Juancho Hernangomez: Why he doesn’t like being called “Bo Cruz”, picking PAO over Barca, hurtful NBA exit

2023-10-04T17:38:35+00:00 2023-10-04T21:50:07+00:00.

Antonis Stroggylakis

04/Oct/23 17:38

juancho hernangomez - panathinaikos

Juancho Hernangomez explains why he was getting mad when people were calling him Bo Cruz and what he loves about making “Hustle” He also talks about a “hurtful” NBA exit, frustration from constant trades, the reasons why turned down Barcelona where his brother Willy signed and why he chose Panathinaikos to make his EuroLeague debut.

By Antonis Stroggylakis / info@eurohoops.net

The timing looked perfect for Juancho Hernangomez to restart his NBA career in almost ideal conditions.

Shortly before joining the Toronto Raptors for the 2022-23 training camp, Hernangomez registered his top performance ever with Spain in the EuroBasket Final against France, scoring 27 points on 7-9 triples to lead his national team to the gold medal. He was thus about to enter his seventh NBA season with fantastic momentum, highly positive psychology and an opportunity to perhaps finally establish himself on a team that he could call home after jumping from club to club.

Things didn’t work out, however. The Raptors waived Juancho in February, eventually proving to be his last team in the NBA. “It surprised me when they waived me because I was really good in the locker room, good teammate and working hard every single day,” Hernangomez told Eurohoops.

It’s tough,” Hernangomez added on his overall NBA experience when it comes to the ongoing moves. “I’m going to be honest with you, it’s really – really tough to get traded two weeks to San Antonio and then get traded again to Utah. And then I played really good in Utah and I finished that season playing some playoff minutes. That’s how life goes. Ups and downs and you got to keep going, keep fighting.”

The NBA is like that. It’s tough but you have to understand that and keep fighting. I don’t have any regrets.”

Flash forward almost a year later after that EuroBasket display and Juancho has signed with six-time EuroLeague champion Panathinaikos Athens. After consecutive failures to make the EuroLeague playoffs (even finishing 17th among 18 clubs last season) and losing the domestic titles to archrival Olympiacos over the last two seasons, the Greens have undergone a massive renovation to build at least a Final Four-contending team.

Hernangomez was signed exactly to co-lead this Panathinaikos effort to become once more a force to be reckoned with in EuroLeague and reclaim the championship in Greece. “I took it personally. I wanted to sign here, I want to play basketball here. It’s been a long time ago… I didn’t play for [a lot of] minutes for a long time,” the Spanish forward said.

“I feel like the desire of me to be here was bigger than [being with] any other team,” he added.

Hernangomez discussed his arrival at Panathinaikos and making his first-ever EuroLeague appearance against Olympiacos Friday (6/10) in what he describes as “one of the biggest nights” in his career while detailing why he chose the Greek powerhouse after “hurtfully” closing the door to the NBA and then turning down offers from other clubs. Including uniting with his older brother Willy at Barcelona.

He also talked about getting a first-hand experience of the business side of the NBA deals, why it’s very rare to see Spanish stars on European teams outside their country and the reason he doesn’t quite enjoy it when everyone is calling him Bo Cruz, the character he portrayed in Adam Sandler’s “Hustle”.

Eurohoops: You look at the ceiling of OAKA, you look at the banners. What are the first thoughts and emotions that come to your mind?

Juancho Hernangomez: Historic moments. Great basketball team. Winning. Memorable nights. Historic nights. Historic players. Legends who played here and become epic guys. Gods for the city and for the team. Something that they have to be really – really proud to achieve all these historic things.

Now they want to get back to winning titles.

EH: And this is why they brought you on board as well. You signed with Panathinaikos after possibly the worst two-year period over the last couple of decades for the club. Failure in EuroLeague, barely managing to get a win over archrival Olympiacos.

The season begins with the SuperCup and possibly a Final against Olympiacos. And then the EuroLeague debut is also against Olympiacos so your first EuroLeague game ever is against Olympiacos.

Based on the combination of all these, how much do you anticipate this derby in, apparently, a sold-out OAKA?

J.H: Not “apparently.” For sure sold out. Probably one of my biggest nights or biggest games ever. I’ve played Finals, I’ve played in playoffs. I’ve played with Spain, fighting for gold medals. I feel this game, considering how much the people want it… this makes it even more special. So we’re going to be prepared because it’s going to be a crazy game, atmosphere-wise. But we got to be proud and fight for it. And win, for sure.

EH: It’s not very common to see Spanish players – especially big time names – playing outside of Spain. There’s the obvious reasons, that ACB is the best league in Europe. Apart from that, why do you think this happens?

J.H: I feel the desire to win here was bigger than Spanish clubs. They want to win here. They try to bring the best coach, the best players available. They “steal” the main guy (editor’s note: Kostas Sloukas) from the other team. These were big moves. And the way we talked in the meetings, they made me think about “I want to fight with this team”.

I’m not feeling like returning back to Spain and retiring there yet. I want to keep fighting for the titles here. Of course there’s a lot of pressure when you come here. After, you said it – two bad years and now they want to win here|

But I took it personally too. I wanted to sign here, I want to play basketball here. It’s been a long time ago… I didn’t play for [a lot of] minutes for a long time.

I want to get better here. Fight for this team and fight for this club. Fight for the people here. They’ll see me dying on the court. Trying my best. Even when the shots don’t go in, don’t worry, I’m going to be the hardest-worker here. I want to fight for this culture.

EH: You think that Kostas Sloukas was a steal? You talked about a steal.

J.H.: Well, I’m not going to say “steal” because he chose. They didn’t want him there anymore…

EH: Well there was an offer…

J.G: Yes. As he told me, it was an easy decision for him. I’m really proud to play alongside him. He’s our captain. He’s our role model. He’s our legend. He’s still hungry for more successes, for more Finals. He leads the way. We’re going to follow him.

EH: You told me about you before but I was also wondering about Spanish players in general. There are very few Spanish players outside of Spain.

J.G.: For Spanish players, a welcome home, coming home is easier. Our language, our home, our country, our, family, our friends. It’s an easy decision. Of course, I want to retire there. No doubt. I even want to retire with my first club – Estudiantes. Give back. Play there, for the fans. Retire there. Try to help them win. But it’s not my time yet. I feel I got a lot of basketball left on my legs. A lot of great memories [to create]. And I choose here to write together the same book.

EH: You had this offer from Barcelona this summer. Especially considering that your brother signed there, it seemed “weird” to not sign with Barcelona, It seemed like the logical thing to sign with them.

J.H.: You never know what’s logical for every person. Every person has different tastes, different goals, different mentality. I took a lot of time this summer to think about the next decision. When the NBA [door] was kind of closed – and it was really hurtful to say no to the NBA. But it really motivated me to begin a new challenge. Then, I listened to every European team. It was a lot of teams calling.

Then my brother signed with Barcelona. They probably thought that I’m going to sign too. But we have two different careers. My parents teach us both good things. We have separate careers. We don’t talk about money, we have different agents. We completely separate our careers. Two basketball players, differently. His goal was one thing, to play at home, play there. Great contract for him.

But he signed with Barcelona. I was seeing all the offers, seeing all the goals, all the teams. What they wanted, how are my goals there, what they expect from me. I just feel really – really motivated here. They called me and we had a lot of meetings. I feel like the desire of me here was bigger than with any other team.

We want to win together [with Panathinaikos].

EH: You said that it was hurtful to say ‘No’ to the NBA. You had NBA offers that you declined?

J.H: I didn’t have any complete offer. Some interest. I think my time in the NBA was over. No regrets about it. I did my best. I really – really gave my 100 percent every single day.

I finish another challenge for my life, which motivates me to work hard and get better. Because EuroLeague is really – really hard. I’m here right now, living this moments, living this goal.

EH: There’s the EuroBasket Final last year. You have this MVP performance, you were amazing. You win the gold medal and then you join the Toronto Raptors and the timing seems great for you rejuvenate your NBA career. But this situation doesn’t work out. You are waived by the team, coach Nurse said it was for financial reasons.

J.H.: A great organization. Great teammates. I didn’t play well there. On November I played a lot of minutes. But then there were a lot of players of the same style, a lot of players in the same positions. And I couldn’t make shots, that’s the reality. Sometimes, sh-t happens and that’s it. It surprised me when they waived me because I was really good in the locker room, good teammate and working hard every single day. But they told me it’s for financial [reasons] and they were looking for something else extra on the bench.

I don’t have any regrets. That’s how NBA works. As you soon as you understand it, it becomes easier. I’ve been traded too many times. I’ve been signed to good contracts, I’ve been signed to rookie contracts, I’ve got waived, I get cut, I get traded…

EH: You tasted everything the NBA experience has to offer.

J.H.: I’m happy for that too. It’s tough. I’m going to be honest with you, it’s really – really tough to get traded two weeks to San Antonio and then get traded again to Utah. And then I played really good in Utah and I finished that season playing some playoff minutes. That’s how life goes. Ups and downs and you got to keep going, keep fighting.

NBA is like that. It’s tough but you have to understand that and keep fighting. I don’t have any regrets.

EH: Speaking of your brother. Did you read what he said about your upcoming matches [between Barcelona and Panathinaikos)?

J.H.: No.

EH: No? Really? He said that he has marked the game on the calendar, your family will be attending of course and, naturally he wants to beat you. There won’t be any emotions involved, it would be a dream for him to compete alongside you and to win titles but that’s how the situation is.

What do you have to respond to him?

J.H.: That’s good. It’s going to be a great game. The atmosphere in Barcelona…

EH: He’s very eager to beat you.

J.H.: That’s fine. We got to play the game. A lot of times we play against each other. This isn’t going to be the first time, not even the last one. Of course we’re going to go to dinner after. But in the game there are no friends. We’re both fighting for our jersey. That’s it. Let’s see who wins it.

EH: To make things clear. You become 28 in two days from now, so you will be 30 when your contract with Panathinaikos expires. According to what you told me before, should I assume that a potential NBA return is off the books for you? You have written it out?

J.H.: I’m not thinking about the NBA now. 100 percent of my energy and my focus and my thoughts are here. To get better here as a player, to help the team achieve all the goals we have. I don’t know where I’m going to be next year, I don’t even know where I’m going to be tomorrow. We don’t know what happens in life. So we just got to enjoy, the moment, enjoy the process and take it one day at a time.

EH: Since the movie Hustle came out, I was noticing – and you noticed it as well: Everyone was talking about you, calling you Bo Cruz. No one’s calling you Juancho anymore. “Bo Cruz did that” and “Bo Cruz did this.” The EuroBasket comes and it’s “Bo Cruz did that.” again. And I’m like… he has a name guys.

For example, I was seeing an interview of you in the EuroBasket and someone’s telling you ‘Should I call you Juancho or Bo Cruz?’

Did you ever feel bothered when everyone was calling you Bo Cruz?

J.H: I’m a really private person. Now that everybody recognizes you, it’s tough. That’s not the reason I did the movie of course. That’s my only regret. If nobody knows you and you did the movie that’s great. Because the best part of the movie was meeting all the people I met. See how they make a movie. It was amazing for me. Of course, the movie helped me a lot too. I’m happy because if kids see the movie and it motivates them, that’s a good thing.

I’m not happy everybody calls me Bo Cruz , like everybody knows you. Or everybody thinks they are your friend because they see you on screen. That’s tough. Actors is a tough life. I talked to Adam [Sandler] and Adam can’t go anywhere. He can’t go to the supermarket, he can’t go to a movie theater, he can’t do anything. So it’s a tough life.

But the movie was great, the experience was great. Of course, I played seven years in the NBA. I hustled all my life and my name is Juancho Hernangomez. At the beginning I got mad when they called me Bo Cruz. But after a time I understand that Bo Cruz is a part of the Juancho Hernangomez life. If people recognize me just for the movie, I’m going to say ‘hi’ to them. If they enjoy the movie, I’m happy for them because I worked really hard for the movie too.

If they recognize me because of my basketball game, I’m going to be happy too.