Originally posted on Fox Sports North  |  Last updated 12/23/11
MINNEAPOLIS Take a walk in the skyway from the downtown Minneapolis parking lot adjacent to Target Center and you'll see a sign promoting the new-look Minnesota Timberwolves.Pictured on that sign is a mop-topped player with dark, scruffy facial hair and a white Timberwolves jersey. His eyes look one way while his just-completed pass is apparently heading in the other direction. There is no basketball in the sign but rather the words: Presenting the amazingly quick Ricky Rubio no-look pass. Want to see it again?Yes, the Timberwolves are already promoting the 21-year-old Spanish point guard as perhaps the new face of their franchise. For the past three years, that title belonged to rebounding machine Kevin Love. But now that the slick-passing Rubio has joined the fray, that's all changing.The Wolves drafted Rubio out of Spain with the fifth overall pick in the 2009 draft, but he chose to play professionally in his home country for two years before making the leap to the NBA. This offseason, Rubio finally signed with Minnesota giving Wolves fans new reason for hope and excitement."It's sort of been 2 12 years in the making," Timberwolves president Chris Wright said. "It's been this phenomenal Ricky Rubio watch since we drafted him two years ago. So the level of expectation around Ricky is great."Rubio is used to dealing with high expectations. He has played professional basketball in Europe since he was 14 years old, going up against players much older, taller and stronger. Prior to the 2009 NBA draft, there was much hype and speculation about the then-18-year-old Rubio. Would he be happy playing in a smaller market like Minneapolis? Would his game translate to the NBA? Did anyone really know much about him other than YouTube clips of his dazzling no-look passes?Since he arrived in Minnesota, the expectations for Rubio have grown. Teammates have raved about him, many saying they've never played with a point guard with his court vision and passing ability. They also know many fans are eager to get a look at Rubio in a Timberwolves uniform."Everybody just wants to see the product that they drafted or their team drafted two years ago," fellow rookie Malcolm Lee said. "It's kind of like a buildup. Now that he's finally here, they want to see what he can do."Rubio says he's not handling the pressures of the NBA any differently than he handled things in Europe. He has dealt with media attention for seven years, and he's working through it like a seasoned veteran."Since I was 15 years old, everybody (has been) talking about that. It's normal when you are playing pro," Rubio said. "Everybody talks about you. Everybody creates expectations. Some guys are handling it. Sometimes, some of them can. You don't have to think about that. You have to think about playing, and that's what you want, and that's when you love it."As the regular season approaches, the curiosity of fans has been growing. Some finally had a chance to see Rubio play in Minnesota's exhibition game against Milwaukee last week. Others were treated to a few dance moves from Rubio as well as a brief rendition of "Happy Birthday" in his broken English during a scrimmage that was open to the public and drew about 2,5000 fans.Many of the fans on hand for the scrimmage came to Target Center during their lunch break just to get a glimpse of the charismatic Rubio."He's very, very mature both on and off the court. Off the court, he handles himself so well," Wright said. "He's already a very, very good professional off the court. He handles the media beautifully. He's got a wonderful way (and) mannerisms. The accent is a killer. It doesn't hurt that he's a good-looking young man as well. But he's got a lot of great attributes that are going to work very, very well for him off the court."Wright said the Timberwolves organization is trying not to oversell the Rubio hype. But that doesn't mean the team won't take advantage of his marketability. Rubio has already made plenty of media appearances, and more signs with his likeness can be found outside of Target Center.Rubio's No. 9 jersey will likely be a fan favorite as well. Plenty were seen at the preseason game and open scrimmage."We don't have any numbers yet, but already there are a lot of No. 9s that have been sold, actually nationally as well as in our local market here," Wright said.But the spotlight won't just be shining on Rubio. Minnesota took Arizona star Derrick Williams with the second overall pick in this year's draft. They also signed Rick Adelman, the eighth-winningest coach in NBA history, to replace Kurt Rambis. Those additions, plus Love's breakout last year, mean fans will have plenty to watch for during the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season.Rubio is happy Williams is around to share the new-kid spotlight."That's good because both have to take this pressure and we split it. It's great for us," he said. "We want to learn from our teammates. We want to (make) our teammates better and try to win more games."As a rookie in 2008-09, Love didn't have another marquee name to deflect some of the attention. He thinks the addition of Williams will help Rubio transition to the NBA."It's definitely good for them to take a little bit of the pressure off so they're able to make mistakes and not get too down on themselves because they're going to grow," Love said. "They're going to take leaps and bounds in their rookie year, just like all guys that are out there on the court. As far as the spotlight goes, it works both ways. I'm happy that they're taking a lot of the interviews as well so I can just get out there and focus on my game."Rubio will make his official Timberwolves debut Monday, when Minnesota hosts Oklahoma City during the regular-season opener. But in his one preseason game at Target Center last weekend, Rubio was already becoming a fan favorite, as chants of "Ole! Ole! Ole!" filled the air."I think that could become one of our new theme songs," Wright joked. "There will be an amazing following. There will be a lot of Barcelona shirts in our arena Monday night as well. There will be an awful lot of Spanish flags. There will be a lot of people here who will bring almost that soccer-esque atmosphere to our building as well because of who he is, what he is, where he comes from."
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