COLLEGE PARK – As the Terrapins prepped to leave for their 2019 NCAA Tournament opener, Mark Turgeon revealed his thoughts on Bruno Fernando’s play last season.
In terms of the center’s on-court performance, Maryland’s head coach wasn’t a fan.
“With Bruno, it’s been a lot of things,” Turgeon said Tuesday. “I think about last year at this time. He had trouble catching passes. He had trouble finishing. He was always in foul trouble. He was emotional in the wrong way.”
These assessments would seem harsh even if accurate considering the public airing. That is unless the follow-up sentences from Turgeon offer a narrative shift toward the affirmative based on the 6-foot-10 sophomore’s contributions this season for the 22-10 Terps.
Good news: There is.
Fernando’s energy, defense and offensive efficiency earned the Angola native Big Ten First-team and All-Defensive Team honors. He led the conference in field goal percentage (62.4), ranked second in rebounding (10.5) and third in double-doubles (20). The growth raised his stock among NBA talent evaluators – and his head coach.
“Now he can catch, now he can score against the double-team. He’s been an all-league first-team defensive player. He’ll stay out foul trouble. Been a great leader,” Turgeon said. “There’s been a lot of things he’s improved on and continued to improve on as the season goes on. I’ve said it a lot this year, but he’s one of the most improved players from one season to the next that I ever coached.”
Turgeon finished his statement on Fernando’s development with a line NBA scouts will consider ahead of June’s NBA Draft: “He’s still got a good upside to him too.”
That’s interesting considering the 2019 class lacks quality big man depth. ESPN’s latest draft rankings slot Fernando 31st overall. Maybe he doesn’t zoom into the lottery range where the Wizards’ first-round pick projects, but there’s a chance for a rise with good work during the NCAA Tournament.
“If he catches it with his back to the basket, you’re dead. He’s going to bury you,” NBC Sports college basketball insider Rob Dauster told NBC Sports Washington. “He’s really athletic and explosive. If in the NBA you’re asking him to go 20 minutes a night and be a like a DeAndre Jordan, a big body in front of the rim and go get some rebounds, score on you and catch some lobs, he can do that.”
His rim protection (1.9 blocks per game) and lane activity standout most not just to observers, but his teammates.
“On the defensive end knowing that he’s my behind me, gives me a lot of [comfort],” freshman guard Eric Ayala said of Fernando.
Yet it’s the other end where Fernando’s presence may make the most difference for a Maryland team that struggles with offensive consistency in the half-court sets. After reaching double-digit points in 27 of 31 games, Fernando had only four points on 1 of 4 shooting in Maryland’s 69-61 loss Thursday in its Big Ten Tournament opener against Nebraska.
“Teams are going to double (Bruno), and we have to make them pay like we have all year. We didn’t do that in our last game,” Turgeon said. “A lot of it was him, a lot of was the guys around him. You can argue that our team’s best offense is when teams double-team Bruno. When they start to double him, and we start to make him pay that we’re going to win these games.”
The bounce-back chance for Maryland, no. 6 seed in the East Regional, comes Thursday afternoon against 11th seeded Belmont.
“I think we've got to just stay positive,” Fernando told reporters Wednesday in Jacksonville, site of Thursday’s and Saturday’s game should Maryland advance. “I think our team is progressing as the game goes on, as the season goes on. … It’s an opportunity for us to really leave everything else behind and just focus on what we got in front of us.”
He means the madness of March. Soon that changes to the prepping of the NBA Draft. Insiders project Fernando will forgo his final two seasons of collegiate eligibility. Then we’ll learn how much the professionals value the center’s development and believe in his upside. At least we know Fernando made his Coach a believer this season.
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