Ricky Rubio is back in the Spain national fold having missed the 2012 Olympics through a knee injury. In December the 22-year-old returned to the courts with the Minnesota Timberwolves and impressed over the second half of the season. His return to the Spain side coincides with the European Championship in Slovenia, where the reigning champion will be missing key players.
Question. Without Pau Gasol, Felipe Reyes, Serge Ibaka and Nikola Mirotic, what chances does Spain have in Slovenia?
Answer. It’s new to have so many people out and such important players as well, but we are still in the group of contenders to win the tournament. Maybe it isn’t as clear cut as other years, maybe we’re a bit under strength, but we are more or less at the same level as other countries.
Q. The absences are mostly concentrated in inside play. Will that alter the line-up?
A. It could do. Marc Gasol will be there and he is one of the most dominant pivots in Europe. In the outer court we have only one injury although it’s a very important one: Juan Carlos Navarro. But we still have great potential and we can change up our style to play with smaller players and run a lot.
Q. Do roles change due to the leadership of these important players?
The time has come when I am not the kid any more. I have to step up”
A. We have to remedy that as a group. We have been lucky to have unique players, each with different characteristics, leadership qualities and their way of being. We don’t have to substitute anybody, we can replace those qualities as a group.
Q. Is there a lot of pressure on you all to win a third straight title?
A. There is always pressure, but for different reasons. It’s a little less this time because of the injuries but we are ambitious and we will put pressure on ourselves. We want to win again.
Q. Will it be difficult to share minutes at point guard with José Calderón, Sergio Rodríguez and Sergio Llull?
A. We can share minutes. The two Sergios, Llull and Rodríguez, have already done so this year at Real Madrid. Why can’t we do it with Spain? We can play to our strengths and one of those is in the position of point guard.
Q. How do you feel physically?
A. Good, my knee is fine.
Q. Have you had any discomfort?
A. I’m happy with how I finished the season physically but sometimes it’s on my mind. At the campus [Rubio’s summer training camp for kids] I notice playing on concrete is different than parquet, when I’d never noticed it before. And you also notice that your knees, after so many years of playing, can only take so much. You have to look after the joints to avoid injury.
Q. Do you do specific shooting practice?
A. I try to make myself comfortable and that is achieved by repeating drills over and over again. I admire players such as Parker, Navarro and Nowitzki. When they are off color or having a bad day, they can get through because they have their own shots. I’d like to improve my shot selection and create my own.
Q. How would you sum up Minnesota’s season?
Before my comeback game, I couldn’t sleep due to the excitement"
A. Too many injuries; we changed the line-up a lot and the coach was away for a few weeks. But we can’t make excuses. We learned a lot through our errors this season; we are a young team and we want to improve. Personally I’m very happy. After such a serious injury, I just wanted to feel like a player again.
Q. Were you afraid you wouldn’t be the same?
A. I went through many emotional states, starting with frustration. Things didn’t work — I didn’t feel like a player, because my leg wouldn’t respond. That had never happened to me before. I could play well or badly but by body always responded. I spoke to Raúl López, who had suffered similar injuries and he told me: “In the first month you have to accept that in one-on-ones players you would normally beat will beat you. You have to accept you are not 100 percent.” But then, when things start to click, you feel euphoric. Before my comeback game, I couldn’t sleep due to the excitement after nine months out.
Q. You’re an idol in Minnesota. Are there a lot of demands on you?
A. Up to now all the adjectives have been positive but the moment has arrived when fighting is not enough. We have to win and of course people look to the leaders. Kevin Love is our star but behind him, to help out, are Nikola Pekovic and me. We have to take this team to the next level. When things don’t go well we will be blamed but this is something we have to improve. I have set myself a challenge: to improve as much as possible this summer and return to the team at a different level.
Q. Are you not concerned that excessive pressure will be placed on you again?
A. I have always been “the kid,” a young player, and I have always been given a bit of leeway. But the time has come in my career in which I am no longer the kid. I have to take a step up.