FiHustle Star Juancho Hernangomez Knows About the Grind

hen Utah Jazz forward Juancho Hernangomez's agent told him that Adam Sandler was looking to cast a real-life NBA hooper⁠—⁠you know, one such as himself—as his co-lead in a Netflix movie, he said no. He said no! True story. Said he was perfectly happy living out his NBA dreams. Then the pandemic happened, which apparently induced a boredom so severe that the 26-year-old Spaniard sent in an audition tape.

"I don't know what they like, or what they like about me," Hernangomez said over Zoom earlier this week, entirely serious, speaking about his submission. "I just tried to be natural." If you've seen Adam Sandler's Hustle, which hit Netflix on June 8, it's obvious why Sandman casted him. The dude is funny. But not in a Sandlerian you eat pieces of shit for breakfast?! way.

Hustle sees Sandler's Stanley Sugerman, a longtime scout for the Philadelphia 76ers, discover a Spanish hooper named Bo Cruz, played by Hernangomez. As Cruz, Hernangomez mixes a sort of mischief—ordering five Philly cheesesteaks and only eating one bite of each to cut calories—with a dry humor that ricochets off Sandler's absurdism. It infuses Sugerman and Cruz's journey to the high-stakes NBA Draft Combine with some major SME (Sports Movie Energy), providing more than enough humor and heart to make Hustle one of Sandler's best films.

With Hernangomez managing to nail plenty of shots opposite a comedy legend, Esquire caught up with the baller before the film's premiere. Turns out that Hernangomez knows just as much about the grind as his Netflix doppelgänger. This conversation has been edited for clarity and length.

ESQUIRE: What’s your favorite Adam Sandler movie? Juancho Hernangomez: Probably because I’ve watched it a lot of times... Happy Gilmore. Or Waterboy. Those are two and three for me, I think. My favorite is Big Daddy. He’s got a lot of movies. At least 50. [Laughs] Yeah, yeah.

What was it like working with him? We just feel like family. For me, it wasn't hard to be on set every single day. He's just as he looks in movies as a person. He's funny, he loves basketball, he cares about you, he cares about the fans. He never put on a bad face or any bad answer. We just got really, really close.

I think that's why people love Adam Sandler, because he never takes himself seriously, but yet his work is beautiful and funny. Since it was a two-year-long shoot, how physically demanding was filming and rehearsing the basketball stuff?

I think that's why people love Adam Sandler, because he never takes himself seriously, but yet his work is beautiful and funny. Since it was a two-year-long shoot, how physically demanding was filming and rehearsing the basketball stuff?

The hardest part for me was the basketball. Because I'm used to [working out] three or four hours a day straight. You don't stop for 20 minutes to change the camera and do it again. It's tough to warm up again and then start jumping, start playing defense, and start blocking shots. Then it stops again. Then do it again for another angle. So it was really, really hard—mentally and physically.

The first game, It was so hard to do four or five days straight, jumping and running on boots. My foot hurts, my knee hurts, everything hurts. I was like dead. I was complaining. Next morning, I couldn't even walk. Obviously the best parts of the movie come from this rivalry between you and Anthony Edwards's character, Kermit. How much of the trash talk was improvised?

I think a hundred percent. When we did the scene, it was like, "Man, I'm going to kill you. I'm going to kill you, like for real." But then when Jeremiah [Zagar], the director, said cut; we start laughing, hugging each other. And so it was that intense. So that's the reason I think the movie was great—because every scene is realistic. When Bo and Kermit are going at it, there's someone who says, “This is going to be a really good learning moment for Bo." Did you have a Welcome-to-the-NBA moment?

Probably every day. Coming from Europe as trying to get in the NBA, the draft process, the draft workouts—really, really hard. They work you out for five hours. And then playing three on three, two on two, one on ones. And it's against five guys to try to make it too. My first real NBA game in New Orleans, Anthony Davis, at that moment, scored 50. I was like, "He really got 50!" It was kind of the first moment. Fill in some text

Bo can be a tough, killer basketball player, but he's also a sensitive guy. Stanley remarks on that. Is sensitivity at all important to being successful as an athlete?

Bo can be a tough, killer basketball player, but he's also a sensitive guy. Stanley remarks on that. Is sensitivity at all important to being successful as an athlete?

I'm sensitive. When I lose, I cry. When my brother or my people or my family accomplish something, I cry for happiness. That kind of emotion, when somebody's sad that somebody goes through something and they keep going and they make it? I cry. I'm happy for them. Because I grew up that way. I like people who give everything for other people… When I see the movie,

Fi[it really motivates me]. Not just because of basketball. The movie's cool for basketball, but I want the movie to try to motivate every kid who cannot make the dream at first. And it's a lot of people. I keep learning from that. That's the best of life,

[to] keep learning every day. How you can be a better person every day? How you can help your parents? If you can invite your parents to dinner, it is huge. Well, I think Hustle has something beautiful to say about how basketball can give you both extreme pain and happiness.

I'm sensitive. When I lose, I cry. When my brother or my people or my family accomplish something, I cry for happiness. That kind of emotion, when somebody's sad that somebody goes through something and they keep going and they make it? I cry. I'm happy for them. Because I grew up that way. I like people who give everything for other people… When I see the movie, [it really motivates me]. Not just because of basketball. The movie's cool for basketball, but I want the movie to try to motivate every kid who cannot make the dream at first. And it's a lot of people. I keep learning from that. That's the best of life, [to] keep learning every day. How you can be a better person every day? How you can help your parents? If you can invite your parents to dinner, it is huge.