A PERFECT TOURNAMENT
When we found out that Rubio decided to play in the U-16 European Championships this summer (apparently, the Spanish Federation wanted him in both U-16 and U-18 tournaments, but he picked to play with generation mates), we felt something big could happen. Hes not only a super talented player, but a guy with experience in the ACB League. Were not talking about an anecdotic showing in garbage time or an appearance just to fill the record books, but having played some meaningful minutes in a few games in the playoffs, including an excellent showing in quarterfinals against Gran Canaria, helping his team DKV Joventut with his terrific defense to make a comeback and ultimately win the game.
As much as the preliminary and quarterfinal stages completely met our most optimistic outlook, his final display exceeded any reasonable expectation.
Croatia was a dangerous but affordable rival for Spain in the semifinals. They had a big size advantage in the frontcourt, but nothing that couldnt be battled with a physical game, and their backcourt frequently worked based on individual inspiration. Spain got an early lead that they never lost, and Ricky only need 28 minutes of playing time to put up a quadruple double, finishing the game with 19 points, 10 rebounds, 13 assists and 11 steals in 33 minutes.
Russia in the final was a tougher match in advance despite the deceiving 15-point differential that Spain got in the preliminary round against them. It was so much tougher that Spain needed virtually a miracle to come up with the victory. But Rubio had an appointment with destiny, and had no intention to miss it. Russia had taken what looked like a definitive 3-point lead with under 2 seconds to go on the clock, and it had to be Ricky, a mediocre shooter, who nailed a mid-court bomb with the buzzer to send the game to the first overtime, which ultimately gave the victory to Spain and an unbelievable stat-line of 51 points, 24 rebounds, 12 assists and 7 steals for Ricky.
It was much more than a mere lucky strike. Its about being a winner.
THE CHARACTER OF A WINNER
As Babunashvili hit an incredible fade-away three-pointer with 1.4 seconds to go, the Russians exploded with joy while the Spanish shank in despair. Nobody had any hope left, even the Spanish coach had given up. Nobody seemed capable of reacting, even to inbound the ball for that final second. Nobody but Ricky Rubio, who was asking like crazy for the ball. Finally a teammate reacted and sent the ball to him; a couple of strides and, sneaking between three rivals, he threw that bomb from the mid court, hitting the board just before going down through the net.
Unfortunately, DraftExpress.com wasnt there for these final games. Rafa Santos, who has been covering the tournament for ACB.com, was one of the fortunate witnesses and those are his words, priceless words indeed to show us Rubios amazing winning character.
According to our research, Rickys 51 points seems to be an unheard of mark in FIBA Europe youth competitions during the last decade at least. Only two players have come close, being both well-known guys with NBA experience: Turkish star Ibrahim Kutluay (who had a brief stint in the Sonics) scored 50 points in a preliminary round game in the 1996 U-20 European Championships, an amount matched by Luol Deng in the qualifying round of the 2002 U-18 European Championship while playing for England (that was a very preliminary stage actually played a few months before the real championship).
Of course, none of them comes close to getting that amount in a comparable stage of importance such as a Final of a championship, although to be fair, we cant forget that Rubio needed two overtimes to achieve it.
Regarding the quadruple double, we dont remember any similar achievement in the last years.
With those last two statistical efforts, Rubio finished the tournament leading the ranks in points (23.3 per game), rebounds (12.8), assists (7.1) and steals (6.5). We have only found one precedent in the last decade; once again Luol Deng, this time in the qualifying round of the 2001 U-16 European Championships (29.5 points, 14.8 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 6.5 steals). Again, this is not the actual Championship, but a very preliminary stage played months in advance that starts the process to decide the 12 participants in the final tournament.
HANDLING THE HYPE
How can a 15 year-old kid handle this kind of hype and huge accolades when we ourselves still havent been able to recover from the shock produced by his incredible display?
That will be one of his biggest challenges, to come back to earth and continue working hard on his game, which is not that easy when he is constantly under the spotlight.
But we cant forget that this is just the Cadets stage, which is a world of distance away from real top competition. Most of the advantages he gains now playing against kids will be gone facing veterans...unless he keeps improving. Actually, Rubios effectiveness will be dramatically shorthanded unless he manages to develop a reliable shooting stroke. At least, according to Rafa Santos, in these last games he showed a rather effective off-the-dribble shot from the short-to-mid range area, a nice step in the right direction of developing a complete offensive repertoire.
Anyway, a new season awaits Rubio. He will likely be the third point guard in the DKV Joventut rotation, so unless theres an injury, it will be unlikely to watch him for extended minutes on court, either in the ACB League or Euroleague. Still, hell keep playing with the junior squad. So the next stop of The Ricky Show will be the LHospitalet Tournament in early January, hopefully featured here, on DraftExpress.com.