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Rubio, with facial hair galore, makes return trip to Minnesota

Utah Jazz guard Ricky Rubio (3) and Minnesota Timberwolves forward Taj Gibson (67) jump for a rebound in the first half at Target Center on Friday night, Oct. 20. (Jesse Johnson / USA TODAY Sports)

MINNEAPOLIS — Traded by the Timberwolves during the offseason, new Utah Jazz point guard Ricky Rubio looks very much like someone who's trying to win the breakup.

He doesn't look or sound like the soft-spoken, baby-face star Twin Cities fans grew to love over the past six years. Instead, the 26-year-old Spaniard returned to Minnesota rocking a messy man bun, a hipster beard and a full-sleeve tattoo, along with his new No. 3 jersey.

"Just a lot of things happened in my life," Rubio explained at the Friday, Oct. 20, shootaround. "I want to change a little bit."

Still, Rubio downplayed any sort of revenge factor heading into Friday's game between the Wolves and Jazz at the newly renovated Target Center.

"I mean, of course there's a lot of feelings involved," Rubio said. "I have a lot of friends (still playing for the Timberwolves). At the end of the day, I'm going to go out there and play and try to win."

Rubio's relationship with the Wolves was complicated.

It started when Wolves selected the European teen sensation with the No. 5 overall pick in the 2009 NBA draft, and after two years of courtship, finally persuaded him to come overseas to the Twin Cities.

Rubio quickly endeared himself to the fan base with his style of play, and it wasn't long before he was the face of the franchise.

As the years progressed, though, the relationship hits rough patches, largely because the Wolves never reached the playoffs with him running the offense. That paved the way for seemingly endless trade rumors — some of which Rubio started to believe — and ultimately he was traded to the Jazz this offseason for a 2018 first-round draft pick.

"I mean, a lot of emotion," Rubio said. "I spent a lot of time here. I created a family here. I love it."

"At the end of the day it's a business," Rubio added. "You've got to keep moving on."

No doubt the trade gave Rubio a much-needed fresh start. He said it was an instant connection with the Jazz.

"They were amazing from Day One," Rubio said. "They have been texting me, emailing me, calling me, almost every week through the process all summer long. It was amazing having that feeling and that connection and knowing that we're really on the same page."

"He's one of those guys that has great basketball instincts," Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. "He picks stuff up very quickly, and that allows him to play a leadership role."

Rubio said he wasn't sure what to expect during Friday's game. Just that it would be a little weird to be on the opposite side of the court.

"It's going to be different seeing Ricky on the other side," Wolves star Karl-Anthony Towns agreed. "It's going to be a lot of fun to get to compete against him."

"It's an emotional game for me," added Wolves forward Nemanja Bjelica, who is renting out Rubio's old place in the Twin Cities. "He's a very good friend."

Toward the end of Friday's shootaround, Rubio talked about walking around downtown Minneapolis the night before. "It felt like I never left," he said.

Rubio says he still considers the Twin Cities home. That said, he knows it's time to move on.

"Yeah, it's a new chapter in my life," Rubio said. "I have to step up and go to the next level. I was finding it here toward the end of the season. ... I'm feeling (like a) much (more) mature player. Just more confident. That's a different Ricky."

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