Waiting for Rudy
That was 18 years ago. Since those days, Fernandez has done many other things with the ball in his hands. And all of them good.
Most recently, he was named MVP of the Spanish Cup, one of the most prestigious tournaments in FIBA basketball. This year, the tourney featured the likes of Juan Carlos Navarro, Dejan Bodiroga, Luis Scola, Antonis Fotsis, Elmer Bennett – all of them drafted by NBA teams – and future first-round picks like Tiago Splitter and Anderson Varejao.
With those credentials, it should come as no surprise that the 6-foot-5, 186-pound shooting guard from Joventut Badalona – the same team in which Utah's point guard Raul Lopez grew up – is already considered a potential lottery pick in this year's draft.
But the NBA may have to wait, according to Fernandez.
Although that's no longer the trend, there was a time when European stars waited till they did something big overseas before making the jump to the NBA. In that sense, Fernandez is old-school.
Right now, his focus is on Joventut and the possibility of playing in the Olympic Games with the Spanish National Team this summer.
“I will only enter this year's draft if I win the ACB (Spanish league) with Joventut,” says Fernandez when asked about his future in the NBA. "Yes, that is the only way I would declare for the draft – and my family is going to have the most important influence on my decision.”
When it comes to basketball, his family should know well. Both his mother and his father played for Joventut – one of the elite squads in Europe some years ago – and his sister Marta is a member of the Spanish National team. She has rejected offers from WNBA teams for the chance to play in Athens this summer.
Playing in the Olympic Games should be an easier task for Rudy. He's having a breakout year in Spain playing a type of basketball that is foreign to most Euros.
“I like to run and play one-on-one basketball," Fernandez says. "My favorite move is penetrating to the basket and finish with a dunk.
"If I have to talk about my weaknesses, I would have to say that I need to work on my body to gain muscle and continue to be better defensively.”
Although too weak for NBA standards, he is certainly not a liability on the defensive end. Fernandez has very good legs and is one of the leaders in steals in the Spanish league. The comparisons with Spurs guard Emanuel Ginobili are all over the place.
One area in which Manu may not be able match Fernandez is his scoring ability – especially from beyond the arc. Last year, he hit 11 three-pointers in a game against FC Barcelona junior team. His offensive talent has not gone unnoticed. “He could be a devastating offensive force in the NBA," an NBA scout told ESPN a couple of weeks ago.
BE LIKE T-MAC
Unlike many other Euro prospects, Fernandez follows the NBA closely – particularly the Orlando Magic.
“My dream is to play against Tracy McGrady, he is my idol,” Fernandez says. Why? "Because he is a player that can do everything and can score 62 points in a game. That's a good reason, uh? He is the real deal and I would like to be like him one day.”
Fernandez often wakes up late at night to watch NBA games, which are aired around 3 am on Spanish TV.
“I like the Wolves this year. They have a great team now with Cassell and Spree. I think they are going to make something big. I like to watch them play. But I'm loyal to Orlando because McGrady plays there and I was also a fan of the team during the Penny and Shaq era.”
But he knows where the good basketball is.
“In the West, of course. As a team concept, the best style of play is in the West. But in the East you have great showmen like T-Mac and Iverson.”
Fernandez, a showman on the court himself, could join them in the league whenever he decides the time has come. The NBA is waiting for him, that's for sure.
David Carro writes for Gigantes and is a regular contributor to HoopsHype.com