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Spaniards in the NBA

Spaniards in the NBA: Iberian Ballers

When you think of the countries that have grown to become real basketball hubs outside of the United States, you can’t escape Spain. Spaniards have made tons of noise in hoops over the last several years, and a good handful of them have bought their talents across the Atlantic to the NBA.

Spain is one of the best countries in the world at churning out basketball talent, and a lot of it stays at home to play in Liga ACB, the best domestic pro basketball league in the world outside of the NBA. There have been several crossovers into the NBA over the years, though, with the Gasol brothers are two of the main headliners to make the jump.

The Gasol brothers are back playing in Liga ACB now and are no longer in the Association. But there are still a handful of Spaniards hooping in the NBA this season.

Spaniards in the NBA, 2021-22

Santi Aldama

Hometown: Las Palmas, Spain

Prep/University: Loyola-Maryland

Drafted: 2021 / Round: 1 / Pick: 30th overall

Current Team: Memphis

Santi Aldama grew up in a basketball playing household, following in his father’s footsteps representing their country with the Spanish National Team. He attended Loyola, where he was a First Team All-Patriot League player in 2021.

Aldama entered the 2021 NBA Draft and was selected No. 30 overall by the Utah Jazz, but his rights were later traded to the Memphis Grizzlies. He’s currently receiving fewer than 10 minutes per game off of the bench for Memphis.

Usman Garuba

Hometown: Madrid, Spain

Prep/University: Real Madrid

Drafted: 2021 / Round: 1 / Pick: 23rd overall

Current Team: Houston

Usman Garuba joined Real Madrid in 2017 as a member of the reserve team. An early bloomer, it took Garuba time to grow into his frame – he was almost 6-foot-3 at 12 years old.

As the years went by, he not only grew into his large frame but started to surpass his peers on the basketball court, becoming a member of the Real Madrid senior team at 18. At 19, the Houston Rockets drafted him in the first round of the 2021 NBA Draft. He’s currently seeing limited minutes in his rookie campaign.

Juancho Hernangomez 

Hometown: Madrid, Spain

Prep/University: Estudiantes

Drafted: 2016 / Round: 1 / Pick: 15th overall

Current Team: Boston

The 26-year-old Juancho Hernangomez started his professional career playing for Spanish club CB Estudiantes in 2012. He played for Estudiantes for four years before placing his name on the international entry list for the 2016 NBA Draft. The Denver Nuggets took Hernangomez with the No. 15 overall pick that year, and he played for the team from 2016 to 2020, averaging double-digit minutes but fewer than five points per game.

In 2020, Hernangomez was traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves, where he initially found success. But tensions arose with the front office when the team disallowed him from participating in the Olympics in 2021. The player has been traded twice since, now suiting up for the Boston Celtics as the year draws to a close.

Willy Hernangomez 

Hometown: Madrid, Spain

Prep/University: Real Madrid

Drafted: 2015 / Round: 2 / Pick: 35th overall

Current Team: New Orleans

The older brother to Juancho, Willy Hernangomez’s path looked very different from his brother’s.

Willy Hernangomez played his youth basketball within Real Madrid, and while he was a solid player, he never really excelled in the ACB at the senior level. Despite his moderate success at the club level, he had promising performances for the national team in the 2011 U18 and 2014 U20 European Championships. That helped him get drafted No. 35 overall by the Philadelphia 76ers in 2015, who then flipped him for two future picks to the New York Knicks.

He became a 2017 All-Rookie First Team member while starting 22 games for the Knicks. Since his strong rookie season, Hernangomez has struggled to find starting minutes, starting only 38 games over the past six seasons.

Serge Ibaka

Hometown: Brazzaville, Republic of Congo

Prep/University: CB L’Hospitalet

Drafted: 2008 / Round: 1 / Pick: 24th overall

Current Team: LA Clippers

Serge Ibaka was born in the Republic of Congo but moved to Spain in 2007 to play professionally, becoming fluent in Spanish in just a handful of months. The country made enough of an impact for him to choose it as the nation he represents on the international stage – Ibaka helped Spain win silver at the 2012 London Olympics.

In the NBA, Ibaka is now a grizzled vet. For his career, the big man has averaged 12.4 points, 7.3 rebounds, and 2.0 blocks per game in more than 850 games. He’s the two-time NBA block champion, a three-time All-Defensive player, and was a piece of the puzzle in Toronto’s 2019 title triumph.

This season, he’s played 11 games for the Clippers and scored 4.3 points per outing.

Ricky Rubio 

Hometown: El Masnou, Spain

Prep/University: FC Barcelona

Drafted: 2009 / Round: 1 / Pick: 5th overall

Current Team: Cleveland

When you think of Spanish basketball, you think of Ricky Rubio. He’s one of the most famous Spaniards in the NBA and synonymous with the country’s hoops image.

Despite being drafted in 2009, Rubio was unable to play for the Minnesota Timberwolves immediately because of various contract issues with his Spanish club. After playing another two seasons in Spain, the wunderkind was finally able to sign and honor his Minnesota contract and arrive for the 2011-12 NBA season.

Since his arrival in the NBA, Rubio has started nearly every game and has career averages of 30 minutes, 11 points, and 7.6 assists per contest. At age 31, he’s still considered one of the best guards in the game.

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