Maryland basketball coach Mark Turgeon stood at the top of the key during a practice last week, stressing to his team that he wants to get the team’s big men involved outside of the paint more frequently.
It was an area the Terps were successful at last season, Turgeon said. Forward Bruno Fernando’s size and athleticism are strong assets in that area — the Angolan even made a three-pointer against Rutgers last season — but Turgeon often reined in Fernando to focus on higher-percentage shots at the rim rather than utilize his jumper.
But after the addition of five-star recruit Jalen Smith, Fernando could be offered more freedom on the court in his sophomore year. Smith’s physique and playstyle should complement Fernando, and the duo could present Maryland with its most dynamic frontcourt tandem in recent memory.
With center Schnider Herard leaving the Terps last week to pursue a professional career, Fernando and Smith will shoulder a heavier load than previously anticipated.
“Me and him, we can do a lot of stuff that many teams can’t do,” Fernando said. “Playing high post, he pops, and I stay out there, or I can pop. We can kind of interchange every time. So, that’s like an advantage that we have.”
At the open practice Thursday, Fernando and Smith both ran the floor well and attempted jump shots. They also battled down low for put-backs while set up on opposing teams.
Smith already has a solid grasp on some of the skills that define modern big men, such as outside shooting and ball handling, Turgeon said, while Fernando has also grown in that regard.
“We’re playing a little bit differently, because they’re such a presence for us,” Turgeon said. “Defensively, with their length and size, they’re really going to cover up a lot of our mistakes.”
Fernando tested himself in the 2018 NBA combine, but decided to return for a second season in College Park. During the offseason, Fernando felt he improved his shooting and dribbling.
“Coach sees improvement on all that,” Fernando said, “so that’s why he’s trying to put me, use me a lot more on the perimeter.”
The Terps are fortunate to have Fernando, who was the team’s third-leading scorer as a freshman, back for another year. He’s one of just four true frontcourt players on the roster, along with Smith and forwards Joshua Tomaic and Ivan Bender, who is still recovering from a torn meniscus and didn’t join the team on its preseason trip to Italy.
The Terps do have three scholarships available, leaving open the possibility of a late addition.
“We’ve got a lot going on recruiting-wise. Whether we’ll able to add a piece or not, we’ll see. I hope so,” Turgeon said. “But we felt this way before [Herard left], that we needed to add a piece. … We want to add the right piece. I don’t want to just add a piece to add a piece.”
Fernando battled injuries and foul trouble in his freshman season, and it would come as no surprise if Smith also has some troubles adjusting to the college game.
So as Turgeon gains a lively duo between Fernando and Smith, it remains unclear how much they can do on their own, and how effectively their backups can perform when called upon.
But Fernando and Smith also create a multi-dimensional offense that could provide an outlet for guard Anthony Cowan, who might be the lone upperclassman in Maryland’s starting five.
“Our frontcourt, that’s going to really help us this year,” Cowan said. “This year, we legitimately have a really good threat down there.”