Nene Interviewed Brazilian Style

SAO PAULO, BRAZIL -- Nuggets Brazilian sensation Nene Hilario recently returned to his homeland and while he was there, met up's Brazilian correspondent Luiz Mussa at the Pestana’s Hotels & Resorts’ Convention Center in Sao Paulo. Mussa let's you in on what Nene had to say about the NBA, the Brazilian national team and his plans for the future. The interview was conducted in Nene's native Portuguese and has been translated into English below.
Click here for the original Portuguese transcript.

Nene, did you miss home?
Nene: "Of course. I missed my family, my friends, the food and the TV. They don’t have good soap operas in the United States."

As for the food, any special requests?
Nene: "Oh, as soon as I got here I asked my mother to make feijoada (a Brazilian black bean stew). With lots of pork."

Nene, what’s the main difference between the practices here and in the USA?
Nene: "Well, (in the USA) they work your muscles a lot. They give the small players some strength and they give the big ones some agility. If you are not paying attention, the smaller players jump so high, they canblock your shots when you just don’t expect it."

How were the pre-draft camps?
Nene: "Oh, they also work your muscles a lot there. You practice at the camp for three hours in the morning. And in the afternoon you work on skills, the physical and the technical aspects of the game. It’s something like five to six hours everyday."

Nene, you were raw when you got drafted. How much weight did you gain?
Nene: "I weighed 249 lbs. when I was drafted and finished the regular season at about 271 or 272. I worked hard at the camp and got muscles. All those 20 lbs. were muscle."

What is your schedule for the next couple months?
Nene: "I’m going to stay here in Brazil until May 20th. Then I go to Cleveland to work along with my personal trainer and then I get back to Denver to practice with the whole team. And I must show up to the Brazilian national team on August 10th to the Puerto Rico Olympic Qualifying."

Nene, what do you want to improve in your game for next season?
Nene: "I need to improve my shooting. If I get better in this area, I guess its going to be very difficult to guard me, because I’m agile and have some explosion to get into the paint."

Tell us about how it felt to face your idols, Michael Jordan and Shaquille O’Neal.
Nene: "Well, it was very sentimental. After the game against Jordan he came to me and told me to keep working hard because I was a very talented guy. To hear it directly from the King, its means a lot. And after the All-Star Game he even mentioned my name in an interview. He praised me. That made me feel very proud."

You are sponsoring a basketball team in Sao Carlos (Nene’s hometown). How does this sponsorship work?
Nene: "It’s Menegueli’s team (Nivaldo Menegueli Jr., Nene’s first head coach). I started this project a month ago. It’s good to help your friends. And Menegueli was the one who gave me my first basketball, my first shoes. He was the one who supported me to have a basketball career."

Nene, what do you think about Leandrinho (another Brazilian player who will be an early entry candidate at this year’s draft)?
Nene: "Leandrinho is a very talented guy. He will need to work a lot on his physical, because he is also raw, but he has the talent."

On a scale of 1-10, how would you rate your first season?
Nene: "Twenty (laughs). It went beyond my expectations. I guess nobody expected me to be this good in my first full season."

What about the name on your back. Will it change to the next season?
Nene: Yeah, it will. I’m going to change it to Nenê. But I’ll keep the same number (31). You don’t make changes on a winning team, right?"

What teams do you point as the favorites in this season’s playoffs?
Nene: "Oh, it’s difficult. They’re all very good teams. But I think the Kings and the Spurs are stronger. And there’s always the Lakers…"

How important was Nuggets head coach Jeff Bzdelik in your quick evolution?
Nene: "Jeff gave me playing time. I got stronger and I became a stronger player on the team. So, Jeff began to use me as a center, and (Marcus) Camby as a power forward. And that brought my production up and increased my field goal percentage."

Nene, Lula (the Brazilian national team head coach) already said he is going to use you as a center. But your natural position is the power forward. What do you think about playing center in the national team?
Nene: "My favorite position is as a power forward, because this is my natural position. But I understand the lack of big men in Brazil and I’ll do everything Lula asks me to do."

Nene, after you became a starter, it was clear that the plays weren't designed for you to finish. Did that bother you?
Nene: "No, no. Juwan Howard was the best player on the team, and the plays were designed for him. It didn’t bother me."

With the exception of your first game and your trip to the All-Star Weekend, what was your most exciting game?
Nene: "Oh, versus Sacramento. At Sacramento (April 11). We lost by two points (105-103), with a little mistake at the end of the game. That was definitely the most exciting game of the season."

Who was the most difficult player to guard and who guarded you best?
Nene: "There wasn’t a specific player. Every time I’m going to guard a player who is not well known, or who the media doesn’t talk much about, it’s difficult, because he may get on the court and score 50 points. And it’s always difficult to face double teams."

Who is the player you have the best relationship with?
Nene: "It’s Juwan Howard. He taught me so many things. And I still have a lot to learn from him. I hope he will stay with the team next season."

Juwan Howard recently told you that you remind him of Chris Webber when he was younger. Are you proud of that?
Nene: "For sure. I’m very proud of it. And to hear it from Juwan, who played with Webber in college (at Michigan), it’s a great compliment."

Thank you very much Nene. Congratulations on such a successful season and good luck with the Brazilian team.