For Point Guard, It's All About the Team

November/December 2005

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For Point Guard, It's All About the Team

Chris Hernandez went to Izmir, Turkey, in August as a star point guard, and came home a true believer in team building.

It was rough going at first. As he and his teammates on the U.S. men’s basketball team, including Cardinal senior forward Matt Haryasz, practiced in Colorado Springs for the World University Games, they were dissed by visiting observers. “As a team we didn’t look that good, and the coach kept telling us that the NBA scouts were saying we were going to have a tough time,” Hernandez recalls. “But I think we clicked at the right time, after we got [to Turkey], and we only had one game, against Germany, that was close.” The U.S. team swept the games 8-0, beating Ukraine in the gold-medal round 85-70. Hernandez contributed 11 points in that game, and 14 points in the semifinal victory over Russia.

As the fifth-year senior heads into his final season with the Cardinal, Hernandez says he’s keeping those summer memories alive. “I brought back how much of a team we became in such a short time,” he says. “And how, if everybody can buy into a system and work really hard and accept their role—I mean, look at how solid and great you can be. It gives me more motivation to help get our team to that same level.”

The Cardinal came up short last year in its 11th consecutive NCAA tournament showing, losing 93-70 to Mississippi State in the first round. “We got smashed—you can be frank,” says the two-time All-Pac-10 selection who averaged 15.2 points per game last season. “We knew Mississippi State was good, but we should not have gotten beaten. It was a breakdown by me and other players who were supposed to carry the team, and instead we just kind of ran out of gas. Mississippi State came out in the second half and played great, and we just couldn’t answer.”

Granted, the Cardinal had lost swingman Josh Childress, ’05, to the NBA; guard Dan Grunfeld, ’06, was out with a knee injury; and the team was adjusting to new coach Trent Johnson. “Yes, I think for the players who had played under Coach Montgomery, last year was the transition year,” Hernandez says. “But there won’t be any justification for any problems because of that anymore. This year, if we don’t do well, it will be, ‘Hey, we just didn’t perform.’ ”

At 6-foot-2 and 190 pounds, Hernandez has the matinee idol—okay, sitcom star—good looks of Friends’ Matt LeBlanc. You keep waiting for the Joey Tribbiani character’s “duh” to drop, but this sociology major is seriously focused. “It’s something that’s been instilled in me from my parents and from my high school head coach: when you step on the court, you gotta bring it. You gotta do whatever it takes to try and win.”

Hernandez says he was probably shooting baskets at age 3 and dribbling by the time he was 5, thanks to his father, who coached the women’s team at Clovis West High School in Fresno, Calif., and who was named state coach of the year twice. When Hernandez was in junior high, his dad had him and his buddies practice against the varsity women. “We scrimmaged against his teams, and we would win sometimes and lose sometimes. It was good competition.”

Growing up, Hernandez says, Michael Jordan was The Man: “I loved him forever.” Later, he watched Gary Payton to better his defense and scrutinized how Jason Kidd ran the break. Today? “Now I watch Steve Nash in the half court.” Hernandez tested the NBA waters last spring and was encouraged, but ultimately decided to return for his final year on the Farm. “I did well enough to catch their eye,” he says about scouts at the Chicago predraft camp. “They said, ‘We think you can play in the league—it’s just a matter of opportunity.’ ”

With three promising freshmen, a healthy Grunfeld and an experienced Haryasz returning, Hernandez is looking forward to the start of conference play. “Last year I would have had individual goals, but this year I think it’s about just being on the team again. After this summer, I feel if I do what’s asked of me, the numbers will come.”

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