Willy Hernangómez and Joel Parra

La Familia’s DNA

08/25/2023 · By Roberto C. Rascón
Willy Hernangomez and Joel Parra, players of the Spanish Basketball Team

The Spanish basketball team will attend the 2023 FIBA Basketball World Cup held in the Philippines, Japan and Indonesia with both feet firmly on the ground, according to Willy Hernangómez and Joel Parra. But that doesn’t keep them from dreaming of winning again. Because ‘La Familia’ [The Family], a nickname they sport with pride, has been one of the best in the world for the last 20 years. The key: DNA combining talent, hard work and team spirit that they’ve worked on since being in junior categories.

The Spanish basketball team has a new challenge ahead: winning another World Cup after they won in China in 2019. This time, the tournament will be held in the Philippines, Indonesia and Japan —where Spain won its first Naismith Trophy in 2006— from the 25th of August to the 10th of September. It will be no easy task despite the Spanish team’s past good record in Asia, since they will be up against countries like the United States, Slovenia, France, Serbia or Canada, among others. To make the task even more difficult, the team led by Sergio Scariolo won’t include the latest World Cup MVP: Ricky Rubio, who left the training camp at the beginning of August to take care of his mental health.

For Joel Parra (Barcelona, 2000), the guard’s withdrawal doesn’t change anything: “We have to maintain the same mindset as the last few years, take the championship one match at a time knowing that we don’t have the best team in terms of names, but we do when it comes to hard work, sacrifice and team spirit. You have to stay humble, respect your rivals and know that we could win but also lose.” That mindset was one of the keys to the Spanish team’s success during last year’s Eurobasket, which culminated with Spain winning the gold against all odds. Willy Hernangómez (Madrid, 1994) nods along to his teammate's words and, when he’s finished, says: “There’s not much more to say, Joel has said it all.”

“We have to face the championship knowing that we don’t have the best team in terms of names, but we do when it comes to hard work, sacrifice and team spirit” — Joel Parra

A mindset that doesn’t rule out setting their sights high, as the national team has been doing over the last two decades. “We’re really excited to play in the World Cup, to give our all and take Spain as high as possible,” shares Joel. But which is the secret to success? “I think the key is to enjoy ourselves —declares Willy—. When you get on the team and share a locker room with spectacular players you admire, you try to soak it all in and learn. Then you realise that they want to teach you and convey La Familia’s values. I think we’re unbeaten in terms of giving our all, competing and, at the same time, enjoying ourselves is part of La Familia’s DNA.” Joel hasn’t been part of the senior team for long, but he felt the good vibes from the start: “I’ve started recently, but that bond that they have created and conveyed when I used to watch them on TV is still here.”

An unbreakable bond that is established in the Spanish team’s junior categories thanks to the work of the Spanish Basketball Federation (FEB). Something both Joel and Willy recognise. “At the beginning of summer, I was really excited to join the national team. They say that the senior team is a family, but it’s something that’s forged from a young age,” Joel declares. “During the year, I hoped to come play with the national team and get together with my friends, with the best players from Spain —affirms Willy—. They push you to improve.” Betting on talent is another of the FEB’s hallmarks, but what does this word mean to these two regular players for Scariolo? Willy begins: “I’d define talent as a blend... —Joel interrupts him here— of hard work and effort, also innate skill.” And Willy picks up where he left off: “I’d add a lot of sacrifice. In the end, some players are talented because of how hard they train and that’s also talent: making sacrifices.”

“I think we’re unbeaten in terms of giving our all, competing and, at the same time, enjoying ourselves is part of La Familia’s DNA” — Willy Hernangómez

Working with the younger generations has meant that there’s someone to take over from the generation that started it all, the Golden Juniors (Pau Gasol, Juan Carlos Navarro, Felipe Reyes, Raül López or Berni Rodríguez, among others). Now, Willy’s generation is leading the national team. “Sharing a locker room and training sessions with Alberto [Díaz], Darío [Brizuela] o Sebas [Saiz], from the generation of ‘94, helps me see how hard we’ve worked and the great job the Federation is doing with the junior categories.” In fact, Willy highlights the combination of more experienced players, like Rudy or Llull, and younger players, like Joel himself, as another key to success. He even spares a thought for those who’ve simply come to lend a helping hand: “Izan [Almansa] or Baba [Miller] are helping out during training sessions and I think it’s a great combination to keep La Familia’s DNA alive”.

The good vibes shared during the national team’s training camps extend beyond the summer. A year ago, Joel was a rookie at the camp and Willy was very supportive and they became friends. “During the magical summer we had last year, we got along really well and we’ve chatted a lot this year, I’d say practically every week —Willy admits—. This is when you realise you have a real friend who cares about you.” Next season, they won’t need to call because they’ll see each other every day, since both have signed with Barcelona. The trick for Willy lies in spending time together, whether playing cards or on the Play Station —Joel brought his with him last year—. “In the end, it’s the little things that add up, not just what happens on the court,” confesses Willy. And Joel, who’s also the group’s DJ, confirms this: “Those good vibes, that chemistry, is one of the keys to the national team’s success.”