Spain hasn’t even faced the United States in this year’s FIBA World Cup, but the friendly rivalry between the two squads is heating up.
The Spaniards boast the second-most NBA players of any national team, meaning their connections with Team USA run deep. After a tough game against Turkey the Americans should have lost, Ricky Rubio texted his former Utah Jazz teammate Donovan Mitchell a simple not to sum up the differences in overseas hoops: “Welcome to FIBA.”
How physical was this game?— John Schuhmann (@johnschuhmann) September 3, 2019
Donovan Mitchell: “I got a text from Ricky Rubio. He said ‘Welcome to FIBA.’”
Mitchell was beat up all game long in a narrow 93-92 victory over Turkey, led by Cedi Osman of the Cavaliers and Ersan Ilyasova of the Bucks. The third-year Jazz guard shot just 3-14 from the field after a strong showing during the minicamp in August. Despite freakish athleticism and superior functional strength, Mitchell was beat up by the rugged veterans in red.
Rubio knows the feeling. He’s scrawnier than Mitchell but developed an arrhythmic beat to his game and learned to be a step ahead of competition. Mitchell saw that style up close in two seasons as Rubio’s teammate, but is just now beginning to understand why Rubio had to adapt. More contact is allowed in the FIBA game, and inferior athletes use their bodies and minds to overcome the athleticism of Team USA.
The Suns will be hoping Rubio brings that smoothness and finesse to Phoenix. Even when his shot isn’t falling, Rubio is a hyperactive and smart defender, and sets the table for teammates better than nearly anyone in the NBA. Even nearing age 30, Rubio is a leader for Spain and one of FIBA’s most consistent performers.
Perhaps the mentorship and friendship Rubio developed with Mitchell also can translate to his new starting backcourt-mate, Devin Booker. No matter what happens, Rubio is putting on a show right now in China that has to make Suns fans excited for the upcoming season.