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What Bruno Fernando’s return means for Maryland basketball

The picture for 2018-19 becomes slightly clearer with the center back on board.

Bruno Jam Jackson State Lila Bromberg | Testudo Times

Mark Turgeon probably let out a huge sigh of relief when he found out that Bruno Fernando was returning for another season. The center announced he’d be back for his sophomore season on Memorial Day, after entering the NBA Draft without an agent.

With Fernando back in the fold, Maryland basketball is able to get a clearer idea what its prospects for next season look like. While Turgeon’s still waiting on Kevin Huerter’s draft decision, the first domino has fallen in his favor. And the team’s leading rebounder and shot-blocker and third-leading scorer is not an insignificant domino at that.

While Huerter’s the more versatile player, Fernando’s decision was the most consequential of Maryland’s offseason.

His return answers Maryland’s biggest positional question mark.

Had Fernando left, Turgeon would have to recruit quickly for another center for the upcoming season after already missing on grad transfers Tariq Owens and Trey Porter. The issue was that without Fernando’s decision known, it was hard to convince a big man that there would be a significant role for them next season. Fernando returning proves why.

The 6’10 center will probably start next to incoming five-star power forward Jalen “Sticks” Smith, and until transfer Schnider Herard gets activated midseason, the only other bigs on the roster are Ivan Bender and Joshua Tomaic. However, Mahki and Mahkel Mitchell, four-star and three-star twin centers, are already committed for 2019, so Turgeon’s only shot at a post recruit for this season was likely the grad transfer market.

Fernando returning means, whether or not Huerter returns, Maryland’s roster can work positionally as currently constructed. Here’s our own Thomas Kendziora on how the lineup would look next season with Aaron Wiggins and Darryl Morsell starting next Smith and Anthony Cowan and just Fernando back:

There’s still plenty of talent and enough size here, but losing a player like Huerter means increased roles for a handful of young players. Wiggins and Morsell are both in this lineup, and the Terps will absolutely need [Eric] Ayala and Serrel Smith to chip in regularly. The option to go with a bigger lineup—think Tomaic at small forward—remains present as well.

The player whose role changes most significantly here is Wiggins, who’s now presumably a regular starter as a true freshman. Wiggins was the best player on the floor at last month’s Capital Classic, which is noteworthy, but obviously doesn’t mean he’ll dominate the college level. He’s got the shooting touch, explosiveness and rebounding skills, and Maryland would love to get plenty of production out of him next season. It’d just be preferable not to rely on it.

This decision also gives Huerter a clearer picture.

After blowing up at the draft combine, Huerter’s choice became more difficult. When he and Fernando entered the draft, Huerter was seen as the more likely to return. After scouts fell in love with his game after the first day, though, it became more likely that he’d earn a first-round grade. Huerter snuck as high as No. 18 on Sports Illustrated’s mock draft, and had a handful of workouts with teams drafting in the later stages of the first round.

However, it was also reported after day one that a first-round guarantee may not be enough for him to stay in the draft. Huerter also cancelled his final workout with the Jazz to fly home and make a decision, according to the Salt Lake Tribune’s Tony Jones. If Fernando left, part of Huerter’s incentive to return would be gone too. It would be hard to replace the Angolan big man’s production—he averaged 10.3 points, 6.5 rebounds and 1.3 blocks a night as a freshman. Now that’s not an issue.

The opportunity to return to a team expected to be preseason top-15 and work his way into the lottery appeals to a player, with a drive like Huerter’s, who has lost every postseason game he’s played in his two year career.

Either way, the Terps have an idea of who they are.

Huerter’s decision is still crucial for understanding what type of team Maryland will be in 2018-19. However, Fernando’s decision starts to unfuzz the picture we’re looking at from afar.

Cowan returns to run the show, Morsell will return a bruising downhill game—hopefully with an improved jump shot—and Fernando will bring the energy and post defense, while looking to stretch his pick-and-roll prowess toward the perimeter. And while freshmen are never guaranteed to pan out as expected, Turgeon also has a five-person class that’s ranked in the top 10 nationally and best in the Big Ten.

Fernando just gave himself an opportunity to build draft stock and make himself a large sum of money on a team that, in theory, should be improved next season. With him in tow, Maryland’s a fringe top-25 team. Now, it’s just a matter of waiting on Huerter.