A relatively special reunion in Denver
Nuggets-Knicks game features matchup of Hernangomez brothers
At 3 o’clock Sunday morning, 12 or 13 members of Juancho and Willy Hernangomez’s family will wake up at their parents’ house in Madrid, just hours after a planned dinner, and gather around the television in anticipation of the main event. Juancho vs. Willy I. “It’s a dream come true just playing in the NBA,” Juancho Hernangomez said. “It’s more worth it when you’re playing against your brother.”
The two will face each other for the first time as professionals in the NBA at the Pepsi Center on Saturday night, when Juancho’s Nuggets host Willy’s New York Knicks. It’s a matchup years in the making, featuring two players who grew up loving basketball in a nation — Spain — that places soccer above all other sports.
They began on the predictable path, both trying their hands — more appropriately, feet — at soccer. The first time they tried basketball, though, was love at first dribble.
“We tried basketball and we love basketball,” Juancho said. “All my 10 or 15 years I love basketball. I love all the leagues — the NBA, the D-League, I love Euro League, I love the second division of the ACB, I love playing basketball. When my sister play I love going to see her. It doesn’t matter the level of basketball, because it’s basketball. When you see the kids playing basketball, you see how big the sport is, you see how beautiful the sport is.”
And the brothers, one year apart in age, play it well. Both have shown flashes of potential -– the 6-foot-9 Juancho at small forward and 6-11 Willy at center. As kids in Madrid, competition was always intense when they played against each other.
“We played a lot of one-on-one games,” Willy said. “When we played one-on-one, I was able to play in the low post. It’s the best thing I can do. My brother can shoot. We both tried to keep working on our bad things. Sometimes he beat me. Sometimes I beat him.”
Through it all, a stronger bond was formed. Their relationship grew even stronger when they played in Spain’s ACB League, one of the best basketball leagues in the world. Now, they talk to each other every day.
“We have a really good relationship,” Juancho said. “We are more than brothers. We can talk about every situation, every problem. So, I think that’s our key; our relationship is really good.
“If he has problems, he knows we can talk to each other. And if I have an issue, I can talk to him. The good thing is, we are rookies in the same season. So all of the problems that he has, we have the same. So we going to help each other to learn about the NBA, learn about everything.”
Said Willy: “It’s crazy. We’re both rookies in the NBA in the same year. For us, it’s a dream come true.”
Naturally, comparisons have been made to Spain’s most famous basketball-playing brothers — Pau and Marc Gasol. Willy and Juancho Hernangomez shake off the comparisons, but they are big fans of the Gasol brothers.
“We don’t compare ourselves because it’s impossible,” Juancho said. “But a lot of times the news, the newspaper or the radio tries to compare us.
“They are so talented. Pau won two championships. Marc won the defensive player of the year. For us, we are the Hernangomez brothers. We try to work hard, be humble.”
The Hernangomez brothers, Denver’s Juancho and New York’s Willy, are rookies from Madrid. “It’s a dream come true just playing in the NBA,” Juancho says. “It’s more worth it when you’re playing against your brother.” Associated Press and Getty Images file