NEW YORK, June 26 -- It's Wednesday, and Nene Hilario is happy. And why shouldn't he be? He's hours away from being selected in this year's NBA Draft, one in which many experts have Hilario going as high as No. 5. The general consensus has Hilario as at least a lottery pick. Not bad for a 19-year-old from Brazil who started playing hoops at 12.
Hilario takes his mind off tonight's Draft by watching some
But this isn't why Hilario is happy. Hilario is happy because Ronaldo just scored. Ronaldo, the star striker for Brazil's national soccer team, just poked one past the Turkish goalkeeper and into the back of the net. And this makes Hilario cheer. Scream, actually. Then he starts dancing, all 6-9 of him. Hilario shakes and hops and swings his arms, taking up most of the hotel room, all done with surprising grace for one so tall and with arms so long (he has a 7-4 wingspan).
All in all, it's a good day for Maybyner Rodney "Nene" Hilario. His country's beloved soccer team has reached the finals of the World Cup. He is on the brink of NBA stardom. His family is with him in New York City to share in his crowning moment. Yes, at this moment, the Hilarios truly are living up to their namesake.
But what happens when the business of basketball starts? How will Nene be equipped to deal with an Alonzo Mourning or a Rasheed Wallace? How happy will Hilario be then?
"I think I'll surprise people," says Hilario in his native Portuguese through an interpreter (he speaks just a few words of English). "I should be able to do well. I have an aggressive style of play that should bode well for the NBA."
If nothing else, Hilario's build backs up his claim. He isn't just tall and rangy, he's solid. Comparisons have been made to Detroit's Ben Wallace, and after standing close to him one quickly sees why. His massive arms and big frame should be able to hold up well over the rigors of an 82-game NBA season.
Athleticism aside, Hilario's overall game is still in need of fine-tuning, though. His offensive touch is arguably where he needs the most work, but he's already proven himself to be a solid rebounder and a vicious shot-blocker. He has spent the last three months in the U.S. -- mostly in Cleveland where his agent is based -- working out with coaches. Hilario aims to model himself after other agile big men: Hakeem Olajuwon, Kenyon Martin, and Jermaine O'Neal.
But the pressures on Hilario to develop quickly will be two-fold. Not only will his future team's expectations be high for him, especially if he's taken with one of the top picks, but he is playing for an entire country, as he will become the only Brazilian in the NBA.
"The media coverage in Brazil of my arrival into the NBA has been intense," says Hilario. "It is a big responsibility, but I see it as an opportunity to open doors for other Brazilian players."
Nene reacts to World Cup
action on TV.
Regardless of any pressure Hilario feels, he is constantly smiling and laughing, giving the sense that he is happy 24-7.
"He has the smile of a Magic Johnson," says ESPN International's Fabio Malavazzi, who announces NBA games in Brazil. "I think it will take him far."
Hilario also faces the challenge of becoming a 19-year-old rookie in a foreign land where he doesn't speak the native tongue. To that end, Nene says his family will be spending a lot of time with him in the U.S. And while he doesn't have preferences as for which team he'd like to play with, he does admit that it would help to go a big city with a sizeable Brazilian population. He mentions Los Angeles, New York and Miami as the best options.
But right now these are of little concern to the bouncing Brazilian. He's living in the moment, soaking up all that it has to offer. He's having difficulty looking past this summer, when he'll be back in Brazil, throwing himself a party in celebration of his approaching NBA career.
And what of tonight after he's drafted?
"The night will be too short for the amount of celebrating I'm going to do."
Spoken like a true Hilario.