EuroBasket 2022 is Willy Hernangomez's turn - and he's using it
BERLIN (Germany) - The legacy of Spain's success at FIBA EuroBasket 2022 carries a heavy burden. Moving from one generation to the next means living up to a winning standard unmatched by any country since the fall of the Soviet Union.
With his performance in Tbilisi and Berlin, Willy Hernangomez is showing he's ready - or dare it be said chosen - to be one of the leaders of the next era.
The big man is a major reason Spain is just one victory from collecting their fourth EuroBasket title - and move into sole possession of third place behind Soviet Union's 14 and Yugoslavia's eight crowns. Should they beat France in the Final, it would be Spain's fourth trophy in the last six editions dating back to 2009.
"We are in the Final and there is still work to do. It's going to be a very tough, very difficult Final, but what else is new? That's how all our games so far have been but we're fighters and we will give our all every second of the game," said Hernangomez, who leads Spain in scoring with 17.6 points per game and rebounding with 6.8 boards per contest while shooting 68.8 percent from the floor.
Those stats have been in 21.6 minutes per game - a major increase in the 12.1 minutes he averaged at the Tokyo Olympics, where he picked up 6.5 points and 4.5 rebounds for a Spain team that bowed out in the Quarter-Finals to the United States. But Spanish coach Sergio Scariolo has called on the 28-year-old Hernangomez to be a leader of this young and inexperienced team.
"Of course last year we had Marc (Gasol) and Pau (Gasol). That's a huge reason to not be able to hand Willy a main role like this year," Scariolo explained. "But that was a process. We knew it, he was the guy. He was chosen for this change after our legends retired. And he's stepping up."
Hernangomez admitted that even though he is taking more responsibility, the clear leader of the team is Rudy Fernandez.
"Rudy is our captain, our pillar. He is always going to be there in the good moments and bad moments," said the New Orleans Pelicans big man. "He's experienced, he's a legend. Both professionally and with the national team he has accomplished everything a player can win. He's very important for us, especially for a young team like us. We need him."
Hernangomez said he is also learning from the 37-year-old Fernandez.
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"We are trying to learn as much as we can from him. He's giving everything every single night. We need to do that."
Hernangomez is also trying to learn leadership from Fernandez.
"I am happy to be a part of this group of incredible players that showed their confidence in me since the very first day. I accepted the challenge to take a step ahead, together with Rudy, but I had everyone's trust so it was really easy to play with calm," he said.
Scariolo thinks very highly of Hernangomez, but the coach said confidence is a bit of an issue still with the big man.
"He still has to trust his chances at both ends of the floor because he can still take more steps forward. And his steps forward will make him a prized superstar in international basketball - even more than how he is now," Scariolo said.
Then he will truly take over a role as a leader of the next great Spanish generation.