Maryland basketball is at a critical juncture in its offseason. The Terps lost two players last week, as Justin Jackson declared for the NBA Draft and hired an agent and Dion Wiley decided to pursue graduate transfer options. Maryland has three scholarships open and plenty of time to fill them, either via graduate transfer or the recruiting trail.
But Bruno Fernando is the most important unknown right now. The freshman center has been an under-the-radar NBA prospect for months, and could declare for the draft any day now. If he ultimately leaves, Maryland is looking at a thin and unproven frontcourt for 2018-19. If he stays, it’ll give the Terps one of the most talented cores in the Big Ten. Hardly any other additions or subtractions will change Maryland’s outlook as significantly as Fernando can.
He has until April 22 to declare for the draft, and if he does so without an agent, he has until June 11 to withdraw his name. There’s no telling how long this question mark hovers around, but we know the three options, so let’s break them down.
The case for not declaring
While playing for free and taking two more semesters of class can seem like a relative burden, Fernando’s best opportunity to become a surefire first-round pick might come if he stays in school and puts together a stellar sophomore campaign. He’ll have a chance to showcase his all-around game, perhaps most importantly with an increased emphasis on a jump shot that wasn’t on frequent display in his rookie season. A Maryland team with Fernando next season also has a chance to be far more relevant than this year’s squad, which will help with exposure.
This seems like the least likely scenario, because it’s hard to completely pass up the chance to earn six or seven figures playing pro basketball. But Fernando seems to love Maryland, and it’s not unreasonable for him to conclude his stock won’t peak until 2019. A high draft slot then means a bigger contract, so there’s a financial gamble that could pay off. If he’s set on coming back for next year, then he might prefer not to go through the whirlwind that is the draft process.
The case for hiring an agent and turning pro
Fernando wants to play at the highest level, and he knows it won’t be long until he joins the professional ranks—it’s hard to imagine he stays in college past next season. Hiring an agent will allow him to focus all of his energies toward that, rather than spending his spring bouncing back and forth from the gym to the classroom. He can also put together a team of professionals to help guide him through the process.
It’s also important to remember that Fernando a year older than most freshmen, as he did a prep year after high school before joining the Terps in 2017. There are only so many years to earn money playing basketball, and younger players will always be more appealing to pro teams. This was a key factor in Jackson, Melo Trimble and Robert Carter leaving when they did. Fernando might be next in line, even though he’d be the youngest of that group.
The case for declaring without an agent
This has long been Fernando’s expected plan of action. Players have only had this option for three seasons, and Maryland has seen Trimble and Jackson undergo this process and ultimately return to school in each of the last two draft cycles. Neither of those players did much to improve their stock after returning, which is hard not to keep in mind. But because Fernando is drawing such mixed scouting reviews—he’s a top-25 prospect according to Sports Illustrated but isn’t in ESPN’s top 100—this seems like the prudent play.
Declaring without an agent would allow Fernando to attend the combine and give him the chance to impress NBA scouts. If he doesn’t turn as many heads as he would have hoped, then he has the option to return to school and prepare for next season. This strategy gives him until June to make his final decision and as much information as possible to consider.
Fernando’s actual decision might come any day now. Until then, Maryland fans are holding their collective breath.