By Artau Pascual

Last week, Eurohopes was in Ulm to attend the Ratiopharm Ulm vs. JL Bourg game, visit the Orange Campus facilities and talk to some of the biggest NBA prospects in the current Draft cycle. Our Director of Scouting, Artau Pascual, had the chance to interview Juan Nuñez. Here you got the outcome.

Second season in Germany, in a club that gives priority to the development of their players. However, last season you were able to win the BBL trophy. How is the experience?

It’s going great. Last season was excellent for me. It took me a while to get used to a new life, especially outside of basketball, but it went great. Ulm trusts us a lot, they don’t give you anything for free. The mindset is different here, they are more patient, and you are not going to lose your place for losing three straight games. I’m very happy.

What differences do you perceive between basketball in Germany and the Endesa League? What would you say is what has taken you the most time to get used to?

In the first two months, I struggled with the pace of the game. In Germany, basketball is not as much about tactics and halfcourt sets as about fastbreaks and transitions, quick solutions and a high volume of outside shooting. I struggled a little to get used to it, but later it has been beneficial to unleash other areas of my game.

Visiting the Ulm facilities and chatting with people involved in player development, you realize how far ahead this club is compared to many other ones in this area. As a player, are you more motivated by individual training or conventional training?

I like both team sessions and individual sessions. I’m very competitive, so I love 5 on 5. This being said, I feel like in the past two years I’ve realized how significant individual sessions are. Here I have Jimmy (Jimmy Rhoades), with whom I speak a lot, not only about basketball but also about the mental area; people don’t know a lot about it, but he has clear ideas, and he knows how to transmit them well. I put in half an hour of extra work before or after the training session with him.

What areas of your game are you focusing on the most? Where would you say you have improved the most in recent times?

We use to work the shot and its consistency. Also finishes like high layups, floaters, and shot creation.

Have you made any major changes in your shot?

I have not made any major changes. I think shooting needs time, so I did not make major changes. It’s more about consistency, always doing the same shot, keeping the balance and doing well the follow-through. These details are difficult to assimilate, but once you have done it, it’s way easier. This season, I’ve gained a lot of fluidity.

Watching you play live, it feels like you are a more athletic player than you may seem at first glance, but due to the way you play and your ability to manage the pace of the game, you do not need to put that bit of effort into it. extra effort. Is that so?

To me, the change of pace is a key skill. It’s not about going quicker or slower, but about being able to play at different speeds. It allows me to create advantages. Currently, I’m feeling great, in my weight and healthy.

Let's talk about passing now. First, to clear up the doubt. Are you right or left-handed? One has doubts watching you play.

For sports, I’m a lefty. I indeed play tennis better with my right hand, although. At writing, eating, and things like those, I’m right-handed. I’m left-handed at basketball, and I play soccer with my left foot. However, in some areas of my game, I feel better using my left hand and in others, I feel better using my right hand, so I wouldn’t define myself as left-handed or right-handed.

Your passing skills are special. Let’s take a look at these assists.
It feels like you're a player who feels at his best at passing, keeping the dribble alive in either direction by going away from the screen, or going deep and clearing space for the roller to come behind you. Is that so?

It can’t be a preestablished thing. You need to read the defense. If the big is going to show, you need to gain his attention and make him stay as outside as possible to clear the path for the roll. In this case, for example, I know Bruno (Caboclo) and I know he uses to show. It’s important to be aware of against whom you are playing and play to your strengths. You also must know opponents will be aware of what you do. Being able to use fake passes, manipulate the defense with your eyes, decelerate or freeze the opponent, etc. My game is about reading the defense. It’s a cognitive thing. We use to watch film on the opponent team during the pregame, so I can figure out if they’ll be more or less aggressive. This helps me. Moreover, being here for my second year allows me to figure out how bigs are going to act. Every so often, you also lose the ball -laughs. 

Nowadays, most of the elite passers in pick and roll are dominant mid-range players: they create space by freezing the defender and are capable of making decisions by slowing down there. Curiously, it is surely the facet in which we see you the least. Why does this happen?

Yes, that’s a big challenge for me. That’s something I’ve been working on a lot in the last two or three Summers when I trained with Raúl López. Getting past my defender, holding the advantage freezing him or snaking, waiting to figure out what the big will do and then deciding if it’s better to finish with a floater or pass the ball. I know that’s something I have to focus on, but I’m also happy about my development in the last year or so. I like it a lot the floater, I also think it’s a fun tool to finish. I also like the one-leg shot. I work every day on my mid-range pull up too. It’s important to have as many tools as possible, this way you’ll be a threat in more situations.

Let’s talk now about the following three assists. *Third one in the video*. What do you see here?

Here I knew the big was going to stay at the level, so his teammate had to rotate to keep the defense working because if not, there was a clear passing lane. When you play basketball, you know it’s indispensable to focus not only on the play that involves you, but on the whole picture. Bigs close a lot their position when they are guarding on ball because they are used to it, so I know the weakside will be full of space. Then it’s a matter of timing. The jump pass is risky, but it also allows you to make a defender commit.

And for this one? *Fourth assist in the video*. I like those plays because they mainly demonstrate you can set every one of your four teammates.

It’s also about knowing your teammates. I know, for example, that Karim (Jallow) loves these 45-degree cuts, so knowing there’s a shooter close to the action it all gets easier. Furthermore, I know Karim is good at occupying these spaces, so I try to understand my teammates and play by their strengths.

The last one of this season. This one is pretty exciting! How the hell do you see this lane?

In this one, I pick up the dribble and decide where to pass. Phillip is a 5, but he’s as mobile as a 4, so I know he can get those passes. Maybe with another 5, this passing lane wouldn’t exist, but that’s why it’s important to know what your teammates can do. When I first got here it was difficult because I didn’t know my teammates, and they didn’t know me that well either, so I didn’t have the confidence to hit those passes. I checked the turnover stats after three months of being here, and I saw how the numbers had gone down crazily, and this year it’s the same. 

Let’s take a look at some vintage ones. Your spatial awareness and ball control are simply outstanding. From where do you think these skills come?

Some people tell me it might come from handball. It could be because, in the end, the spaces are bigger, so you have to map the court differently. However, for me, it’s about being able to focus on everything unless the ball when you are dribbling. It’s important to have good handles for this reason. 

You’ve usually played always with play-finishing bigs. Now you are playing with a playmaking one like Trevion Williams. How has this impacted your game?

That’s something I’ve been thinking about lately. It has helped me a lot to improve my off-ball game because he’s the type of player who’s going to see you if you move appropriately. At first, it was difficult for me because I’m used to passing the ball to finishing bigs, and he prefers to get the ball a little higher and create, but It’s just a matter of getting used to it.

I have a few questions about the defensive end as well. This season, you are collecting plenty of steals. How would you describe yourself as a defender?

I think I’m an intuitive person. This sometimes makes you commit mistakes, but I like paying attention to second helps and staying engaged in the game when I am guarding off the ball. I like to be a little tricky, like when you go to the Three Kings parade, and you try to figure out where are they going to throw the sweets. This year, I’m getting many steals. Being a ball handler also helps me to understand what the opponent will do and which passing lanes I’m willing to give. This is also risky and can lead you to give up some mistakes.

Something that everyone thinks when they see you play is that you don't look like you're 19 years old. Being a crucial part of the most talented youth team in Europe, almost always playing with older people, not being afraid to leave the comfort zone and ending up finding stability in a new environment…that’s not that normal.

I’ve always played as an underage. It has always been a challenge for me. Every so often, I used to play better under these circumstances. I think that’s because I’m a competitor, and I feel very comfortable facing them at the current level, too. It motivates me. 

How do you live with the pressure?

For me, it’s not pressure, it’s something I like. I like tight games and I love getting the ball in those circumstances. I like the feeling of embracing responsibilities. And I assume I can make mistakes when I’m in these scenarios, but I really like embracing responsibilities.

One of the very few times that you have left a tournament without winning in your life was this summer, with the U20 team, coming off a crazy long season. How did you face this moment?

The U20 was tough for me. I came off a long season here, and this was a few weeks later. Physically and mentally, I struggled to adjust because I had been playing with adults for the past two years. I didn’t play a great tournament, I didn’t find the motivation. It’s something that still frustrates me today because everybody wants to play a U20.

Thanks for attending us, Juan!