Willy Hernangomez was pretty nervous for his first meeting with Phil Jackson. It was in Orlando, where the 22-year-old was set to sign his first pro contract.
Hernangomez went to dinner one night with Jackson and other members of the New York Knicks organization. It was there that Jackson, the team president, delivered a simple, effective message.
"He told me, 'Willy it was very nice to meet you and I love your game,'" Hernangomez recalled. "I couldn't say anything to him because I was very nervous, but I feel like they trusted me so I have confidence."
Hernangomez fulfilled a lifelong dream last Thursday when he signed a four-year, $5.9 million deal to play for the Knicks. Kristaps Porzingis, one of his closest friends and a former teammate at Sevilla in Spain, was by his side. Hernangomez probably hasn't stopped smiling since.
The 6-foot-10 power forward/center took time out from practicing with the Spanish national team to talk to ESPN.com about expectations for the NBA, his relationship with Porzingis and the proper pronunciation of his name:
Q: What was it like to fulfill your dream and sign your first NBA contract last week?
Hernangomez: For me, it's exciting, emotional. It's going to be a big step. I've got a great opportunity with them in the NBA. I'm working to be ready and to help the team. ... After I signed the contract, I couldn't sleep because my emotions wouldn't let me sleep. I'm very happy. These last two days, everybody congratulates me and I feel happy and I can't wait to come to New York and start the season.
Q: How would you describe your relationship with Porzingis?
Hernangomez: We are very close. We can say that we are like brothers. He told me about New York. He talked about me with the coaches and with the GM [Steve Mills] and with Phil. So this is a great opportunity. He's going to help me a lot. He wanted me to go there now. He told me, "Willy, don't go with me to the national team, just stay with me over the summer." I told him, "I have to go to the international team." But he's going to help me for sure.
I'm very happy to play with him again. ... We talk every day about that. When I'm in New York in September, October, we'll go to dinner together and hang out. I'm excited to play with him next year. He's going to help me a lot.
Q: What are your expectations for your first season in the NBA?
Hernangomez: I'm just excited to start to play. But this is my first year, so I'm going to listen to my teammates, listen to coaches, listen to everybody and they're going to give me advice. Every day, I'll try to improve to help the team and do my best to win games. I'll try to use my minutes [well] and just do my best for the team.
Q: How would you describe your game? (ESPN's Fran Fraschilla describes Hernangomez's game here.)
Hernangomez: I'm a center. I love playing in the low post. I like passing the ball to my teammates ... I like to run and play fast like [head coach Jeff Hornacek] wants. I like to run the fast break.
Q: Did Phil Jackson, Steve Mills or Jeff Hornacek talk to you about expectations while you were in Orlando?
Hernangomez: They told me they want to see me practice with Joakim Noah and with other teammates. I just want to do my best there and we'll see. They trust me, they told me that they like my game. So I have confidence.
Q: Do you pronounce your name "Willy" or "Billy"?
Hernangomez: It's "Billy." If you write my name, it's with a "W." So everyone thinks it's "Willy." But my mom, she was from Germany. In Germany, everyone with a [name that starts with "W"] is pronounced with a "B." So that's my name. I'm going to try to explain that to everybody. But I don't care. It doesn't matter if someone calls me Willy or Billy.