With Bruno Fernando and Anthony Cowan Jr.’s 2019 NBA Draft declarations Monday, Maryland men’s basketball has all the underclassmen decisions it was waiting on. Jalen Smith ended speculation early by signing back up for his sophomore year last week, despite most expecting him to test the process.
Each of the trio acted in their best interests, and there’s a possibility, though slim, that the gang’s all back together next year. Smith is back for sure and all signs point to this being an exploratory process for Cowan, but Fernando should be Maryland’s latest first-round pick when all is said and done.
Bruno Fernando: All but gone
After nearly becoming a one-and-done last offseason, Fernando returned for a sophomore season most expected to be his last. The new rules mean even though he’s hired an agent, he’ll be eligible to return until May 29. However, Maryland fans have more than likely seen the last of Fernando as a Terp.
He’s landed in the first round of most major outlets’ mock drafts and spent the last season showing he can consistently impact winning. He did that to the tune of 13.6 points, 10.6 rebounds, two assists and 1.9 blocks per game, becoming one of the nation’s premier centers. Fernando faced double teams the entire season, progressing in patience as the games kept coming. That playmaking should translate, and his 2.8 turnovers per game should drop without the double teams.
While the door is open for a return, don’t exactly hold your breath. This isn’t a process Fernando is taking lightly, but it’s time to be realistic about what’s at play for the center. He’s likely to become the first Angolan to make it to the game’s top level and is unlikely to fall past the first round. That’s a guaranteed contract and the realization of a lifelong dream.
Anthony Cowan: The “surprise” declaration
No one expected Cowan to declare for the draft, but that could be our collective fault. Cowan just finished his junior season and there’s no penalty to declaring with an agent under current draft rules. As one of the best guards in the conference—back-to-back all-Big Ten nods and an All-Defensive team honor—it makes sense that Cowan would want feedback on his game before a crucial final season.
Over three seasons at Maryland Cowan’s averaged 13.9 points, four assists and 3.7 rebounds per game. He’s been the Terps’ leading scorer the last two games, averaging 15.7 points, 4.8 assists, four rebounds and 1.2 steals per game. However, he’s also coming off his worst shooting season from the field, hitting just 39.3 percent of his attempts, with his .337 three-point clip rating worse than his sophomore season but still above his freshman clip of 32.1 percent.
He’s expected to return, but anything could change during the draft process. Kevin Huerter was expected to return last offseason, but turned himself into a top-20 draft pick in the process. Cowan’s not expected to rise like that, but anyone who warrants a box-and-one in the Power 5 is worth a look, and getting quality feedback on his game could help him reach a new level in his senior season.
Jalen Smith: Back for Round 2
While some were surprised at Cowan’s decision, Smith’s choice to forgo the entire draft process this offseason may be more shocking. After coming into the season following a highly-touted high school career, the freshman was up-and-down. He started the season as a potential one-and-done but fell past the 30s in most big boards before his decision.
An inconsistent season saw him flash his potential at times and fade into the fray at others. He averaged 11.7 points, 6.8 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per game as a rookie. Like Fernando last season, consistency will likely be the most pressing area of improvement as the power forward heads into his sophomore campaign.
The power forward had potentially played himself back into the conversation with two big-time performances in the NCAA Tournament, but is still probably a better prospect for the 2020 draft. With Fernando likely gone, Smith should have an opportunity to man the middle alone next season and showcase his talents as the focal point.