“I needed to just relax a little bit,” Fernando said Sunday.
Fernando will remember the past month as a transformative point in his life. In September, he wasn’t sure if he would even visit Maryland, let alone end up there during Homecoming weekend. But there he was in College Park on Saturday, envisioning himself as the next great big man to come through the school, and he was impressed enough to announce his pledge Sunday.
By Sunday afternoon, as he boarded a plane to head back to Florida and continue his prep year as a bruising 6-foot-10, 225-pound forward at IMG, the news had spilled out and was being celebrated as a major score for Maryland, which hadn’t signed a big man in the 2016 recruiting cycle. Finding a talented big man in 2017 was one of the staff’s most pressing priorities. The front court lost junior forward Robert Carter Jr. and freshman center Diamond Stone to the professional ranks during the offseason, while graduate transfer forward L.G. Gill and senior center Damonte Dodd will be gone after this season. Fernando fits the bill of what the staff was looking for. Maryland, which also hosted its top 2017 guard prospect, Baltimore’s Darryl Morsell, this weekend, is also continuing to pursue 7-foot Georgia center Ikechukwu Obiagu.
“[Fernando] is really going to fit well in the Big Ten. He’s a high-motor, tough power forward who is very skilled,” IMG Academy Coach John Mahoney said. “He’ll fit in real well with what Maryland does.”
Maryland Coach Mark Turgeon and Dustin Clark had identified Fernando as a target this fall and visited Fernando while he worked out at IMG Academy last week. Fernando, who is considered a four-star prospect and the 71st-rated prospect in 2017 by ESPN, was late to enroll at IMG in August after his recruiting process took an unexpected turn last spring.
The Angola native played for Montverde Academy (Fla.) the past two years and had become a late addition to Larry Brown’s 2016 class at SMU by committing last April, but Fernando opted to reclassify to the class of 2017 and reopened his commitment in May. He chose to transfer to IMG Academy for a post-graduate year over the summer while re-evaluating his college options, which also included offers from Alabama, Florida, Auburn, LSU and Marquette, among others.
“I wasn’t worried about anything, to be honest. It was just about finding the right fit,” he said.
Fernando was able to temper the uncertainty surrounding his future in part because of his past. He grew up in Luanda, a port city on Angola’s west coast, in a large family with four brothers and two sisters, and he found basketball when he was 9 years old.
“I think for everyone who lives outside the States, it’s a dream to come here and play basketball,” Fernando said.
He continued to polish his skills against players in his home country as he grew into his powerful frame, and by the summer of 2014, he was discovered by American scouts with a strong showing during the FIBA World Championships in Dubai. That led to an opportunity to play at Montverde and landed him on the radar of most major Division I programs, and while Fernando struggled with homesickness at times after arriving in the United States in early 2015, he knew he was realizing a lifelong dream.
It was nearly 3 p.m. in Angola when he called his family to tell them the news about his commitment Sunday morning in Maryland, where he has built close relationships with Turgeon and Clark, who helped lead the charge in landing the school’s first pledge of 2017. After taking some time and space for himself Sunday afternoon after a life-changing weekend, he called his family again that night to talk about the future and how far he has come since leaving his home country.
“They are all happy,” Fernando said. “It really means a lot for me. Since I got here, I’ve worked for it. It’s something that I’ve earned. It’s a dream come true.”
Here are a few highlights of Fernando: