Q&A: Nene

Former Denver big man Nene talks about returning to Pepsi Center
by Aaron Lopez

In his nine-plus seasons in Denver, former Nuggets center Nene provided many memorable moments – from successfully beating cancer, to rim-rattling jams, to a hilariously bad rendition of Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer.

He also left a lasting imprint impression on the franchise record book, where he ranks seventh in career games (555), ninth in points (6,868), seventh in rebounds (3,859), and second in field-goal percentage (.560).

Nene, the Brazilian big man with the easy smile, is set to face his former team Friday night for the first time since being traded to the Washington Wizards on March 15, 2012.

Originally selected 7th overall in 2002 and acquired by the Nuggets in a draft-night trade with the New York Knicks, Nene was part of a new era of basketball in Denver.

Named to the NBA All-Rookie First Team during the 2002-03 season, he was a major factor in Denver’s transition from a lottery team to perennial playoff team, including a trip to the Western Conference finals in 2009.

After the Wizards wrapped up practice Thursday, the amiable big man spoke with about being back in Denver, playing for Nuggets coach George Karl, mentoring his new young teammates and the great fans of Denver.

How does it feel to be back in Denver?
“It feels good and it’s a little weird. It’s good to be here and see all the familiar faces of people that I have gotten to know over the last few years, but weird to live in a different city because I have to take the bus, whereas in the past I could just drive my car to and from my house. It’s also a little strange for me to walk into a different locker room here. It’s always good to be here and play on this court. It’s going to be great to see friends, like ex-teammates and people who work in the front office. It will just be a positive and fun experience.”

Being the veteran on a young Wizards roster, what have you done to help mentor the young players on the team?
“Well this team is young and talented, and they still need to learn some things about basketball. What I bring to the team is experience and a high basketball IQ. Sometimes I joke about my IQ with my young teammates, because they haven’t played as long as I have, so they haven’t seen as much as I have. I just talk about my experience and everything that I went through here with the Nuggets. I think it definitely will help them.”

What are some things that you have learned from coach Karl that you were able to bring to this Wizards team and can use to help build this team?
“George loves to win, and I learned that I love to win. I can accept a loss, but I really like to win. We have been struggling a little bit, but I know this team and I know once we start to get on a roll, we are going to fly. It’s going to be hard to stop us.”

Speaking of that, point guard John Wall is back from injury, rookie Bradley Beal looks like he is improving, and you’re having a very productive season. Are these baby steps towards becoming a better team?
“Yeah, these are baby steps. We lost a lot of games we were supposed to win. Again I can accept a loss, but we gave away a lot of games earlier this season. When we learn to take better care of the game, the game will take care of us and we are going to be pretty good and win.”

Finally, is there message you want to send to Nuggets fans after your years of service here?
“What can I say about the fans? I have a lot of fans here and they were great to me during my time here as a member of the Denver Nuggets. I’m always going to have a lot of love for them. Man, they were great fans. It’s going to be a pleasure to see them again, and feel the love on Friday night”