Willy Hernangomez (Madrid, 1994) is one of the great references in Spain this summer after the farewell of Pau and Marc Gasol. The center of the New Orleans Pelicans (2.11 meters) arrives wanting to lead a national team in which he is third in international selections with 70 games, five international tournaments and two gold medals (world and European) and two bronzes (continental and Olympic). .
Sixth international tournament already with the Absolute, time flies, right?
Yes, the truth is that there hasn’t been anything since I made my debut with La Familia in 2014, and eight years later I’m still competing with the same enthusiasm. Although, obviously, with a different role, with much more responsibility. I am very motivated and excited because it is a very nice challenge that we have in front of us and the one that I have from my role. I really want it.
You are the third capitalized player in this Selection With 70, only behind Rudy Fernández and Sergio Llull, does this veteran sign weigh?
No, it’s the law of life. You start off as a sponge, learning from your elders the good things they taught you. Now I have a leadership role, teaching young people everything I have learned, the path of this family that has achieved so much and brought so much joy to Spain. It is a very beautiful paper. It’s much easier with the help of Sergi (Llull) and Rudy (Fernández). It’s a challenge that I really want to take up. All these years I have worked for these opportunities and I am prepared for them.
What did they give you? Paul and Marc Gasol who now wants to move on to the youngest, the new ones?
The most important, the pleasure, the sacrifice, the work, the cohesion. I think unity is the word that would encompass everything. It doesn’t matter whether there are 12 of us at the European Championship, 15 a few days before or the 22 who started the concentration: we are a unit. Les Gasols, Felipe (Reyes), Calderón, Juanqui (Juan Carlos Navarro) taught me this, that we do this because it amuses us. Coming every summer with the national team means having fun and playing with your friends and, at the same time, competing. That fun carries over into the competition and I think that’s something we’ve shown in that focus from day one. We’re all competing, we’re all improving, we’re all adding up…it doesn’t matter if it’s in the shootouts, in the games, in whatever: we do it. It is something that cannot be missed. It’s our DNA.
Your brother, Juancho, will be in this tournament after being dismissed following the refusal of the Minnesota Timberwolves to let him participate in the Games, how did you experience this situation?
It was hard for me because living the Olympics with your brother is something unique. Unfortunately, in the league we play (NBA), there are a lot of things that you don’t control, but at least he could be with us to accompany us and live the experience. I’m sure we will have more opportunities to play together and it will be more fun.
Did the fame increase with the movie “Claw”?
Nope! For nothing! Upside down! He’s a little tired of being called Bo Cruz… but it’s nice. He is very happy, it’s a new experience. We could not imagine in my family that he would be a Hollywood actor. It’s a great film and we had a good time watching it recorded, we accompanied it during these two years, two very hard summers to record. You see the results and the reception that people have had of it, that they have liked it, it is something incredible. Not even in the best dreams one might have expected.
You make a small appearance…
Yes, the most important part of the film is my two seconds. Mine, those of Pierre (Oriola) and Felipe (Reyes). We had two very enjoyable days recording in Mallorca. This two-second scene was like eight hours of footage. It was very long, but it was new. It was a pass.
An experience that no one takes away from him.
Yes, and wanting to do a little more if there is any because it’s a very fun, very cool world, completely unknown to me.
FIBA places you sixth in the Power Ranking of Eurobasket candidates, but in the 2019 World Cup you were fifth and finished champion. It is not necessary to bet against you.
Rankings are made for content. We know we don’t have the talent of other years, but we have this desire, this illusion. We will compete with anyone, every game. We know that it will be very difficult, but that in the end this cycle of union and this desire that we have helps both in defense and in attack, to move forward. We trust each other. Personally, I trusted this team a lot and I trust Sergio (Scariolo). This is a process: it does not mean that the results will be visible right away. Our goal is always to be as high as possible. And give it all. That competition then puts us in our place, above or below? But at least we will empty each game. We will give everything.
It’s going to be a very complicated Eurobasket with so many NBA stars: Jokic, Doncic, Antetokoumpo…
A lot of teams have a lot of stars, but they have to know how to play together, adapt to FIBA basketball… It’s been seen in other Eurobaskets, World Cups. In the end, you have to know how to play this game which is different from the NBA. Here, you don’t need to be the strongest or the most physical to dominate Europe. What we are going to be are those who play with more heart and more claws.
Let’s go with his NBA season. New Orleans Pelicans, his team, changes face with the arrival of CJ McCollum. What gives you?
It’s fresh air. It’s an air of veteran, experience, quality. Leadership alongside Brandon Ingram. We started the season rather badly: we won three of the first 15 games. But with the confidence and the work of Willie Green, who is a spectacular trainer, and the arrival of McCollum, we made a good nucleus and, in the end, what I’m trying to convey here: we had fun, we were a group that went out to dinner every day…it was like a family and we were going to beat anyone. We managed to qualify for the play in and the playoffs and nearly scared the Phoenix Suns off. It’s something I’ll never forget and now, with the arrival of Zion Williamson this summer, we’ll see how it goes.
And you, what are you waiting for next season?
Difficult, complicated season. Many pivots return, although there will still be movement in the team. And then, during the course, you have to be prepared. Last year it played out one way and with Zion, in this one it’s going to play out another way, and him and I have always played well together for the results, for the stats. We understand each other very well. They asked me to continue there and they are counting on me. I will try to train, help and when my name is called I will always give 100%. To give everything.
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