Tonight in Denver, the Hernangomez brothers will break bread. There will be no arguing or jostling for the check.
The Knicks backup center, Willy, and his brother, Juancho, the Nuggets reserve forward, are so close, such dear friends, when they’re off the court, love, support, and generosity are the rules of the day. Tomorrow night at the Pepsi Center when the Knicks and Nuggets – when Willy and Juancho – face each other for the first time as NBA players, the rules become those of engagement.
“They are so competitive they have different agents, different sneaker deals, everything different,’’ Guillermo Bermejo, the European Director for YouFirst Sports Basketball, and a friend of the family told MSGNetworks.com.
“Billy is more like his mother. Juancho is more like his father. But they are as close as brothers can be.’’
Their mother, Margarita “Wonny” Geuer, played for Spain in the 1992 Olympics. Their father, Guillermo Hernangomez, was a professional player in Europe. They have a younger sister, Andrea, 16, who Willy claims is the best player in the family. WNBA, anyone?
Willy, 22, and Juancho, 21, are almost exactly 15 months apart. But on the court, they might as well be distant cousins from feuding clans. The family would often play pick-up games on a court on the family property. Often those games ended prematurely with the brothers squabbling and staring down each other like, well, Democrats and Republicans.
Willy said he circled Dec. 17th on his calendar as soon as the NBA schedule was released. “I think he [Juancho] circled it – in red,’’ Willy said with a laugh.
Off the court, they could be identical twins. Both are handsome, quick to laugh, generous, and relentless workers. Willy is 6-foot-11, 240 pounds. Juancho is 6-foot-9, 230. Blood is the same.
“Nothing is more important to me than my family and friends,’’ said Willy. “Most of my friends I have since six or seven. Juancho is more than my brother. How would you say it? He is part of me.’’
The Hernangomez brothers have played with each other and against each other in Europe. They have eyes on usurping Pau and Marc Gasol as the best pair of Spanish brothers to play in the NBA. On this night, they are living for the moment which is Saturday night (9 p.m on MSG Network) when Willy dons his No. 14 Knicks jersey and Juancho dons his No. 41 Nuggets jersey, and their NBA rivalry begins.
“I am very excited,” Juancho said. “It is the first game in the NBA (facing each other) and we are both rookies. I think we are both having a good season. The Knicks have been winning some games, so I know he is pretty happy.’’
“For my parents, they are very proud, my friends too, they think it is unbelievable for me to play against my brother in the NBA. We’ve played together on a few other teams, but it is different playing against your brother. There is always more energy.’’
The brothers play with a similar high motor. Willy, the 35th player taken in the second round of the 2015 NBA Draft, is averaging 5.5 points and 4.7 rebounds in 13.5 minutes for the Knicks (14-12). With a win, the Knicks will head home having gone 3-2 on their first grueling road trip of the season. Juancho is averaging 3.6 points, 2.7 rebounds in 11.9 minutes for the (10-16) Nuggets. Denver is looking to win two straight for just the second time this season.
Ask them their thoughts about the game and their responses are eerily similar. The first sentiment is that their team wins. The second is that when the game is over and the jerseys are off, they will relish what has just transpired.
“I am just really excited,’’ Juancho said. “Both of us would always dream of playing in the NBA and we are achieving this dream.”
“We have spoken of it so many times, I don’t know how to describe the feeling now it is here,’’ Willy said. “Today and in February.’’
“Yes, that is when we play here,’’ said Willy. “I believe it is the 10th.’’
Circle it on the calendar. We know who’s picking up the check the night of February 9th.