Back home from the Olympics, where he was an assistant coach for Team USA, Trail Blazers coach Nate McMillan on Thursday could finally reveal the two-week struggle he endured in Beijing.
There were sleepless nights. A self-imposed muzzle on his emotions. And the uneasiness of choosing an allegiance.
All because of Rudy Fernandez.
Associated PressRudy Fernandez, playing for Spain, is fouled by Dwight Howard as he dunks during the gold medal game at the Olympics.
The high-energy shooting guard for Spain, who will join the Blazers this month, excelled during the Olympics, which included a team-high 22 points in the gold medal loss to the Ameicans. And after getting a front-row view for many of Spain's games, McMillan said Fernandez, 23, is so talented that he will "definitely" play, and play a lot, for the Blazers.
"I'm sitting there (in the gold medal game) with a straight face, trying not to smile," McMillan said. " (Spain) are the guys we have to beat, but I'm caught. That's my player and I want to (he claps his hands twice) but I gotta (he makes a serious face) because we are going up against him."
McMillan said that early in the Olympics, after watching Spain's second game, he had a fitful night of sleep.
"I was so impressed with him that it was to the point where after the second time I saw him, I didn't sleep that night because I was moving my rotations around," McMillan said. "I swear I did not sleep. I could not sleep thinking about him. Because I'm saying, 'We can put him here, do this with him, do that with him and Brandon (Roy), and do this... So he's playing for us. Oh yeah. I see that right now."
A 6-foot-5 player who never stops moving, Fernandez averaged 13.1 points, 3.5 rebounds and 2.1 assists while shooting 47 percent from the field at the Olympics, all while opening the eyes of NBA players and coaches. McMillan said he and fellow Team USA assistant Mike D'Antoni, the coach of the New York Knicks, engaged in a back-and-forth banter during one of Fernandez's games.
"Every time Rudy did something, D'Antoni would look at me and say, 'Your player, huh?' " McMillan said. "And I would be, 'Yeah, he's cool.' Like no big deal.
"Then he does something else, and D'Antoni would be like 'Dang! Pretty good, huh?'
"Yeah, he's alright," McMillan said he told him. "He's okay. Still has to work on going to his left."
"But then he kept doing stuff," McMillan said, in an amazed tone. "Then all of a sudden he catches a lob, then he steals it and is swinging on the rim, and it's like ... dang. Over there, you talk about the U.S. basketball team, and Rudy is the next thing you talk about. It was Team USA. Rudy. And he played to earn that."
McMillan said he envisions Fernandez playing in the second unit with Jerryd Bayless and Travis Outlaw, with the scoring focus centered on Outlaw and Fernandez. He also guaranteed Fernandez and Roy will play together, most likely with Roy as point and Fernandez at shooting guard, but he also didn't rule out Roy playing small forward alongside Fernandez at shooting guard.
"I feel like I can coach him, and I feel I can help him become better, and I feel he can help us," McMillan said. "But how does he fit in? That's going to be the whole thing with our guys this year ... there are going to be different roles. He was the man in Spain, where he touched the ball every possession and the offense ran through him. That changes a bit here. We are still going to have to run some stuff for you, but you are probably not going to get as many touches as you did in Spain."
McMillan said he doesn't think fewer touches will be a problem for Fernandez because he is adept at scoring without the ball with offensive rebounds, fast breaks and hustling for loose balls.
"If I could say one thing about him, it's that he is fearless," McMillan said. "He's not afraid to make a play, which is great when you are talking about playing in the NBA. You've got to have heart; you can't be afraid. And he is not."