Rudy Fernandez was a gold medal winner on the greatest basketball stage of all in 2006, the FIBA World Championship.
A Spaniard who has been on the international hoops radar since earning MVP honours at the Copa del Rey in 2004 with DKV Joventut, Rudy, now 21, is sublimely gifted and showed last year his full array of skills in the biggest games.
At the EuroCup Final Four in Kiev, Fernandez's play led DKV to the title.
||To be selected above the number one draft pick (Andrea Bargnani) is incredible. Not many people can say that.
He was selected as the MVP of the Final Four and last week he was named the FIBA Europe Young Player of the Year for his achievements.
He spoke exclusively to Cindy Garcia-Bennett on behalf of FIBA Europe.
FIBA Europe: Congrats Rudy. I guess this award caps what must have been a magical 2006 that included a EuroCup title, the EuroCup Final Four MVP award and the FIBA World Championship gold medal?
Rudy: This a reward for the work I have done in recent years with DKV Joventut and to receive the award considering how well my team is doing and after winning the gold medal at the FIBA World Championship is a great satisfaction.
FIBA Europe: What really is interesting is the quality players you beat to this honour. There were some excellent choices out there like Sofoklis Schortsianitis of Greece, your national team teammate Sergio Rodriguez, Italy’s Andrea Bargnani and Ersan Ilyasova of Turkey. You must be thrilled?
Rudy: To be selected above the number one draft pick (Andrea Bargnani) is incredible. Not many people can say that. There is no doubt in my mind that I was competing for this award against very good players and I feel very fortunate. I had the opportunity to play at the FIBA World Championship and then help DKV Joventut do well. I am mostly thankful to be doing what I love and get paid for it. I cannot ask for more.
FIBA Europe: How important was last year for you, Rudy? Is it fair to say that 2005 did not go nearly as well as you had hoped?
Rudy: In 2005, I had a lot of media attention placed on me and I think it affected my progress. Last year, I had a stronger mentality. I have matured as a player and as man. Last season was almost perfect for me and having won the gold medal with Spain, it has really given me a lot of confidence this season.
FIBA Europe: Looking back at the EuroCup, what was the difference fo DKV winning that competition? There looked to be some very good teams, yet your team really raised its game to a different level in the play-offs and especially in the final triumph over BC Khimki.
Rudy: It was a great year for DKV. To have won a final with a 30-point advantage was very unusual and not often seen. We were a solid team, we had a lot of confidence and I think we were lucky to display the best basketball at the right time and clinch the title.
|Fernandez and his DKV teammates cruised to last year's EuroCup title in Kyiv.|
FIBA Europe: Almost everything seems to be going great for you very early in your career, because you also were named Copa del Rey MVP in 2004 and then had the incredible experience of travelling to Athens and playing at the Olympics. Could you have imagined how quickly success would come for you?
Rudy: It's true that I have experienced a lot at 21. I had the opportunity to play at the Olympics at the age of 19. I have been fortunate. But I am also aware that I have to build on these experiences to make me stronger and able to go as far as possible in my career.
FIBA Europe: You clearly have basketball genes in your family, with both of your parents having played and your sister, Marta, a member of Spain's women's team. What has that meant for your development?
Rudy: I have to thank my family for the support they have given me, I owe them everything. It is a coincidence that the four of us have played basketball and it really helps.
FIBA Europe: Individual awards are great, but team awards, especially a gold medal at the FIBA World Championship, must make you feel twice as good. Is that accurate?
Rudy: No one could have imagined that we could have won in the manner in which we did. It's something that was incredible and I believe it will mark my life. In fact, I keep the medal in the living room so that everyone that comes can see it (laughs).
FIBA Europe: We're all very interested to know what has gone right in Spain.
Rudy: There is a lot of talent in Spain and we have proved that we can win a gold medal having a young side. There are still many years left of this national team to enjoy. We hope that everything goes well, that we can all continue to play together for the national team. We will have to prepare well for the EuroBasket with the intention of going for everything, especially because it's in Madrid.
FIBA Europe: Your ability to thrive in transition with Sergio Rodriguez at the FIBA World Championship in Japan was crucial for Spain. Did you play alongside him before last summer in youth teams or did you just have an instant chemistry? Also, was he your best friend on the team?
Rudy: Sergio is a young player like me who likes to play spectacular basketball. He has great vision of play and he made the passes and I finished them off. It all came natural. I spoke to him recently and he is very happy in Portland because he is getting more playing time and he is proving what a good player he is. I get on well with all the players in the national team. We are like a big family, best of friends. I cannot choose one above the other. There's a great feeling and I think we showed that on the court in Japan, winning every game.
FIBA Europe: We would also like to know about Aito Garcia Reneses and the impact he has had on your career, as well as what it's like to play under your national team coach, Pepu Hernandez.
Rudy: I owe a lot to Aito and to Pepu. They have both given me hope in the past, given me a lot of advice and most importantly, they have allowed me to express my game on the court.
FIBA Europe: There is such a buzz about basketball in Spain right now, with club teams doing well in Europe, the men's and women's national teams always competing for medals and the success overseas in North America of the Spanish players - Pau Gasol, Rodriguez, Jose Manuel Calderon and Jorge Garbajosa. It would appear that your departure to the NBA is a matter of when rather than if.
Rudy: Every player would like to play there. Right now, I don't think about it. It's something that if it emerges, I would have to plan it, decide with my family whether I would like to make that move and decide more importantly, if I'm ready to go there or not.
FIBA Europe: You look almost like a complete player despite your age. What aspect of your game do you have to improve on, if any?
Rudy: No player is perfect. I'm no exception, especially at 21. I have to improve on my strength, my defensive game and my overall game.