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From Angola to the NBA Draft, Bruno Fernando is about to make NBA history

From Angola to the NBA Draft, Bruno Fernando is about to make NBA history

Watch I Am the Prospect: Bruno Fernando in full in the video player above. A four-part series, I Am the Prospect follows top basketball prospects in their journey to the 2019 NBA Draft.

Bruno Fernando has always turned heads as a basketball player. From the courts of Africa to the bright lights of the NCAA's largest college basketball arenas, he always draws attention.  

In a week, he'll have a chance to turn heads around the world at the 2019 NBA Draft. If drafted, he will become the first Angolan-born player to be selected in the draft.

It is an accomplishment the 20-year-old does not take lightly. 

“It’s obviously something that will not just benefit myself, but everybody at home. Everybody is going to be really happy and proud," Fernando told NBC Sports Washington for I Am the Prospect. “To know that I got a whole country on my back, a whole country that is dreaming about the same thing I’m dreaming of every single day, I’m working hard to making it a reality. I think everybody at home will be celebrating, it will be everybody’s win.

People from home weren't there though as Fernando traveled to the United States to play at Montverde Academy. In fact, when the budding high-school prospect made the trek to America, he was without his family. He had one thing on his mind: basketball.

Now on the doorstep of achieving his dream at after playing the sport for 11 years, he's accepted it's a fact of life. Those sacrifices helped him mature into the person he has become.

"At the end of the day, you've got to accept life as it is and that's the biggest thing for me, just accepting things as they are. There [were] times where it was tough, even [at the University of Maryland] there [were] times when I look at my teammates, and I look at the stands and their parents are all there," Fernando said. "I never saw my Mom or Dad there to watch me play and it was hard for me at times, but I never let that affect me on the court or affect who I am."

Maryland fans know Fernando for his raw emotion and energy he brings on the court. Once he stepped onto the floor as a freshman playing against Stony Brook, everyone saw it. Everyone was excited. He was an instant impact for a team that was in transition after the loss of Melo Trimble. 

Every bucket and rebound he collected was more than just a point on the scoreboard or a tick in the stat sheet. Whether it was an emphatic celebration or his confidence, it grew from game-to-game. 

At practice, the rest of the team saw it even more. While his teammates were around the water cooler, he was shooting free throws. It did not go unnoticed. Before long, they joined him. The then-freshman changed the culture.

"The first time I had him at Maryland practicing, I knew he was going to be an NBA player," Maryland head coach Mark Turgeon said. "Just how hard he was going to work to get there and then once you got to know Bruno, you knew he was going to work hard and make that dream come true."

His rigid 6-10 frame and magnetic attraction to rebounds have NBA scouts drooling. The fundamentals for an NBA player are there and the potential of what he can achieve never wavers. Stock on Fernando continues to rise and he could be a valuable prize for any NBA team looking to the future. 

In his final season with the Terps, he averaged 13.6 points and 10.6 rebounds en route to 22 double-doubles, the second-most in a single season at Maryland. Having previously declared for last year's draft before withdrawing to return for his sophomore season, Fernando now knows what to expect. And NBA teams know what to expect if they were to draft the forward.

Odds are that Fernando will be the first Angolan to make history. Several of the top mock drafts not only have him being drafted but also up in the first round. As the draft nears, he continues to climb spots.

NBC Sports Washington's latest mock draft has Fernando going 30th. NBADraft.net has him going as high as ninth to the local Washington Wizards. 

“I really think I fit perfectly with the Wizards. Being from the DMV area and playing for Maryland, that would be great for the fans, for the Wizards and for Washington as a community,” Fernando said. 

Many would consider Fernando rising to the lottery a reach for several teams. There are a plethora of other options with a better NBA-ready skill set, in particular, those with an ability to score in bunches. Fernando's comfort zone is around the paint, which limits how far some teams will reach on him. Washington in particular needs depth in the post, but there are other needs that may be more acceptable to address at No. 9. 

Nevertheless, getting drafted high is not among Fernando's concerns. The fact that he is on the precipice of being drafted and trailblazing a path for future Angolans is good enough for him. 

"It's really gratifying for me that I have the opportunity to make and really open doors for everybody else. Hopefully, we'll have more than just me in the NBA in the years to come," Fernando said. 


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Which team is closer to contention: the Wizards or Grizzlies?

Which team is closer to contention: the Wizards or Grizzlies?

While watching the Wizards take on another rebuilding team, as they did on Saturday night in their loss to the Memphis Grizzlies, it's only natural to compare the stages of those respective rebuilds and wonder which team is closer. That may be an even more interesting question with a game like Saturday's that matched the Wizards against a team doing things a decidedly different way.

In a sense, the Wizards are where the Grizzlies were last season. Memphis had unexpectedly bottomed out the year before, enough to land Jaren Jackson Jr. in the draft. And, like the Wizards this year, they were holding onto their core veterans, in their case Mike Conley Jr. and Marc Gasol.

But the Grizzlies didn't bounce back into playoff contention like they had hoped and ended up trading both Gasol and Conley, and arguably too late. The Wizards wish to avoid that fate with Bradley Beal and John Wall.

Neither the Wizards (7-17) or Grizzlies (9-17) are a good team right now and both would like to be back in the playoff mix sooner than later, maybe even next year. So, who is closer?

The Grizzlies have the more impressive young core with Jackson and Ja Morant. Both are just 20 years old and they each look like future All-Stars, if not All-NBA talents.

Jackson is averaging 17.6 points and 1.2 blocks while shooting 40 percent from three on six attempts per game. He's a two-way unicorn who can make plays like a guard and has potential to become an elite rim protector.

Morant is the early favorite for rookie of the year, averaging 18.7 points and 6.4 assists while shooting 42.6 percent from long range. He has future star written all over him with a game reminiscent of a young Wall or Russell Westbrook.

The Grizzlies appear to have hit on their high draft picks, but have also nailed later ones, the type of moves that separate the best front offices. Brandon Clarke, the 21st pick this past June, looks like a steal. And Dillon Brooks, a second round pick in 2017, is a solid young player.

But the Wizards also have an emerging young core with Thomas Bryant, Rui Hachimura and Moe Wagner. None of them are as good as Jackson or Morant, but they are good players on the rise. And, most importantly, the Wizards have Beal.

While Jackson and Morant could someday be stars, Beal already is one and he's signed long-term. Potential is a commodity in the NBA, but nothing is guaranteed for young teams and young players. Just look at the Bulls and Hawks this season.

Now, the Grizzlies do have something the Wizards would absolutely love to have and that is real financial flexibility. They have close to $70 million in salary coming off the books this summer and have the second-lowest payroll committed for next season of any team in the NBA, second only to Atlanta.

The Wizards, meanwhile, are strapped with Wall's supermax contract which, depending on how he returns from a torn Achilles, could be an albatross for years to come. Though cap space doesn't mean the Grizzlies will be able to lure free agents, as Memphis has never been mistaken for a prime destination, but it's a preferable spot to be in. Wall's deal may prevent the Wizards from keeping players they would otherwise re-sign, when Memphis should have no such problem.

So, so far we have the Grizzlies with a better young nucleus and a much better salary cap situation. The Wizards, though, have the proven star and may have two if Wall returns to form.

But here's what may give the Wizards the edge, or at least secure a push. The Grizzlies have to give one of their next two first round picks to Boston by way of a 2015 trade. It is top-6 protected this year and unprotected in 2021 if it doesn't convey this June. That could be a major problem for a team trying to build through the draft.

Also, the Wizards are lucky to be in the Eastern Conference. Though the Grizzlies geographically should be in the East, they remain in the West which has been the superior conference basically since Michael Jordan retired from the Bulls.

There is, of course, no definitive answer to the root question of this analysis. The easiest way to settle it would be to say the Grizzlies have a higher ceiling at this point because of Morant and Jackson, but the Wizards probably have the more likely path to the playoffs next season, given they play in the East and have two guys with a track record of getting there.

But as we compare the teams, keep in mind what Memphis wanted to do and what they ended up doing in terms of trading their veteran stars. The Wizards don't want to take their rebuild that far, but sometimes things don't go according to plan. Just ask the Grizzlies.


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Wizards fall flat in battle with young Grizzlies

Wizards fall flat in battle with young Grizzlies

The Washington Wizards lost to the Memphis Grizzlies 128-111 on Saturday night. Here are five takeaways from what went down...

1. It was just over a week ago the Wizards had their best win of the season against the Sixers. Saturday night was one of their worst.

They went into Memphis to play an emerging, but struggling team and got their you-know-whats handed to them. The Wizards jumped out to a 13-6 lead in the first, then lost the momentum and never got it back.

By halftime the Wizards were down 15. That deficit grew to 24 in the second half.

The Wizards ended up losing by 17, but it wasn't as close as the score would suggest. It was Washington's seventh loss in eight games.

Maybe it was the three-day layoff. Perhaps they weren't sharp. Whatever the reason, that was a bad one.

2. As this game went on, it became very obvious that Memphis' gameplan was to make sure Davis Bertans didn't beat them. They swarmed the Latvian Laser on the perimeter and guarded him well beyond the three-point line.

Bertans was held to nine points on 2-for-9 shooting and 1-for-6 from three. His one three was a quick release shot from about 27 feet out. Soon after that, the defense was picking him up at halfcourt.


This type of treatment was inevitable for Bertans, who has been the biggest surprise of the Wizards' season so far. He has turned into one of the league's best three-point shooters and the second-best scorer on the team. Teams now know it.

3. Rui Hachimura's college teammate stole the show in this one. Brandon Clarke, who played last year with Hachimura at Gonzaga, put on an impressive scoring display highlighted by a series of vicious dunks. He measured a max vertical of 40 1/2 inches and used every inch of it to dunk all over the Wizards.

He had 19 points in the first half, including an alley-oop where his head was level with the rim and a poster dunk on the fastbreak that nearly ended Ian Mahinmi's career.


Clarke had 25 points on 11-for-14 shooting with four rebounds. Coming out of the draft, he was considered a good defensive player but too old (he's 23) and too raw offensively without a three-point shot.

So far, he's looking like a major steal at the 21st overall pick. 

4. The Grizzlies might not be good, but they are fun to watch and have a nice young core with Clarke alongside Jaren Jackson Jr. and Morant. Jackson is a unicorn at 6-foot-11 with the ability to drive coast-to-coast and hit threes. Morant is a force of nature, able to play well above the rim despite being 6-foot-3.

Morant nearly pulled off one of the most disrespectful plays in basketball on Bradley Beal. He tried to pull a "Michael Jordan on Ron Mercer" by snatching the ball off the glass with two hands. But he clipped the rim and was called for goaltending. Still, it was impressive because of how high he got in the air.

Memphis has an exciting young team. They might contend for a playoff spot next year with a good offseason. If they were in the East, they could really make some noise.

5. The Wizards were without several key regulars once again. Isaiah Thomas missed his fifth straight game with a left calf strain and Moe Wagner was out with his left ankle sprain after playing in the past four games.

They did get back Garrison Mathews, though. The two-way guard played in his first game since Oct. 25 after sitting out due to a stress reaction in his right leg. It was Mathews' third professional game, but he made his first shot - a corner three. It happened to come in his home state of Tennessee. 

Mathews might actually get some minutes in the next few weeks because he is the second-best shooting guard on the roster with Jordan McRae out due to a finger injury.