Wizards’ Nene to play for Brazilian national team this summer


I have to do it for my country. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

Nene’s top priority last offseason was to stay off the hardwood, to give his sore left foot enough time to heal and recover so that he could be healthy for the start of the Wizards’ season. The decision didn’t go over well back in his native Brazil, where Nene became the target of derision for skipping out on the national team when it suffered an embarrassing winless showing in the FIBA Americas Tournament in Venezula.

Nene was hurt when he got booed by fans in Rio de Janeiro during the Wizards’ exhibition game against the Chicago Bulls last October but that negative reaction never affected his love for his home country. If healthy – or if relatively close – Nene has always made it a priority to play for his national team and that will be the case this summer when the 6-foot-11 big man will play for Brazil in the 2014 FIBA World Cup in Spain.

“I have a responsibility and until God tell me to stop – and I know one day, he will say that – I can’t change my plan,” said Nene, who grew up in Sao Carlos. “I have responsibility. I have a lot of children who look for me, so I need to do the right thing.”

The 31-year-old Nene only played 53 games this season, with injuries to his right Achilles’ tendon and left knee causing him to miss at least 20 games for the third consecutive season. Unlike those other campaigns, Nene enters the offseason with no serious ailments after helping the Wizards go on their deepest postseason run in nine years.

“There is a lot of physical, a lot of pound, you never know how your body is going to feel tomorrow, but you always try to do your best,” Nene said. “Injuries are part of this business in this position. Sometimes they say, ‘Man, you been injured a lot.’ For sure, it’s a shock. It’s a shock sport. Some things happen.”

Brazil Coach Ruben Magnano visited Washington last month, before the Wizards thrashed the Miami Heat at Verizon Center, and Nene committed to play in the World Cup. Despite its poor showing last summer, Brazil was given one of four wild-card spots and will compete in Group A against France, Serbia, Egypt, Iran and host country Spain. The 2016 Olympics will be held in Rio de Janeiro.

Nene has only played in four senior national team competitions since making his debut with Brazil in 2003. He helped Brazil finish in fifth place at the 2012 London Olympics but was limited after aggravating the plantar fasciitis injury in his left foot. The injury caused him to miss the first nine games of the 2012-13 season, which was his worst statistical campaign in the past six years.

Coach Randy Wittman urged Nene to take a break from the national team last summer. Wittman also came to Nene’s defense in Brazil as he told fans to boo him for keeping Nene away from basketball. Nene said he will take time some time to recuperate from another physically taxing season.

“Yeah, last season, I prevent a little bit, the hard floor, because I have plantar fasciitis and that worked,” Nene said. “Right now, the priority is rest. I like to do different thing, I like to play my soccer. Spend time with my family. See my son, little bit, my wife and be chilling. . . . I need to forget about basketball a little bit, and in my case, I have things to do with national team in the summer, so yeah, I need to turn off right now.”

Michael Lee is the national basketball writer for The Washington Post.
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