On June 20 of 2011, Ricky Rubio arrived at the Minneapolis-Saint Paul Airport for the very first time. The, floppy-haired, 20-year-old Rubio descended the escalator flanked by the Wolves general manager at the time, David Kahn. Waiting for Rubio was a hoard of hundreds of screaming Wolves fans excited to set their eyes on the Spanish maestro for the first time.
This afternoon after the Utah Jazz’s shootaround, it was a similar scene. “I’ve never seen this much media at a shootaround in my life,” said Jazz Center Rudy Gobert. “Y’all here for Ricky?”
As Ricky entered the scrum, now, fully bearded with a ponytail, the 26-year-old was again greeted by smiling faces that he returned with handshakes and hugs. Amidst mixed emotions, Rubio was excited to be “home,” as he put it.
“Last night, I was walking around the city and it felt like I never left,” said Rubio to local media. He did, however, admit to not knowing how taking the floor would feel this evening. “We will see, I have a lot of friends on that team.
From day-one, Rubio developed an immediate connection to not only the people of Minnesota — who were starved for a player who could engage them in the ways a young Kevin Garnett did a decade prior — but to the Wolves organization.
“I was surprised the first day I came to the airport, got out of the gates and I saw all the people — all of the love,” said Rubio, as he strolled down memory lane. I’m still feeling that love, it was amazing. I really appreciated it.”
That first season was special to him through connections to fans but also mentors in the organization.
Rubio referenced Flip Saunders as one of his biggest mentors and how he still misses him. Even before Saunders took the role of President of Basketball Operations in Minnesota, the two had a connection. Today, Rubio described how that connection lives on through Flip’s son and Wolves Assistant, Ryan Saunders.
His sights are now set on the future as he described tonight as marking a time to move on to a “new chapter in his life” and “grow up.” Rubio knows that he has a new task at hand and that is to lead the Utah Jazz.
Utah Jazz Head Coach, Quin Snyder, on Rubio
“He’s mature and ready to lead,” is how the Jazz head coach described the transition for Rubio, as he referenced the time his new point guard spent with the Spanish National Team as another yearly transition the point guard went through.
While Snyder recognizes the personal element of the return, his focus, today, was on how Rubio unleashes Utah’s offense. “He already has pushed our pace.”
As much as the Wolves were ready to move on from Rubio in lieu of the Jeff Teague acquisition, the Jazz are starving for his ability to facilitate. Rubio had ten assists in Utah’s season-opening victory against the Denver Nuggets. Last season, the Jazz never had a player reach double-digit assists in any regular season game.
Shabazz Muhammad and Karl-Anthony Towns on Rubio’s Return
“It’s going to be strange, definitely going to be strange,” said Shabazz Muhammad when asked about playing against Rubio. To this point, Muhammad has played his entire career with Rubio. From that experience, he says he will be ready to guard Rubio’s unique style. “I know I gotta get ready to get back and stop that pass.”
Karl-Anthony Towns was less analytical with his response when asked about Rubio. Towns was more caught off-guard by Rubio’s new look, “I mean, how strange is it to see Ricky with a ponytail?”
The Wolves expect every seat in the newly renovated Target Center to be filled this evening for the much anticipated home opener. Fans are likely to, again, come out in hoards to see Rubio but also to get a glimpse at the new look Wolves who look to pave a trail to somewhere they never went with Rubio, the playoffs.