|Rudy Fernandez led Joventut Badalona to the EuroChallenge title in 2006, being voted MVP of the Final Four|
By Dimitris Kontos
Even in 10 years from now, when Rudy Fernandez will have (probably) hung up his basketball sneakers, two main notions will still persevere in the collective mind of Spanish and European fans whenever his name is mentioned.
On the one hand, it's not a secret that the Spaniard has been a player whom, as the cliché goes, fans 'either love, or love to hate' for almost a decade.
"They say that I am cocky on the court," Fernandez admitted in a recent interview in Spanish magazine Gigantes del Basket, when asked about his public image.
"And I would say they are right."
On the other, even his sworn detractors will not be able to deny that he has been one of the most talented and charismatic all-round players to have ever graced the game.
He still is, in fact. Fernandez seems to have been around for ever, but he is still a couple of months shy of his 28th birthday.
The winger erupted onto the big scene in the 2004 Copa del Rey, stealing the show and leaving millions of spectators in awe as he walked away with MVP honours at the age of 18, despite the fact that Joventut Badalona lost in the final.
He then led the historic Catalan club to the 2006 EuroChallenge title, and a Eurocup and Copa del Rey double in 2008, before embarking on his NBA adventure.
Fernandez returns to the Spanish cup competition on Thursday, this time in a Real Madrid jersey, chasing a second title in this competition in a season when Pablo Laso's team aspires to a Liga Endesa, Copa del Rey and Turkish Airlines Euroleague treble.
He has not won as much as it would be normal for a player of his calibre on club level.
However, he has been an integral member of the golden generation of Spain ever since his break-out season and has played for the senior national team uninterruptedly since the 2004 Olympics in Athens.
He confirmed to FIBAEurope.com that he has no intention of breaking the tradition.
"I've been on this team [Spain] for almost nine years now," he said.
"If my back does not hurt and I finish the season feeling well, it's clear that I would like to be with the national team at the EuroBasket."
Fernandez has been dealing with a lingering back injury for the last few years, and he has had to adapt to a certain degree of uncertainty.
He sat out Real's league game at the weekend, a 94-74 victory at Uxue Bilbao, in order not to aggravate his back problem ahead of the Copa del Rey.
"It's true that there are times in the summer that you feel you need to rest," he admitted.
"But at the end of the day, you are there [when away with Spain] also with your family, so it becomes quite accessible to train with them [Spain team-mates].
|Fernandez is a constant on the Spanish national team, having first suited up for his country at the U16 European Championship in 2001 |
SPAIN WILL KEEP DOING THEIR THING
"They are all good national teams and anyway, when you go to a EuroBasket all opponents are strong," is the Real Madrid star's assessment.
"Besides, in this case Slovenia is the host nation, so they want to win a medal at home."
If Fernandez's health allows him to be on the plane to Slovenia, he is by now such an old hand at EuroBaskets that he knows exactly what the drill will be.
"We will have some changes or difficulties on our side, we will probably have to deal with some absences [of players], we've had a change of coach," he asserts.
"But within this context, we will try to continue in the same direction we have taken in the last years and have a good EuroBasket, as we have done all these years."
On the subject of absences, Spanish media have all but announced that at least five top players will not play at the EuroBasket and the team will be far from the super-power of years past.
Some have gone as far as to say that it will just be a bummer for whoever new coach Juan Orenga convinces to travel to Slovenia.
Fernandez is aware of all this and he is just shrugging it off.
"I don't think it's a drag, but for sure we cannot go relaxed, especially with all these good teams around," he said.
"We'll see in time what our roster will be and we'll try to make the most of it, there is no doubt."
Why bother though? Why not take the summer off, whether his back is fine or not?
"The motivation [to play for Spain] is always the same, to keep on growing as a team, to keep making history in a way," the winger explains.
Just as it happens with Fernandez on a personal level, there are some fans around Europe who love to demonise Spain, as if they were the evil empire.
"For sure the titles are there and speak for themselves, everyone wants to play against the Spanish national team," Fernandez acknowledges.
"But, from our side, the one thing that we always try to do is to prove worthy of the jersey we are wearing and take the country we represent as high as possible.
"I think our strong point is that we continue with the same humility as ever."
It is hard to imagine there is a basketball fan that would not like to watch the charismatic Spaniard play in the big event in Slovenia, in what will be his fifth consecutive EuroBasket, whether they are among those who find him cocky or not.
Whether friend or foe, everyone must really wish his back lets him do so.