interviews and media. So for me it’s great because I want to talk. I want people to know me and what I am like and how I am. So now I am happy.
heinnews.com: So, how are you? For people who have not read interviews about you, how would you describe yourself?
Rubio: I’m a normal person. I’m a kid. I do what normal guys of 18 years old would do. But I’m shy too. I don’t want to be the focus of the people. I try to not be the focus. I’m just a normal person.
heinnews.com: When you’re not playing basketball, how do you have the most fun?
Rubio: I want to be with my friends. I want to have funny times with my family and friends and people I love.
heinnews.com: And what do you do?
Rubio: Nothing, I just relax and not think about basketball – talk about our friends, about how is life.
heinnews.com: Tennis? Bowling?
Rubio: There is one commercial center, saw we go bowling with friends. Also cinema.
heinnews.com: Which movies would you suggest me to see, what movies would you like?
Rubio: I went to American Pie. It was a funny movie, a comedy, so I laughed a lot. And I like Will Smith a lot – all kinds of his films like Men in Black.
heinnews.com: I see you’re carrying with you a John Grisham book. Is it in English or Spanish?
Rubio: It’s Spanish.
heinnews.com: What kind of books do you read? And are you able to read English books yet?
Rubio: For me, it’s too hard to read English books. I will try, maybe next month. But at the moment I’m reading this book. I like to read. My mom always gives me a book when I travel. So I start reading it and I like it.
heinnews.com: Your older brother Marc is also a talented basketball player. Talk a little bit about him. He’s a couple years older than you. What do you talk about when you talk about basketball? What do you think of him and how he is doing?
Rubio: He’s a great player. He’s playing in the second division in Spain. He tried to be on our team three years ago. He’s a young player so he has to work. We never really talk about basketball. If he wants to practice with me, we go and play some one-on-one. We go to momma’s house and afterwards we play some one-on-one. So it’s fun.
heinnews.com: Joventut has already played against Lottomatica Roma. The Italian team features a 19-year-old point guard, Brandon Jennings, who made big headlines by deciding against playing in college to come to Europe. What do you think about him and coming to a foreign country and playing at such a high level – something you could experience soon as well?
Rubio: I watched him in the game we played against Roma, we lost. He’s very quick. He has really good reflexes. And this is like what you said, if a European player goes to the NBA, but he comes to Europe. Europe is growing all the time. The level is growing and trying to be the same line as the NBA. It’s difficult. But I think he has a good chance, a good opportunity in Europe. And after that he wants to go to the NBA. I think he’s a player for the NBA.
heinnews.com: Obviously it’s a question everybody wonders about. What do you think about the NBA? When you hear someone say NBA, what goes through your mind?
Rubio: I watched the NBA on TV. It’s the best league in the world. Everybody wants to play there. But it’s not the focus for me. Now I am playing in the ACB so I only think about the ACB and Euroleague. I just try to do my best. And after that, I don’t know what will happen in one or two years. I don’t know. But NBA is a dream for all players.