by Lang Whitaker

SLAM 128 cover kid Ricky Rubio, the 18-year-old point guard sensacion from Barcelona, Spain, is entering the 2009 NBA Draft. While Rubio could still remove his name from the Draft until as late as June 15, his agent, Dan Fegan, told ESPN, “Ricky ricky-rubio-slamwill be in the 2009 NBA Draft.”

So it sounds like he’s coming. When I was there in Barcelona in December, Ricky told me that he wasn’t thinking about the NBA. (Of course, his Dad was sitting a few feet away from us and listening intently.) Regardless of what he said, I knew he wanted to come. When I walked into his bedroom back in 2007, there were posters everywhere—LeBron, Kobe, Nash. He stays up late at night to watch NBA games on League Pass broadband. Ricky might play in Spain, but this kid grew up on the new school of NBA stars. Of course he wants the chance to play with and against them.

(When I asked him who he was most excited to have the chance to play against at the Olympics, Ricky answered immediately: “Kobe. Kobe was MVP of the best league of the world. I watched two, three years ago in the TV at night and thought, ‘Whoa, I can never can meet with this player.’ Two years later, I’m guarding him and make foul of him, so, you know, it was it unbelievable.”)

The problem is getting out of his contract with Joventut. He’s got at least one more year left on his deal, and from what I’ve been told repeatedly, the buyout is a high number, somewhere between $6 and $9 million. Joventut could try to keep him, but they could also get a crapload of money for him now before his contract runs out and they get nothing in return for him. Option B appears to be the wiser option.

(And yeah, an NBA team can only pitch in half a mil toward paying the buyout, so the rest of the money will have to come from Ricky. But I think he’s got a little scratch — he’s been a pro since he was 13, he’s got a Nike deal, he’s in McDonald’s commercials…he’s doing OK for himself.)

My main man Chad “C-Fizzle” Ford has Rubio ranked 2nd, behind Blake Griffin, on his 2009 prospect list.