Flamengo’s star on the NBB, Yago looks forward to meeting the fans and celebrates his success on arrival: ‘It’s in my destiny’

The background is that of an experienced player, but the only 22 years of point guard Yago reveal a player still full of dreams and goals. One of Flamengo’s main signings last season, the player quickly adapted, replaced Franco Balbi after an injury and consolidated himself as one of the main players in the NBB and Champions League of the Americas conquests. He was elected MVP of the finals of the last national.

“I knew that at some point it would come to me, I think it’s my destiny,” he says.

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In his second season for the rubro-negro, the guard talked to GLOBO about the day-to-day, the competitions and the new experience of being commanded by the same coach in the club and national team. Flamengo, the shirt 2, lives the expectation of playing for the first time under the eyes of the red-blacks, which was not possible last season due to the pandemic.

“The expectation is high. I don’t know how it’s going to be, I just played against. Having them on my side will be a very good thing, but I don’t know how it will be because I’ve never experienced it. I’m very anxious, very happy to live this moment.

Current champion, Flamengo debuts on NBB this Saturday, at 4:10 pm, on a visit to São Paulo, broadcast by TV Cultura. Carioca champion on the 12th of the month, Gustavo de Conti’s team still disputes, this season, the Champions and the Worlds.

You were champion of the NBB, Champions League of the Americas in your first season. What assessment do you make?

More than perfect. If I had to choose a word, I wouldn’t have, for all I’ve lived here in such a short time. At such a difficult time as the pandemic, we were able to do everything we did. It was more than perfect for everything we achieved and the way it was. Sometimes, conquering everything (it seems) so simple, but behind it there is a lot of work, a lot of laughter, a lot of discomfort. Arriving in a team like Flamengo as new as I arrived and being able to adapt as it was… sometimes, it’s worth more than a title.

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Last season, you had to replace Franco Balbi, who was seriously injured. How was this sudden entry into the team?

Things happen because God wants them, no matter where and how. Unfortunately, Balbi got hurt, but I knew there would come a time when I would have to take responsibility. Of course, being on a team that had Marquinhos, Olivinha, Balbi, I wouldn’t need to have the ball in my hand as much as I had in Paulistano. But I knew that at some point it would come to me, I think it’s my destiny.

I arrived at Paulistano when I was 17 years old, I didn’t play that much, but in the finals I was the first guy to enter the game. I knew this would happen, I’m always prepared, I try to train what I need to improve. When it happened, unfortunately as it happened, the team didn’t go down, they knew that me, Luke (Martinez) or Chuzito (González) could substitute and raise the level. The cast was assembled for this. Gustavo always appreciates that, that there is no starting player, there is a player who can enter and change the game. That’s what he taught me to do, that’s what I was hired to do.

How do you work on the motivation to keep fighting for the titles?

Everything goes through the hands of the team, Gustavo (from Conti, coach), everyone behind it, not letting our team enter into a comfort zone. Since I started working with Gustavo, when I was 17 years old, he has always demanded a lot from me. From the moment I got here I knew I would be charged even more. We won all the titles last season and as soon as it was over and negotiations started, they already talked to me about training again. This is part of not letting us get comfortable and always looking for our best form. Even when I win, improve even more to do even more great things like we did last year.

Yago celebrates success in his first season with Flamengo Photo: Maria Isabel Oliveira / Agência O Globo

You’ve been working with Gustavo for some time, how will it be now in the national team?

He’s a guy who taught me a lot and has been teaching me even more. With each passing time, he improves and so do I. He’s a guy I trust a lot. Not only him, but the others who work with him. The way he works welcomes me very well. Here and, God willing, in the national team, it’s a very good opportunity. But that’s what I said before, he doesn’t let me get into a comfort zone. You will always be demanding and trusting me no matter what happens throughout the game. It’s a very good experience that I’m having, I’ve had it and I hope to have it for a long time.

You started acting from an early age, at 17, today you are 22. Do you already consider yourself an experienced player?

Sometimes they say I’m experienced for everything I’ve lived in such a short time. But I still don’t. I’m old enough to play LDB (NBB development league) . But I consider myself a guy who has lived a lot of things. If I make a final tomorrow, I’ll know how to handle it. But I also know that I’m very young and I need to learn a lot. A lot that I haven’t experienced yet and I intend to live as quickly as possible, as it was. Things were very fast, I arrived at Paulistano when I was 17 years old, I already played in an NBB final. At 18, I was champion of the NBB and from São Paulo, I was already in the national team. This experience for me came very early, but I consider myself a player who has a lot to evolve. That’s what makes me most excited, seeing the player I’m going to become three or four years from now.

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How was the Pre-Olympic dispute with the national team?

To be there, so close. Win the games, go to the final undefeated. Being so close to competing in the Olympics, which is the highest level of an athlete, and suddenly you see that you are close to winning. Being there was great, being able to play at the level I played. I know that me and the other players really wanted this spot and because of the details we didn’t get it. But we know we are on the right path. To be able to play as we have played against great teams since the World Cup. We have to evolve now with Gustavo’s command and other managements. It has everything to improve even more what was already improving. God willing, we can come back in the next Olympic cycle and represent Brazil well.

A professional since the age of 17, Yago is 22. Photo: Maria Isabel Oliveira / Agência O Globo
A professional since the age of 17, Yago is 22. Photo: Maria Isabel Oliveira / Agência O Globo

He still hasn’t had contact with the fans in the gym. But what about on the streets, on social media?

Ever since I left Paulistano and even when I played against, I saw that affection they had for athletes. Living this is a very good thing. When I left, I was already getting a lot of messages wanting me to come here and I was really hitting it with Flamengo. I remember that I came to see some apartments, I ended up going to the mall for lunch and I found Flamengo fans. They recognized me, it was a very good start. I haven’t got a full gym in our favor yet, but you can really feel the affection. Whenever it’s over or before the games they send a message. I can see that the affection they have for me is mutual. I’ve always liked Flamengo’s fans, I’ve always admired them and when I played against them, I used to say “damn, one day I want to have this in my favor”. Thank God, as everything is returning to normal, we will be able to make this dream come true.

What do you expect from the meeting with the fans in the gym?

Expectations are high. I don’t know how it’s going to be, I just played against. Having them on my side will be a very good thing, but I don’t know how it will be because I’ve never experienced it. I’m very anxious, very happy to live this moment. That’s what excites me even more, being happy here at the club with people who respect me, who like me. When you have that, things flow naturally. I’m sure that when we have this contact with the fans, it will be something very remarkable.

What do you like about the city? How is life around here?

I’ve loved Rio since I first came here, when I was 12 years old. It’s very different from São Paulo, the way people deal. I leave the house at nine in the morning and there are people going to the beach, this makes the atmosphere lighter. It’s not that traffic, that rush of people going to work.

I really like going to the beach, going to the movies. My family comes here a lot, they like it a lot. I love this city, I love everything in it, when I travel I look at the landscape. I lived in São Paulo for a long time, these are the two cities where I lived. I like São Paulo too, but I really like it here.

What are your hobbies off-court?

I enjoy playing video games. It’s something I don’t spend most of the time, but I play a lot. Not long ago, I went back to studying English. It’s something I’m learning to like a lot. I like to walk around too, walking around town when my girlfriend and nephews are around. I like going to the gym too, something I’ve learned to like.

Video games, English and city tours are the player's hobbies Photo: Maria Isabel Oliveira / Agência O Globo
Video games, English and city tours are the player’s hobbies Photo: Maria Isabel Oliveira / Agência O Globo

You maintain a social project, “Monstrinho” in Tupã, your hometown.

I was very happy to be part of this, with my family especially. That’s where we came from. Casa do Garoto (a local partner NGO in the project) was where I learned a lot, where I spent most of my time. It’s a place that I owe a lot, Tupã, Casa do Garoto, who put together a team for us to play, which took me to various places. To be able to come back with basketball there and give them an opportunity to look at basketball in a different way, to play sports. I’m giving back some that basketball gave me to a place I care about. May this project grow even more and may arise other Yagos, Kobre Bryants, Oscars.

Flamengo’s squad went through changes, but always enter as favorites. What are your expectations?

A lot has changed, players who wore the shirt for a long time, who already knew the game scheme. New players of great quality have arrived and it takes time to adapt, to get to know each other. We are on the right path, we had great friendlies, great games. Of course, this pre-season, as we say, is always more difficult, but when we pick up the pace, things will work out as they are and, God willing, we can represent Flamengo in finals, as it should be.

In your style of play, you tend to go up, to infiltrate, to dribble. Is that how you like to play?

From the ground up I was raised like this, that’s how I learned to play. No matter who’s on the other side, I’m going to want to make the basket. It doesn’t matter if they say I’m short, that I’m a little weak, I’m going to make the basket. The more they challenge me, the better I become.

Yago playing for Flamengo Photo: Paula Reis / Flamengo
Yago playing for Flamengo Photo: Paula Reis / Flamengo

Do you have any big idols in basketball?

I have idols, they are people I look at very closely. One of them I enjoy being with, Marcelinho Huertas, a guy who became a friend, who talks to me a lot, has taught me a lot since I joined the national team. I also follow a lot and I can have a good conversation with Facundo Campazzo. I also look at Stephen Curry, LeBron James and the way he runs the team a lot. Isaiah Thomas, when he was in the NBA, too. They are players who lead their own team and are winners. The more people I look at that way, if I can get a little of each, it’s going to be a very good thing.

Dream of NBA?

It’s my biggest dream. Since I was 6 years old, I’ve talked about wanting to play in the NBA. I didn’t know what to do, I still don’t know, but if it’s up to me, I’ll make this dream come true, for the work and for whatever has to be done. It’s every athlete’s dream, anyone who says they don’t dream of playing in the NBA is in the wrong sport. I have this ambition and God willing I will make this dream come true that is not just mine, it belongs to my family and friends.