Utah Jazz big man Juan Hernangómez makes his acting debut in Adam Sandler’s “Hustle”, a Netflix film about an NBA scout who finds a gem in Spain’s Bo Cruz.
NBA players have tried, and often failed, to transition to prominent acting roles. But the movies that center basketball and heart — whether it’s Space Jam or Hustle — tend to bring out the best in NBA players.
Hustle, which debuted on Netflix on June 8, stars Adam Sandler as Stanley Sugarman, a Philadelphia 76ers scout who remains on the road in search of the team’s next great star. In Spain, he stumbles across Bo Cruz, a towering Spanish talent who belongs in the NBA — if only someone would give Cruz a chance.
In a similar vein, Sandler and Hustle director Jeremiah Zagar wanted to give the actor that plays Cruz a chance in the first acting role of his career. Juan “Juancho” Hernangómez, a real-life NBA star who originally hails from Spain, was perfect for the part — even though he initially didn’t even want it.
The multitalented Hernangómez has been around the NBA for several years, and in some ways, his own path to stardom reflects some of the adversity seen in Hustle.
Who is Juan Hernangomez?
In real life, the 26-year-old hooper is descended from Spanish royalty: his mother and father played professional basketball in Spain, and his brother, Willy Hernangómez, currently plays for the New Orleans Pelicans. Juancho’s younger sister Andrea currently plays college basketball for Fairfield University.
Juancho was drafted No. 15 overall in the 2016 NBA Draft by the Denver Nuggets, and he is currently on the fifth NBA team of his career.
Juancho did begin his professional basketball career in Spain: from 2014 to 2016, he played for CB Estudiantes. In his 2015-16 season playing in the ACB (Spain’s professional basketball league), Hernangómez won the ACB Best Young Player Award.
Although the 6’9″ center/power forward was described as a “throw-in player” for the Jazz deadline trade, the Salt Lake Tribune’s Eric Walden described his play as a “silver lining” after tough losses in March.
“He crashed the glass early, he got us some extra shots,” Jazz head coach Quin Snyder said at the time. “And historically throughout his career, he’s been really good from the corner — around 40% on catch-and-shoot corner 3s — and that’s something that he gave us tonight.”
Not only is Hernangómez a talented actor, but he is a versatile contributor to the NBA teams he’s played on, much like his brother, Willy.
Why Adam Sandler cast Juan Hernangomez in Hustle
Netflix spoke with Sandler and Hernangómez about their experience in making the film. The casting took place during quarantine for the COVID-19 pandemic, when the Hernangómez siblings were at home together and having fun in front of the camera.
“We did videos with my sister and my brother,” Juancho told Netflix. “We didn’t know how to do the auditions. So, we just put the camera in the kitchen and we just played. So, it was kind of crazy because I don’t know what they expected or what they saw in me.”
For Sandler, the lack of professional experience wasn’t an issue — he just wanted to be sure the film cast “a real hooper.”
“I took a look at his tape and he was a really funny, cool, charismatic guy — handsome as hell,” Sandler said of Hernangómez. “He just was really natural, really real. [With Hernangómez on board,] we knew we had something that no one could doubt. That’s a real hooper.”
Which NBA team does Juan Hernangomez play for?
Juancho Hernangómez currently plays for the Utah Jazz.
Since his NBA debut in 2016, he has also played for the Denver Nuggets, the Minnesota Timberwolves, the Boston Celtics, and the San Antonio Spurs.
Hernangómez was traded from the Spurs to the Jazz on Feb. 9 before the NBA trade deadline.
The story of NBA brothers Juan Hernangomez and Willy Hernangomez
In an exclusive interview with FanSided this February, Willy Hernangomez spoke at length about the close relationship he enjoys with his brother and sister.
“They’re not only my brother and my sister — they’re both my best friends,” Willy said.
Juancho said the same thing: “He’s my brother, but he’s also my best friend,” he once said in an interview.
Juancho and Willy closely resemble another pair of Spanish basketball brothers: Pau Gasol and Marc Gasol, who texted Juancho and Willy every day when the Hernangómez brothers first joined the NBA. Juancho and Willy used to practice against the Gasol brothers as members of Spain’s National Team, and they furthered their legacy when Juancho and Willy won the 2019 FIBA World Cup for Spain. When the Hernangómez brothers first made the team together in 2017, their mother, Wonny Geuer, said it made her prouder than anything in the world.
“There is no greater pride than seeing and having Willy and Juancho together on the National Team. Getting up when the anthem sounds and seeing your son there on the court is already an immense satisfaction, more than when I played,” Geuer said. “But if the two are together, it is the thing of dreams, much better even than seeing them both in the NBA.”
Although so much has gone well for the Hernangómez brothers, they did face one particular hardship: Juancho was unable to represent Spain in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Willy said this “bad situation” was “hard” for him, especially when the NBA seems to be more understanding to American players.
“We are basketball players and our job is to play for our NBA team, but the NBA team needs to know as well that our dream and our best moment of the year is to play for and represent our country because it’s so beautiful. I think they understand that when the American players want to play for the USA team.”
Willy also noted that while Juancho was recovering from an injury, the real reason he was left off of the Olympic roster is because the Minnesota Timberwolves planned on trading him — and they soon did.
“By the end of the day, everybody knows this is a business, and we knew he was about to be traded,” Willy said. “That’s why they wouldn’t let him play and maybe get hurt or whatever, so his value will be higher. But obviously disappointed with the decision, but I think my brother took it as a motivation to keep working hard. We have a couple years to keep working, and my brother is going to use that as a motivation to be more ready than ever for the next Olympics.”
How to watch Hustle
Hustle debuted in theaters on June 3 and is currently available to stream on Netflix.