We went up to the Knicks’ training facility in Westchester to watch the team practice and then interview Willy Hernangómez. He insisted that we call him Billy instead of Willy — that is what his friends call him. We’re his friends!
How did it feel to go from Real Madrid to the New York Knicks?
Actually, Real Madrid is one of the biggest teams in Europe. It’s not like New York. Nothing is like New York. New York is just special. So when I came here, my first day I was surprised. How big are the buildings. I love all the people on the street, and how beautiful the city is. So I just try to get used to this city, and I love it here, playing basketball. I feel like I’m at home right now.
Who was your favorite player to play against?
LeBron James. Because he’s probably my favorite player, and it is hard to play against him because he’s really good.
What do you like to do right before a game?
Before the game I always take a one-hour nap. I need to relax and get some sleep. So after the nap I get some food — a sandwich or something, then I go to the arena. I have to do my warmups. You need to warm up everything. Your toes, your knees, your hands, wrists, your whole body. And then I meet with the coaches, and we are talking about the players. What you want to do on defense, be ready for the game. After that I go to the bathroom. I do my gel in my hair, and I’m ready to play.
How do you feel when you play against a seasoned player?
You know when you play against a seasoned player you have to be really, really ready, because he often is going to score a lot of points. So you have to be focused on what you want to do on defense. And try to do your best always — you have to do your best.
Is there another position you would rather play than center?
I like to play center because I like to fight inside and bang the other players. I like to grab rebounds. But I’m actually working to try to be like Kristaps Porzingis so that I can do more and more things. But one thing I have to tell you is, there are some things you like to do, but you have to try other things so that you can get better. I want to play like KP and continue learning, and at the end of the day you can do more stuff. And you can be a complete player.
How did you feel when you were drafted by the Knicks?
Amazing. Being part of the New York Knicks is something big. I think it’s amazing to be on this team and playing at Madison Square Garden. You have to be happy where you are, and right now it is all good!
What do you like to do when you’re not playing basketball?
I like to play video games. I love video games. So I play PS4, FIFA. I live in the same area as a few of my teammates, so we like to go to the movies. We like to go bowling. I am not very good at bowling — actually, I am pretty bad.
We know your brother, Juan, plays with the Denver Nuggets. Is there competition between you two?
No. It’s not competition. Last year we were both rookies, and we were new players in the NBA. Every day we’re talking to each other on FaceTime. We talk about the things we do with our teams, and we are doing the same things but he is in Denver and I am in New York. We like to share our experiences with one another. We are comfortable with one another, and we are both trying to be the best players we can be.
When you were a kid, did you know you were going to be a basketball star?
No. Actually when I was a kid I played soccer. All my friends at school, they played soccer. And then one summer I grew and grew a lot. So my family said, Willy, why don’t you try and play basketball? Both of my parents played basketball years and years ago. And after talking with my parents I did some drills. And I really loved it. So that’s why I started. I played in Madrid, I played in Spain and then I got here. When I was a kid I always had dreams. So when you’ve got a dream, you just have to keep working on that. Because for me, this is a dream come true.
Do you have a special nickname?
My real name is Guillermo. So everybody, call me Billy. Some people call me Willy. But it’s Billy. Last year Carmelo [Anthony] called me Big Baby. When I came here I was like a baby and I’m so big. I didn’t really like it, so call me Billy!
Does your uniform have a special meaning?
I wear No. 14. All my family plays with me. So 14 means for me my family. When I wear my jersey, practice or the championship, I always think about my family and my grandparents, my sister, so one of the most important things for me is family.
What part of your game needs to be improved?
I think if I want to be a great player, I have to improve my defense. And actually I have to improve my shot, too. I think I’m very young and I have to keep improving everything. I really want to be a better player. So that’s why I’m out here every day.
If you were weren’t an athlete, what would you want to do?
A couple of years ago I started studying to be a teacher. I really love kids so if I don’t play basketball, I will finish at the university and become a teacher for real. I like to spend time with you guys so I can really help you. I love you. After basketball I want to finish my studies so I can be a teacher.