Rubio doesn't have time for regrets over injury

Published Apr. 10, 2012 4:05 p.m. ET

MINNEAPOLIS — With every smile, a hundred camera clicks. With every bashful glance or downturned look, a hundred more. Cameras were trained not just on Ricky Rubio's face but at times zoomed on just his eyes, his mouth, his brows.

And so even a news conference about Rubio's knee injury became something more, something almost celebrity, as Hollywood as a windowless room filled with folding chairs in Minneapolis can be.

Besides a fleeting glance of the hobbled Rubio racing (as fast as he could on crutches) out of the Timberwolves' locker room Monday night, it was the first Ricky-in-the-flesh moment since his March 9 injury. It was the first confirmation beyond tweets and website updates and news releases that the point guard who revived Minnesota basketball is indeed still himself.

Since that game against the Lakers, that twisting fall, Rubio has moved on. He's undergone surgery in Vail, Colo., by Dr. Richard Steadman to repair the torn anterior cruciate and lateral collateral ligaments in his left knee. He's begun to bend that knee, first just 90 degrees and, with each passing day, a little more. He's learned to get around on the crutches he's come to hate and he's finally returned to Minneapolis, a city that in some ways is still stuck on March 9.

That was the day the Timberwolves' season went south, though no one knew it for several weeks. The previous game, a 106-94 win over Portland, had pushed them into the Western Conference's final playoff spot. But after Rubio's injury, the postseason has fallen farther and farther out of reach. And so Minnesota (the place, not the team) dwells on that day, when basketball was finally enjoyable, and it wants to know the details, the pains that Rubio has stomached.

But Ricky Rubio has come to terms with it all.

Of course he's upset that he's no longer able to contribute. Of course it's painful to see how far the team has fallen without him.

"Seeing the team and feeling that you can't help them, it's tough," Rubio said. "They have a lot of injuries, not only mine. They have (Michael) Beasley, they have J.J.(Barea), Pek (Nikola Pekovic) out. It's a tough season."

Of course he wishes he could play in the London Olympics for Spain.

And though it's natural for Minnesota to still dwell on all that, to pity him — and, by proxy, pity itself for the decline of all the Timberwolves were supposed to be — pity has long subsided for Rubio. He's as positive as he was all season. He's been to one Olympics already, he said. He can't change what happened, no matter how much he wishes and thinks and looks backward.

"There is nothing I can do to be there right now," Rubio said.

He's clipped. He's definitive. He seems much older than his 21 years.

The rookie's positive attitude, however surprising and admirable it might seem, didn't come as a surprise to Timberwolves coach Rick Adelman, who said that every time he talked with Rubio before his Friday return to Minneapolis, the player seemed upbeat. The coach added that Rubio seems to be handling things well, especially for a player of his age, and is convinced Rubio will do everything he can to recover as quickly as possible.

Right now, the time frame for Rubio's recovery is vague — anywhere from six to nine months. Rubio isn't sure whether he'll stay in the United States or return to Spain, which he said might be better for him mentally, but he knows it's going to be a while before he's back on the court. And though that time frame must seem like an eternity for a player whose NBA career was in just its fourth month when he was injured, the rookie is handling the rehabilitation process well.

Perhaps that's because Rubio is looking at the recovery in terms of something other than time. He doesn't want to move too quickly and plans to make sure he's 100 percent by the time he returns, whether that's for training camp or at some point in the first months of next season. Perhaps it's because he's been a pro for so long, or maybe it's because of this injury, but Rubio seems to lack the false sense of infallibility some young athletes exhibit.

"You always think in your mind about what can happen, especially after the first couple days after surgery when you can't move your knee," Rubio said. "You just think about it and think if you're going to come back, if you can come back."

"You always have to think about everything, but you just have to keep the right (thoughts)," he added. "Because if not, you can think, ‘I got hurt. I'm going to be out for six, nine months, and maybe I'm not going to be the player that I was before.' That's not the right thing. It can be. But it can be that you are better than you were."

That's not the right thing, but it can be. Rubio knows how he must think, but he also knows that nothing is guaranteed. This could hurt his career, maybe when he returns next season, and maybe farther along. That's the kind of thing that questions and news conferences remind him of, a thought he's tried to banish through his weeks-long progression from immobility to crutches.

Tuesday had to remind him of all that: the initial moments after the injury when he thought he'd be out for just a few games, the diagnosis of torn ligaments, the surgery, every painful detail. But through it all, he smiled. He thanked fans, athletes and his team for their support. He thanked everyone he could think of. He smiled and he mugged for the cameras, and with that leg hidden under a table he was the same Ricky Rubio who made a city fall in love with him.

And even as he stood up, as he grabbed those dreaded crutches and began to swing himself out of the room, the cameras kept on clicking.

Follow Joan Niesen on Twitter.