Knicks fans will never have to fret about Guillermo “Willy’ Hernangomez developing a big head.
The rookie center has been drawing rave reviews from the coaching staff and his teammates. Carmelo Anthony went as far as to say that Hernangomez reminds him of Marc Gasol, the rugged center for the Memphis Grizzlies.
But Hernangomez, by his own admission, might not even be the best basketball player in his family.
It could be his mother, Margarita “Wonny” Geuer, who played for Spain in the 1992 Olympics.
It could be his father, Guillermo Hernangomez, who was on the cusp of being one of the top pros in Europe before a knee injury ended his career.
It could be his younger brother, Juan Alberto ‘Juancho’ Hernangomez, a rookie forward with the Denver Nuggets.
Or it could be, ‘D’ none of the above.
“The best player in my family is my younger sister,’’ Hernangomez told MSGNetworks.com.
Hernangomez is referring to his 16-year-old sister, Andrea, a 6-1 guard, who is developing into Spain’s best women’s basketball player, having already won MVP honors at several Under-16 tournaments.
“She got the best of my mother and father,’’ said Willy. “I took more from my mother. Juancho took more from my father.’’
It might be a stretch to dub the Hernangomez clan the first family of basketball in Spain. Marc Gasol and his brother Pau both have enjoyed terrific NBA careers.
Willy and Juancho plan on being the next great brother duo in the NBA.
“Basketball is in our blood,’’ said Hernangomez. “I was a soccer player until I was 14 when my parents said to me, ‘You are big enough to play basketball.’’’
He also was big enough to be a terrific soccer goalie.
But blood won out. Hernangomez began playing basketball seriously at the age of 15, and as he grew to 6-11, 255 pounds, his stock also rose.
The Knicks acquired Hernangomez in a trade with the Philadelphia 76ers, who drafted him with the 35th pick in the 2015 draft. It cost the Knicks two second round draft picks, which is looking like a Black Friday bargain.
Hernangomez is pushing veteran Kyle O’Quinn to be the first big man off the bench. After the Knicks thrilling 106-104 win over the Timberwolves in Minnesota Wednesday night, Hernangomez is averaging 5.7 points on 61.3-percent shooting and 4.3 rebounds in just 13.8 minutes of play.
“He’s been playing with the Gasol brothers for a few years now and has picked up a lot,’’ Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek told reporters earlier this season. “You can see a lot of similarities in what they can do and what he does now.’’
“To get to this level, you’ve got to do something that’s a little different. And when you see a guy be two steps ahead of the play, those are the guys that stick out to me when I’m looking at young players,” coach continued. “And that’s what Willy does. He’s always looking two steps ahead. He’s not getting the ball and then saying, ‘OK, now what’s next?’ He already knows what’s next.”
The Knicks and Timberwolves meet again Friday night at The Garden and it will be all big men on deck for the Knicks. Karl-Anthony Towns scored 47 points and grabbed 18 rebounds – both career highs – for the T-Wolves on Wednesday.
But the Knicks won it on Carmelo Anthony’s 18-foot jumper with 2.3 seconds left.
“That’s why he’s one of the NBA’s best pure scorers,’’ said Towns. “He proved it in the last second.’’
Hernangomez looks to prove it every night. Hernangomez is relishing his first season in the NBA, like a child at Toys “R” Us. He says he learns something every game.
In the Knicks 113-111 overtime win against the Hornets last week at The Garden, Hernangomez fouled Kemba Walker on a baseline layup with 20 seconds left in regulation. Walker converted the three-point play, sending the game into overtime.
Hernangomez filed it away under, ‘NBA Lessons Learned.’ Next time, he knows to back away or foul hard.
“I want to keep working every day for the team,’’ Hernangomez said. “Some days I’m going to play more, some less. I want to do my best, give 100 percent every day.
“I make a mistake, but we won and I will not do this again. My teammates keep me positive.’’
Oh, the Knicks are positive on Hernangomez.
“I like the Big Baby,’’ Anthony said of Hernangomez earlier this season. “He’s a guy who can score, he can pass, he can play D. He can do it all. I try to not make comparisons, but I see a lot of Marc Gasol in him.’’
Hernangomez isn’t about to make any comparisons just yet. On Twitter, he has Humility & Sacrifice on his profile.
His locker in The Garden is next to Kristaps Porzingis. The two were teammates in Spain and Porzingis fully endorsed the Knicks’ plan to trade for Hernangomez.
Hernangomez often finds a horde of reporters in front of his locker, spill-over from Porzingis. Hernangomez draws laughs when he says, “OK, I’m ready,” knowing the media is there to interview his teammate.
His eagerness to learn, combined with his pleasant personality, is making Hernangomez popular in the locker room. His hustle and physicality are making him popular among fans.
For Hernangomez, The Garden is Toys “R” Us.
“The feeling is unbelievable,’’ he said. “We have like six players on the court. I have to say, ‘Thanks,’ to all the fans for the way they support us. We win for everybody.’’