Willy Hernángomez is a basketball player born in Las Rozas, (Madrid) in 1994. Since childhood, he has been related to the world of basketball since his parents were professional players (his mother was the European champion with the Spanish team in 1993), his brother Juancho also plays in the NBA and his sister Andrea plays at Fairfield University and is a regular in the youth categories of the Spanish National team. Both brothers are world champions with Spain in the summer of 2019. Willy is playing his fifth season in the NBA this year with the New Orleans Pelicans. Lipe Cristóbal Galindo of Future Stars speaks with Willy Hernángomez about his evolution throughout his career and how he approaches the future.
You are a world champion with Spain, champion of the King´s Cup and the ACB League with Real Madrid and in your fifth season in the NBA. Becoming an International basketball star requires a huge effort, work and sacrifice. How much has it cost you to become what you are? How much work is there really behind a high-level player?
Being able to dedicate yourself to doing what you like, what you love, which is playing basketball at a professional level, is a pride. Being lucky enough to get up every day and dedicate yourself to what you like is something incredible, but it also entails a lot of sacrifices, a lot of effort and a lot of work that is not seen in the short term. You have to be patient because in the end, you will get results, but you never stop working. Above all, when you first achieve your first goals, it would be easy to stagnate there and relax, but you have to be ambitious and always want more, try to improve yourself and keep working because it is the only way to stay in this level and continue to improve.
Year after year we see you working and evolving both physically and technically. Constant development is essential for any player. What is your next step and how do you plan all that evolution and training? What do you think has been your greatest evolution since you became a professional?
My next goal is to keep working, to keep evolving technically. Continue improving in technical aspects such as shooting or handling the ball and at the same time continue to improve physically in order to be more and more dominant with my team and with the national team. Like I said before, you can never settle, you always have to work hard.
Another factor that differentiates good players from the best nowadays is intelligence on the court, the reading of advantages and the use of them. In your case, how have you evolved in this regard? How do you work on this off the court?
One of the most important things in current basketball is studying and learning the game through videos about your games, rival matches, scouting … these tools are the way to study to improve the reading of basketball, offense and defense. It is a way to learn and then when you are in a real game situation your mind is prepared to be able to carry out different solutions to the problems that appear to you.
Throughout your career you have had seasons with more minutes, others with less, but you are always ready to help the team, whatever the minutes and the time of the game. That mental preparation, how is it achieved?
There are difficult moments of frustration in which you see that your work is not rewarded with minutes or otherwise, but as I said before, patience and perseverance in my work and self-confidence are key. In a league like the NBA, everything can change from one day to the next and you have to be prepared. You have to push yourself even more, be the first to arrive to train, be the last to leave and you have to always strive to train to the fullest to be prepared when the opportunity comes, since what you can’t do is miss it. You always have to be prepared, even if there are difficult days, you have to be patient and trust yourself.
How has that mental evolution been throughout your career? What do you think it is different from the Willy who played in Seville and then at Real Madrid to the one now plays at Pelicans?
Undoubtedly, the player that I was when I was in Seville or Real Madrid when I was 17, 18 or 19 years old was a totally different player than I am now. In the end, the experience will make you mature and grow as a player and as a person and helps you adapt to all kinds of situations. All the experience of these years has made me the person and the player that I am right now and I am very grateful for all the steps and all the difficulties that I have gone through.
The other day I was talking to an NBA Scout and he told me that the problem of many players when it comes to becoming a professional is the patience that you have to have in the first seasons (the frustrations of few minutes and a very different role from the one you had in your youth team) What is your opinion regarding that step? How was it in your case?
Well, my opinion is that you have to be patient enough to wait for your moment. There are people who are more or less lucky; people who from the first moment have more minutes and others who have to wait longer to adapt to a league that is very hard physically and mentally, with many games. The key is to be patient and wait for the opportunity, and when that opportunity comes, be prepared and don’t waste it.
On the London United academy team, we have some players who want to be professional and we try to help them get there. In youth categories we see players that promise a lot but fail to reach professional level. What is it without which a player cannot succeed? Something non-negotiable, something that all great players have in common, be it physical, technical, mental…
Something that is fundamental for any player and, in general, for anyone whatever their job, is the work ethic. Being able to work every day, do something you like, dedicate yourself to it 100%, both mentally and physically is what will make the difference between some players and others. When you put everything on your side and luck is also with you, you can achieve your goal either in sports, in your studies or in your job. You always have to give yourself to the fullest.
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