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Spanish point guard Rubio to join Timberwolves

Spain's basketball player Ricky Rubio prepares to shoot during Spain's national team practice session in Madrid, August 12, 2010.
Spain's basketball player Ricky Rubio prepares to shoot during Spain's national team practice session in Madrid, August 12, 2010.

BARCELONA (Reuters) - After pulling out of a move to the NBA two years ago, highly-rated Spanish point guard Ricky Rubio has decided to end a successful stint at Regal Barcelona and will play for the Minnesota Timberwolves next season.

The 20-year-old Spain international was selected fifth in the draft by the Timberwolves in June 2009 but at the last minute decided to stay at home for two more seasons to better prepare for the rigors of the American league.

"I have finally decided to go to the NBA. I have a dream that now can become reality," Rubio told a news conference at Barcelona's Nou Camp soccer stadium Friday.

"The NBA will be very emotional, a difficult challenge but a very nice one."

The Timberwolves, who had the worst record in the NBA last season, immediately splashed pictures of Rubio on their website (http://www.nba.com/timberwolves), running a special feature entitled "Rubio Central" and urging fans to brush up their Spanish.

"Since the ripe age of 14, a floppy haired, flashy ball-handling Spanish wizard has tantalized NBA executives and fans from afar," website editor Jonah Ballow wrote.

"Six years later and two years following the 2009 NBA Draft, the basketball enigma that is Ricky Rubio will finally make the journey over 4,500 miles to Minneapolis, agreeing to play for the Wolves in 2011," he added.

Rubio is the 10th Spaniard to make the transition to the NBA, following players including brothers Pau and Marc Gasol, who play for the Los Angeles Lakers and Memphis Grizzlies respectively.

He has been compared in appearance and playing style to American former NBA player Pete Maravich, a five-time All-Star, known as "Pistol Pete" and who died in 1988 aged 40.

"It's a bit scary because I have never left Barcelona before but I am very keen to take on the challenge," Rubio said.

"I am not leaving because I think I cannot do any more here but because I believe I am ready and I am looking forward to it.

"I am going there to play against the best and triumph. That is what motivates me."

WISE DECISION

David Kahn, president of basketball operations for the Timberwolves, said Rubio's decision to take two more years to prepare for the NBA had, with hindsight, been a wise one, both for him and his new team.

"You are never sure when anybody signs in any venue until you actually have a signature on the page so I can't say that it was something that we didn't have to work at," Kahn said.

"But I think we developed a close relationship with not only him but his family members and I think they felt very comfortable starting their career here in Minnesota and we're very pleased to have him."

Rubio's youthful good looks make him a valuable marketing commodity and his sponsors include sporting goods maker Nike and restaurant chain McDonalds.

His contract with Barcelona included an option for him to buy himself out after two seasons and the Catalan club would receive one million euros ($1.44 million) as part of the agreement, an official said.

Under NBA rules, the Timberwolves can pay half while the player will have to come up with the rest.

Barcelona also have first refusal rights over Rubio if he decides to return to Europe.

In his two seasons with the club, Rubio won one European title, one Spanish league, two Spanish Super Cups and two Spanish King's Cups, as well as a string of individual awards.

($1 = 0.696 Euros)

(Additional reporting by Gene Cherry in Raleigh, North Carolina)

(Writing by Iain Rogers in Madrid; Editing by Clare Fallon; To query or comment on this story email sportsfeedback@thomsonreuters.com)

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