Originally posted on Fox Sports South  |  Last updated 1/23/12
ATLANTA When Minnesota played Milwaukee in its second game of the season, Kevin Love had 30 and 20 and the Wolves lost a close game 98-95. Interestingly, Bucks guard Brandon Jennings didnt create a national stir with his performance. Jennings, the flashy and candid point guard had 24 points and seven assists, clearly outplaying Minnesota rookie Ricky Rubio. The Spanish import had just six points and four assists with three turnovers, but Jennings didnt have much to say. Not anything antagonistic, at least. When asked about his relationship with Rubio, Jennings said, I wouldnt say its a rivalry. But trust that Jennings got some pleasure out of the win and outplaying Rubio. Prior to the 2009 NBA Draft where Rubio was selected fifth, five spots ahead of Jennings Jennings had this to say about Rubio: Yeah, I think Im a better player than he is. I just shoot the ball better than he can. The only thing Ive seen him do sometimes is when he has a home-run pass or something like that. I think the dude is all hype. You know Jennings went at Rubio extra hard when the two were on the court. You know every opposing guard probably goes at Rubio a little harder than usual in a let me see what this young Spaniard is about kind of way. On the Hype Meter, Rubio is registering right up there with leagues biggest stars these days and hes just a rookie, playing for a mediocre (but blossoming) squad. Timberwolves assistant coach Terry Porter, a former point guard, was quoted after the game saying, When you're a player and you got a young point guard and a guy who has a lot of hype, as a veteran you want to go at him and see what he's made of. That's part of the process. That's the initiation, so to speak, to the point guard-hood of the NBA. Thats what Rubio is up against this season. Hes like the NBAs Tim Tebow on a smaller level. Hes polarizing. Some people love him and some people dont like him very much (hate is too strong). At a recent game in Atlanta, Rubio was booed several times. This is notable because the Hawks crowd can be one of the most placid in the league, conjuring up enthusiasm or ire for only the most compelling teams and athletes. That they booed Rubio is telling. They chanted JONAS-BROTHER at the kid because of his Jonas-like wig. Any time Rubio drew a foul the crowd moaned louder than usual. OH! Anytime his hair flops its a foul, now? shouted one fan. Now, in contrast, No. 1 pick Kyrie Irving visited Philips a few after Rubio. Irving played at Duke and the crowd couldnt muster any ill will. Love and hate from fans is only for big stars like Rubio? Yep, like Rubio. Its always been clear why Rubio has captivated. He sees things on the floor that only the most gifted passers see. Hes a Houdini with the ball. Hes unique and precocious. Hes a highlight reel. Love was the NBAs Flavor of the Month last season, now he takes a backseat at least interest-wise to Rubio. I think its great, said Love. It brings a lot of attention to our team. And it takes a lot of attention and pressure off me. Rubio Mania is definitely a thing. But, even though he has a lot of fans and admirers, theres always been and still is an undercurrent of skepticism and resentment from others. Jennings wasnt the only dissenting voice back in 2009. He was called a Spanish Globetrotter, one former AOL columnist wrote, He very easily could be a Eurobust, who has brainwashed us with YouTube reels that conveniently ignore his turnovers and no-look flips with no-chance recipients. Purposed or not, there seemed to be some xenophobia and ethnocentrism at work when it came to Rubio questioning (and sometime outright bashing). Some of it sprang from a subscription to good ol American exceptionalism (We are the progenitors and perfectors of basketball), some of it was the product of a string of Eurobusts (Rubio who? Oh, please not another Nikoloz Tskitishvili). By the early 2000s, the NBAs foreign explosion was in full swing and sometimes it seemed like, for an American fan, there were more and more players getting drafted with names they couldnt pronounce. American born college players probably didnt too much appreciate the first round guaranteed contract pool growing smaller and smaller. Twenty foreign-born players were drafted in 2003, including, fair or not, Eurobust posterboy Darko Milicic, picked second and ahead of future All- Stars like Carmelo Anthony and Chris Bosh. In the subsequent years there were too many Pavel Podkolns and not enough Dirk Nowitzkis. Fans, analysts (and many scouts) started souring on the foreign boom too many unknowns. People get a chance to watch the college guys, so you have an idea of the kind of player that youre dealing with, said Vladimir Radmanovich. The current Hawk was the No. 12 pick of 2001 Draft, a draft that featured some future All-Stars, like Spains Pau Gasol and American busts, like top pick Kwame Brown. Most of us that come from Europe are enigmas and mysteries to 99 percent of the people other than the scouts and GMS that come to see us. As Milicic, forever burdened with never living up to his pre-draft hype, said, For a foreign player to come in and be the second pick, it was like Who is he? Thats part of what Rubio has dealt with these past three years incredulity, ignorance and cynicism. It also didnt help that it took him two full seasons to finally come stateside, not without him reportedly trying to finagle his way to a more attractive city and organization. And its not like he was averaging a triple-double while he stayed in Spain, either. So, when he finally arrived in Minneapolis to begin his pro career, there were more eyes on him than any of his fellow rookies. Its the kind of pressure that could make a make a weak dude crumble. Rubio, to the surprise of many, has thrived. Watching him play when we first came to practice, what we didnt know was that he was such a competitor, said Wolves coach Rick Adelman. Hes going to compete with people. Rubio passes are SportsCenter staples, that part of his game gets the buzz; but the hallmark of his early career has been his ability to meet the expectation and pressure head on. Hes skinny and he looks pre-pubescent, but the kid isnt a punk. Rubio was 0-10 before he hit his game-tying three-pointer against the Clippers, a game the Wolves won on a no he didnt 25-footer from Love at the buzzer. Rubios trey took as much, if not more, resolve than Loves game-winner. Rubio is a gamer. His competitive streak, production and obvious skill are gradually winning over people that used to be critics. Back when Jennings was calling Rubio all hype, he intimated that Rubio was the worst of all the first-round point guard prospects. He might have been mostly right. Theres a good chance Rubio will never be as good as Jennings, Jrue Holiday, Ty Lawson or Steph Curry. But thats debatable. Its clear, however, that Rubio has already outperformed Jonny Flynn (whom Jennings mentioned), his fellow Minnesota draft pick that year. Flynn can barely stay out of the D-League. Whats Jennings have to say now? Hes going to be good. Yeah, thats a little ho-hum, but you can sense Rubio winning begrudged respect from even his most stern skeptics. If he finds a way to get over the inevitable Rookie Wall, maybe opposing fans will stop clowning him with boy-band references. Thats gotta get old.
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