MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The wide smile still flashed on Ricky Rubio’s face, quicker than one of his slick no-look passes in the lane.
Yes, the prodigious Minnesota Timberwolves point guard sighed a few times during his first public comments about the torn anterior cruciate and lateral collateral ligaments in his left knee that cut short his promising rookie year. He acknowledged feeling “sad, mad” immediately after the injury. The crutches he used to reach the podium will be at his side for another month. He said he’s unsure if he’ll be recovered in time to take part in training camp or the start of next season.
But Rubio, who had reconstructive surgery on March 21, remained his usual optimistic self, displaying again the upbeat attitude that fits well with the boyish looks that only enhanced the soaring popularity founded by his basketball skills.
“I was happy to see all the people helping me and just giving shout-outs,” Rubio said on Tuesday at Target Center, referring to well-wishes he’s received from fellow NBA stars like Kevin Durant and Dwyane Wade as well as encouragement from “people on the street.”
The Wolves were in eighth place in the Western Conference and in line for a playoff spot right before Rubio was hurt in the closing seconds of a loss to the Los Angeles Lakers on March 9. They are 4-13 since his injury, falling to 25-33. After rehabilitating for more than two weeks in Vail, Colo., where Dr. Richard Steadman performed the operation, Rubio returned to Minnesota and attended his team’s game on Monday for the first time since he was hurt.
“You want to play so bad. You just have to enjoy watching basketball, because it’s the only way you can do it,” Rubio said.
Rubio has a follow-up exam in a month with Steadman. Until then, it’s useless to place a timetable on his return. The Timberwolves have said they expect him to be ready for the beginning of the 2012-13 regular season, which would be about 7 1/2 months from the injury, but recovery can take as long as nine months.
“I don’t know when I’m going to come back. The first thing that I want to make sure is when I come back I’m 100 percent,” said Rubio, wearing a gray, zip-up hooded sweatshirt and his familiar beard and floppy black hair. “I don’t want to put a date on it, because it depends on how my knee feels.”
Rubio said he didn’t believe the injury was bad when it happened — maybe he’d miss “one or two games, not the whole season” — but he soon found out how serious it was. His protected left leg — which he can’t bend very far yet — takes up too much space for him to drive. So his family has been serving as a chauffeur system as well as emotional support.
“Obviously spirits are always high with him. He’s not a guy who gets down. Happy to see him. Hopefully he’ll have a speedy, quick recovery,” teammate Kevin Love said after Monday’s loss to the Phoenix Suns, the sixth straight for the Wolves.
Said head coach Rick Adelman: “When I’ve had contact with him he seems really upbeat. That’s going to be the whole key, making sure his rehab goes good throughout the summer. Knowing him, he’s going to do everything he can.”
In his first season after arriving from Spain, the 21-year-old — the fifth overall draft pick by the Wolves in 2009 — was averaging 10.6 points and 8.2 assists per game. His impact was much greater than that, helping revitalize a franchise and a fan base that’s been stuck in a lottery rut for the last seven years.
“You just have to be strong and do your best to try to come back even harder. I love basketball. I love playing basketball and I’m going to do my best to play again,” Rubio said.
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