Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
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NEW YORK – On the night his countryman Pau Gasol was taken with the No. 3 pick in the 2001 NBA Draft, Ricky Rubio stayed up until 2 or 3 a.m. in his native Spain watching the proceedings on television.
“My mom was like, ‘Go to bed,'” Rubio said Wednesday at the Westin Hotel in midtown Manhattan.
“Now I’m here.”
Sporting shaggy hair and a few days stubble on his 18-year-old face, the 6-foot-5 Rubio met a throng of media and declared it his dream to play in the NBA after competing professionally in Spain since he was 14.
“I want to play in the best league in the world,” Rubio said.
Though most experts predict that Rubio will be among the top two or three picks taken in Thursdays’ draft, Celtics GM Danny Ainge doubts that Rubio can make an impact as a rookie.
“I don’t see Rubio being that dynamic player now,” Ainge told radio station WEEI. “I think he’s got a lot of potential. He’s a very flashy player. He has a great mind for the game and he’s a terrific passer. I don’t see him — just physically, and because he doesn’t shoot the ball very well — I don’t see him having an impact as a rookie.”
Though Rubio will probably be long gone by the time the Knicks pick at No. 8 — unless they trade up to grab him — he said he would love play in New York.
“They are the No. 8 pick,” he said. “If they go up it will be exciting to go to New York.”
He added: “I would be a dream to play in Madison Square Garden.”
Rubio praised Knicks head coach Mike D’Antoni’s seven-second-or-less philosophy and said he’d love to play in it.
“He loves to run,” Rubio said of D’Antoni. “He lets the player be free.”
Rubio said New York is only “six or seven” hours from Spain by plane, but seemed to indicate a preference for the warm weather of California, which is more akin to his homeland.
He worked out only for the Sacramento Kings and several Sacramento writers followed him to New York.
Whoever selects Rubio will have to negotiate his complicated buyout clause with Spain’s DKV Joventut. One report indicated it could cost an estimated $4 million to $6.6 million to get out of Rubio’s contract.
Rubio is scheduled to earn just $175,000 next season with the Spanish club.
NBA teams can pay up to a maximum of $500,000 to free players from overseas contracts.
“The (buyout) clauses are disproportionate to his salary — abusive clauses,” Rubio’s father, Esteban, told ESPN.com. “We want to know, if he really left, whether or not he’d have to pay these amounts. It’s fair for DKV Joventut to get paid a certain amount of money, but what they want to collect is out of proportion with what Ricky earns.”
“My agent is working on that,” Rubio said Wednesday. “I’m not thinking about my buyout.”
After the Los Angeles Clippers pick Blake Griffin at No. 1, Rubio could go as high as No. 2 to Memphis.
Memphis GM Chris Wallace told The Memphis Commercial-Appeal that his separate meetings with Rubio’s agent, Dan Fegan (in Los Angeles), and Rubio (in Barcelona) were “cordial” and “productive.”
Still, reports have surfaced that Rubio doesn’t want to play in Memphis, but Rubio didn’t go that far. Asked what would happen if the Grizzlies picked him, he said: “Then I will play with my friend Marc Gasol. If Memphis takes me, Memphis takes me. But we will see what happens [Thursday].”
Oklahoma City picks at No. 3 and a Yahoo! Sports report said the Thunder has hired a Spanish law firm to assist with Rubio’s buyout in case Oklahoma City drafts him.
Sacramento chooses at No. 4 and Rubio clearly likes the idea of playing in the warm weather and on the West Coast.
Minnesota has the No. 5 and 6 picks in the draft, but Rubio didn’t sound too enamored of playing there.
“My mom is worried because she doesn’t like the cold weather,” he said.
Wherever he lands, Rubio said his mother and possibly his 12-year-old sister will join him.
His mother will cook for him.
“I love pasta,” he said.
As for adjusting to life in the U.S, he said: “I have to improve my English.”
Rubio refused to take a shot at Brandon Jennings, the American point guard who spent a year playing in Italy and said of Rubio after a workout in Sacramento: “I think the dude is just all hype.” “He’s a really nice guy,” Rubio said of Jennings. “He loves the Italian food.”Jennings, who also met the media Wednesday, retracted his comments about Rubio after a recent workout with the Knicks.“I think I got a little carried away with it, I was having too much fun with it,” Jennings said. “He’s not all hype. The kid has more experience than everybody in this draft because he’s been playing [professionally] since he was 14, so he’s a great player. He did his thing in the Olympics. Overall, he’s a great person. I know him, we did a photo shoot together, so no disrespect to Ricky Rubio.”
Rubio models his game after NBA point guards Jason Kidd, Steve Nash and Chris Paul and hopes to emulate them in the league.
“They love to run and make their teammates better,” he said. “If they make an assist, they make everybody happy and that’s very important.”
Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.