Game 1 of the Spanish ACB league playoffs. Numerous NBA executives and head coaches such as Sacramento's Geoff Petrie and the Los Angeles Clippers' Mike Dunleavy have made the trek out to the capital of Spain to watch DKV Joventut take on Real Madrid in the quarterfinals.
Ricky Rubio is amped. He's his team's go-to guy, the darling of the Spanish media, and is considered by many to be the most talented prospect ever to come out of Europe. Although his squad is going up against the most historic franchise in Spanish basketball -- with a budget five times their size, and home-court advantage to boot -- Joventut has won its last four games, and is clicking on all cylinders defensively.
Unfortunately for Joventut, three minutes into the second quarter, disaster strikes, as a hard crossover at halfcourt by fellow NBA draft prospect Sergio Llull sends Ricky Rubio to the floor in pain, out for the game and possibly the series. Joventut falls apart and finds itself down by 24 points at halftime. The match is essentially over, and Rubio's squad is one game away from seeing its season end.
Fast forward to Game 2, and Rubio starts off the game on the bench. Real Madrid scores 12 points in the game's first five minutes, and Joventut head coach Sito Alonso has seen enough. He waves Rubio over to the scorer's table, and the crowd goes ballistic with joy. Shades of Paul Pierce in Game 1 of the NBA Finals last year.
Rubio mans the helm, and the complexion of the game changes immediately. All of a sudden the entire team starts playing much harder, and the offense begins the flow thanks to the terrific work Rubio does on the pick-and-roll. Joventut takes the lead in the second quarter, and never looks back en route to an 82-77 victory that forces a decisive Game 3 in Madrid on Saturday. Rubio's line: 16 points, seven rebounds, six assists, four steals, six turnovers.
It's just another dramatic chapter in what might end up as one of the longest books ever written about a basketball career. His 51 point, 24 rebound, 12 assist and seven steal game in the Under-16 European Championship Final is already a thing of legend. His debut in the strongest league in Europe came at age 14. He won the FIBA EuroCup in 2006, and the ULEB Cup in 2008. He was a key cog in helping a Rudy Fernandez-led squad win the prestigious Copa del Rey last year, and was named the top point guard in the ACB a few months later. He held his own against Deron Williams, Chris Paul and Jason Kidd in the Gold medal game of the Olympics this past summer in Beijing. His resume reads longer than most 35-year olds, but somehow he's still only 18 years old, the youngest player in the 2009 draft.
Rubio is rewriting the record books every time he steps on the court. He's in unchartered territory, and no one really knows how far he can go. His knowledge of the game and feel for making plays is really unlike anything we've observed before --larly sees things on the floor and executes passes that only a handful of players in the world are capable of even thinking of. The poise and maturity he shows at all times is nothing short of incredible.
Clearly he has weaknesses -- the most turnover player in the ACB, and shoots an ugly flat-footed jumper that doesn't inspire much confidence regarding his ability to transition out to the NBA 3-point line. Somehow he manages to shoot 43 percent from beyond the arc, though, and also leads all players in this draft in assists per-minute, and not by a small margin. He was also named the defensive player of the year in Spain, after leading the league in steals for the third-straight season. How much can we expect him to improve over the next few years? That's the million dollar question.
Game3 on Saturday could be yet another chapter in the incredible career of Ricky Rubio. Even more NBA executives will be present -- including Memphis Grizzlies General Manager Chris Wallace -- to see if Rubio can outdo himself and manage to upset Real Madrid on their home floor.