Maryland men's basketball freshman forward Bruno Fernando quickly became one of the Terps' most indispensible players after the 2017-18 season started, bringing toughness to a team that struggled to rebound last season, as well as athleticism and offensive skills to a team that needed interior scoring.
But it's Fernando's energy on the court that has endeared him most to fans early in his career in College Park, Md., as he goes all out on both ends of the court while encouraging the home crowd to get loud whenever possible. Fernando's enthusiasm for life off the court has drawn people to him in recent years, as well, which includes his season with the IMG Academy (Fla.) postgraduate basketball team during the 2016-17 school year.
John Mahoney, the head coach of IMG's postgraduate team, recalled an event last school year in which his team worked with the Sarasota, Fla.-based Miracle League of Manasota to help special needs adults play baseball.
"I remember this kid, he was playing -- he probably had to be 25," Mahoney said. "He was about 6-[foot]-5, 6-[foot]-6 and walked over to Bruno and goes, ‘Hi! My name's Dan. What's your name?' And Bruno told him, and he just walked away. So someone wanted to take a picture and [Fernando] goes, ‘Dan! Get over here. You're my buddy. You're taking a picture with me.'
"And that was it, that was his boy the rest of the day. And he was just that kind of kid. It was fun to watch. I was like, ‘Wow. This kid's special.' A lot of kids, it's an uncomfortable environment to be in, around people like that that are less fortunate, but he gravitated to it."
Fernando grew up in Luanda, Angola, with seven siblings. He developed into a standout with the country's national basketball program and started his basketball career in the United States at Montverde Academy (Fla.). Fernando also played for the Florida-based Each 1 Teach 1 AAU program, which competes in the Nike Elite Youth Basketball League circuit.
Fernando played for E1T1's 17-and-under squad during the 2015 and 2016 seasons. He played with Jonathan Isaac of the Orlando Magic and Tony Bradley of the Utah Jazz in 2015 and Kentucky star Kevin Knox in 2016. Steven Reece, Fernando's coach with E1T1, said Fernando was "probably one of the most dominant players of the EYBL circuit" by the end of the 2016 season, but something else impressed Reece, too.
"On the court and off the court, Bruno's been like a big brother and mentor -- when I say mentor, like lead by example, always checking up on all the kids in our program," Reece said. "Even when he was on [the 17-and-under] team, he would come to a 15-and-under game and he'd go right to the bench and encourage the younger guys. And he still does that to [this day]. He'll give me a call or shoot me a text, say, ‘Coach, I love you, thinking about just checking on the guys.' That's Bruno Fernando."
Fernando committed to Southern Methodist in April 2016, but de-committed later in the spring. He then enrolled at IMG Academy for a postgraduate season, committed to Maryland in October 2016 and signed with the Terps a month later as part of Maryland head coach Mark Turgeon's 2017 recruiting class, which also included guard Darryl Morsell (Mount St. Joseph).
Mahoney said Fernando came to IMG as a post player, but given the construction of Mahoney's roster and Fernando's offensive skill set, Mahoney moved Fernando to the wing for the season. That helped develop Fernando's ball-handling and shooting -- Mahoney said Fernando led IMG in 3-point shooting at 44 percent, while maintaining his game on the interior.
At one point, Mahoney's team hosted U.S. Army personnel for a 36-hour Invictus course that pushed his team physically and mentally.
"Bruno was unbelievable," Mahoney said. "He stood at attention. He was, ‘Yes, sir! No, sir!' Within two hours, we'd have to do all these tests and stuff -- and it's more mental than it is physical. … The major came over to me and he said, ‘That's your leader right there. He is unbelievable.' And I said, ‘Bruno?' And he goes, ‘Yes. I'm telling you.' And he was."
Fernando declined the opportunity to play for Angola in the FIBA U-19 Basketball World Cup this past summer, instead opting to take summer courses at Maryland. Turgeon hinted at his team's media day Oct. 31 that Terps fans would enjoy watching Fernando play, calling him a "6-[foot]-10 Dez Wells," who was a first-team Big Ten player for the Terps several years ago. Turgeon's observations turned out to be prescient.
Fernando was averaging 10.2 points, 5.6 rebounds and 2.0 blocks per game while shooting 61 percent from the field through 11 games. He has the athleticism to play well above the rim to finish off pick-and-rolls against man-to-man defense or alley-oops over a zone defense, and the polish to catch the ball deep in the post and score with one of his reliable post moves. One of his moves is a spin move to his right that takes him to the rim.
"That spin move, I think I've been with that spin move since I was [at Montverde] -- my junior year," Fernando said. "And my coaches always told me, ‘Stop spinning, stop spinning!' But I just keep doing it. It's just something that comes natural. I think I do a great job recognizing where the defense is and just spinning and try to score out of it."
Fernando was responsible for the biggest play of the first month of Maryland's season. Facing a two-point deficit in the waning seconds of regulation at Illinois Dec. 3, Fernando put back a missed 3-pointer by sophomore Kevin Huerter to send the game to overtime. Fernando fought off an attempted box-out with his left arm and tipped in Huerter's miss with his right hand, a show of strength and skill. The Terps went on to earn their first Big Ten win of the season in overtime.
Fernando also was a key contributor during Maryland's comeback win against Bucknell Nov. 18. The Terps were down 15 at halftime.
"For me, I just think I'm a freshman on paper," Fernando said. "I'm not really a freshman when I'm out there on the court with the guys."
Fernando suffered a low right ankle sprain during the second half of the Terps' 87-62 victory against Ohio Dec. 7 and will likely miss the Terps' next few games. The team is hopeful he'll return in time for conference play.
When he does return, the next step for Fernando is ensuring that he's on the court more often. He had four fouls against St. Bonaventure Nov. 24, at Syracuse Nov. 27 and at Illinois Dec. 3, which cut into his playing time. Officials have called Fernando for fouls when he's tried to establish position in the post on both ends of the court.
"He's sometimes committing fouls that for him, he's like, ‘I'm barely touching the guy,'" Huerter said. "And also being a big center -- someone who's really dominant, physically imposing -- the refs may look for him, to call more fouls on him. But for him, we need him in the game as much as he can be, and there's been a bunch of games so far this year like [Syracuse] where he's dominated the game when he's in but he's only really in for 16, 17 minutes, so we need to work on him being able to stay on the floor."
Issue 240: December 2017
Originally published Dec. 15, 2017