AT&T CENTER – Prior to last Wednesday’s game against the San Antonio Spurs, Washington Wizards center Nene found himself singing the praises of a player he was about to matchup with and defend.
It’s not every day you get to play against a longtime teammate, and Nene, even with the game just over an hour away was talking like a proud big brother about Spurs forward and fellow countryman Tiago Splitter
Asked about playing against Splitter that night, instead of the normal testosterone-laced, competitive pregame fair you may come to expect, especially from a relative giant in the 6-11 Nene, instead he used the word “great” to describe the upcoming grudge match against the player that flanks him most summers in international play.
“It's great. He's a great player, very smart,” Nene said. “We grew up together you know playing in the national team so we have a good relationship.”
While Nene is only three years older than Splitter, he made the transition to the NBA eight years earlier than Splitter, becoming the first Brazilian to be selected in the first round of the NBA Draft.
But according to Nene, he didn’t have to impart much wisdom on his compatriot when transitioning from Europe to the NBA.
“He always was very smart with his decisions. I didn't do much, give a lot of advice, but the only thing I remember when he came to the league, European to the NBA was a little different,” Nene said. “I thought he deserved to be here, he was very talented enough to be here and he just needed to pace himself. He's having a great season.”
After re-signing with the Spurs over the summer, Splitter is currently averaging 7.8 points and 7.4 rebounds in just over 22 minutes per game. After Wednesday night’s game, it appeared Splitter got the best of Nene by finishing with 12 points, nine rebounds and one blocked shot to Nene’s four points and two rebounds.
“He's always a hard worker, he’s a hard worker with a lot of energy,” Nene said. “He has skills in the post and he feels more free, more comfortable.”
While Nene may be more friend and even fan than foe of Splitter, when it came to watching the NBA Finals, it was clear he was focused on the present and what was right in front of him.
“Yea, everybody saw that,” he said. “Right now I need to be thinking beat Spurs not to cheer for the Spurs.”
But before throwing on his jersey and lacing up his sneakers, Nene had one more bit of praise for the person standing next to Splitter in the paint. Nene worked out with Splitter and Tim Duncan during the NBA lockout, which he said was a pleasure, but as far as what Duncan is doing at his age, Nene only had one word.
“He’s amazing, there’s not much to say than amazing.”
Paul Garcia contributed to this post.