NEW YORK (Reuters) - Flashy Spanish point guard Ricky Rubio, selected fifth overall in the NBA Draft by Minnesota, said he was thrilled to play in the league despite the prospect of chilly winter nights in the Midwestern state.
“It’s cold there,” Rubio told reporters moments after his name was called at the draft. “Yeah, my mom hates cold places.”
“I‘m excited to come to the NBA,” the 18-year-old said.
Rubio, whose slick ball-handling and mussed brown hair have led to comparisons with former American sensation Pete Maravich, was tipped to be picked as high as second by some pundits.
The 6ft-4in guard, who turned professional at age 14, said his priority was game-time rather than marketing ahead of joining the Timberwolves, whose home base lacks the profile of more cosmopolitan destinations.
“I‘m thinking about to play minutes,” Rubio said.
“That’s my love. I want to play basketball, and if they give me minutes, I‘m going to come.”
Unlike other top picks, the teen’s draft status has been complicated by a 4.75 million euro ($6.6 million) fee his Spanish club DKV Joventut has demanded for his release.
“Now I know where I‘m going to go, so I have to talk with the team, what exactly they want about me, and if necessary, I‘m going to pay the buy-out,” he said. “We are closer to an agreement with the team, so we are going to see.”
Rubio said his experience at the Beijing Olympics last year, where he held his own against U.S. point guard stars Chris Paul, Deron Williams and Jason Kidd on the way to a silver medal with Spain, had given him confidence to play the world’s top league.
“It’s helped me a lot because I played against the best players in the NBA, so that means that I can play here,” Rubio said.
The teen was one of three point guards taken by Minnesota in the opening round, the Timberwolves also snapping up Jonny Flynn of Syracuse at number six and North Carolina’s Ty Lawson with the 18th pick.
“That’s a big surprise for me they took another point guard,” Rubio said. “But we are going to see what they want.”
For his part, Flynn said of Rubio: “I can’t wait to go play with him.”
“It’s good to have two facilitators that can make plays on the court ... I think we can boost each other’s level of play.”
Two other Spanish players were selected in the draft; small forward Victor Claver taken by Portland with the 22nd pick, while Denver grabbed point guard Sergio Llull with the 34th, although his rights were later traded to Houston.
Editing by John O'Brien