Originally posted on Fox Sports North  |  By PHIL ERVIN  |  Last updated 8/16/13
MINNEAPOLIS -- The prospect of sitting half a world away and watching their centerpiece point guard play 11 games in 18 days, all while his teammates prepare for training camp, has to draw a cringe from some NBA general managers. Not Flip Saunders. "I like players to play," the Timberwolves president of basketball operations said. "That's how you get better." Sounds simple enough. Eurobasket sure isn't the Olympics. It's not even the FIBA World Championships, recently renamed the Basketball World Cup. But the 24-team, two-and-a-half week European national team tournament is still an outlet for hardwood nationalism, enough that guys like Ricky Rubio and Tony Parker will spend most of September overseas competing for their countries. "No one has said that we are not going to Slovenia for the gold medal," Spanish point guard Ricky Rubio told eurobasket2013.com. "The national team we have is of a great level." And when past scouting emphases have created a Minnesota roster dotted with foreign athletes, chances are a few of them will be competing in Eurobasket every couple of offseasons. It's with notable zeal, even for the eccentric assists machine, that Rubio returns to competing internationally. He missed the London Olympics last summer while rehabbing from the ACL tear that derailed his 2012 NBA rookie of the year chances, looking on jealously as Spain nearly upset the United States in the gold medal game. He sat out 25 of the Timberwolves' first 30 games, too, but finished his sophomore campaign as by far the brightest beacon during an injury-riddled 2012-13 season. His 2.4 steals per game tied for first in the NBA, and his 7.3 assists per game ranked 10th. Moreover, he endeared himself to a bitterly disappointed fan base with his energetic, feisty style of play -- the same kind that could lead to another injury if he's not careful. But Saunders would rather have his athletes work in game situations than overexert themselves in the weight room or conditioning programs. "I'd rather have them doing that, sometimes, than overtraining," Saunders said. "I think you have to have a combination of both. But it's one of those things we have to see." Rubio has been in Spain since late July working alongside Memphis' Marc Gasol and Dallas' Jos Caldern, readying for his first taste of international competition since the 2011 Eurobasket tournament. While Rubio won't be joined by veteran countrymen Pau Gasol, Juan Carlos Navarro or Serge Ibaka, Spain sits among the favorites to claim gold in Slovenia. The Spaniards would be the first squad since the Soviet Union teams of the 1950s to achieve a Eurobasket three-peat. "Last year, I followed the team from a distance with great envy," said Rubio, who also played on Spain's gold-medal 2009 team. "That experience gives me more strength to fight for a goal (I consider) achievable." Spain could see Montenegro in the tournament's final, "knockout" stage, but the latter will be without possibly its best current product in Nikola Pekovic. Lengthy contract negotiations with Saunders derailed the big man's plans to join in his homeland's quest to rectify an awful 2011 Eurobasket showing. Although he and Minnesota agreed to terms Wednesday, the 6-foot-11, 281-pound restricted free agent already has missed a good chunk of Montenegro's pre-tournament workouts and opted not to risk injury. "I believe that Pek looked at his people, and they thought it was maybe getting to the point of no return where they didn't feel he was gonna have the proper time to get ready and get into training camp, the proper training camp, that was he was gonna be there and he'd be ready to play without maybe having some type of chance at injury, whether he was signed or unsigned," Saunders said. "I anticipate he felt he was going to be signed by the time Euro would open." Montenegro had hoped to sport a frontcourt featuring Pekovic and Nikola Vucevic, the NBA's No. 3 rebounder last season, but it will be up to the Magic center to carry the country's post load mostly on his own. One other Timberwolves returner is set to represent his nation next month. Coming off his rookie NBA season, Russian guard Alexey Shved is slated to compete in his second Eurobasket tournament after teaming up with departed Minnesota free agent Andrei Kirilenko for bronze in 2011. A flex guard protg of Rubio's, Shved's listed as a center on Russia's roster. He stands 6-foot-6 and weighs 185 pounds. Shved will join Cavaliers' No. 19 overall draft pick Sergey Karasev for a Russian team that won't benefit from some of its most seasoned international veterans' services, including those of Kirilenko. That's par for the 2013 Eurobasket course, though big NBA names like Parker (France), Boris Diaw (France), Marcin Gortat (Poland), mer Asik (Turkey) and recent Timberwolves cut Mickael Gelabale (France) all plan to participate. The three-stage tournament begins Sept. 4. The teams are divided into four groups of six in the preliminary round, and the top three teams from each round-robin group advance to a qualifying group stage. Eight teams move on from there into a single-elimination bracket with a bronze-medal contest for the semifinal losers. The gold-medal game is slated for Sept. 22 in Ljubljana, Slovenia -- about a week before most NBA training camps commence. Saunders said coach Rick Adelman and his staff will tailor Rubio and Shved's preseason training and condition regimens based upon how many minutes they play at Eurobasket. Saunders himself wasn't sure if he'd make a trip to Slovenia to watch the pair and scout potential future prospects, but thanks to Internet streaming, he'll be tuned in either way. "We'll definitely keep an eye on it," Saunders said. Follow Phil Ervin on Twitter
GET THE YARDBARKER APP:
Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45
MORE FROM YARDBARKER

LeBron James and Kyrie Irving ate the Celtics’ heart during the second half of Game 4

NFL to reportedly bring back fun touchdown celebrations

Kevin Love: Kyrie Irving was ‘special’ in Game 4

Mike Trout explains why he doesn’t look at advanced stats

Reds’ Joey Votto shuts down heckler with “I remember when you used to be thin”

LIKE WHAT YOU SEE?
GET THE DAILY NEWSLETTER:

Rob Gronkowski gets new contract, chance to double salary

Padres offering $99 ticket plan for five June wins or 16 June games – whatever happens first

Former Jets WR Devin Smith found out he was cut via Twitter

Roger Goodell tweets ‘Key & Peele’ joke about relaxed celebration rules

Martavis Bryant: ‘I know this is my last chance’

Glennon: ‘This is my year and I’m not worried about the future’

The 'Walk on home, boy' quiz

NBA Referee Hotline Bling: Dejounte Murray gets his calls blocked twice

It's reality check time for the Texas Rangers

Box Score 5/23: Preds, Warriors move on to respective Finals

The 10 best sports docs available for streaming

Why wait? Our too soon Cavaliers-Warriors NBA Finals preview

NBA Weekend Awards: Who will take a bite of the Snow White Crystal Apple?

The 'How two award snubs might shake up the NBA' quiz

Preparing for the BIG3: Q&A with BIG3 co-founder Jeff Kwatinetz

Two months in and Nintendo's Switch dominates 2017 video game market

Getaway Day: League leaders falter allowing new teams to surge ahead

Best of Yardbarker: Gregg Popovich doesn't mince words

NBA News
Delivered to your inbox
You'll also receive Yardbarker's daily Top 10, featuring the best sports stories from around the web. Customize your newsletter to get articles on your favorite sports and teams. And the best part? It's free!

By clicking "Sign Me Up", you have read and agreed to the Fox Sports Digital Privacy Policy and Terms of Use. You can opt out at any time. For more information, please see our Privacy Policy.
the YARDBARKER app
Get it now!
Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45

NBA Referee Hotline Bling: Dejounte Murray gets his calls blocked twice

It's reality check time for the Texas Rangers

The 'Walk on home, boy' quiz

NBA Weekend Awards: Who will take a bite of the Snow White Crystal Apple?

Why wait? Our too soon Cavaliers-Warriors NBA Finals preview

The 10 best sports docs available for streaming

The 'How two award snubs might shake up the NBA' quiz

Preparing for the BIG3: Q&A with BIG3 co-founder Jeff Kwatinetz

Two months in and Nintendo's Switch dominates 2017 video game market

Getaway Day: League leaders falter allowing new teams to surge ahead

Today's Best Stuff
For Publishers
Company Info
Help
Follow Yardbarker