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Bruno Fernando is back, but does he still have one eye on the NBA?

Maryland must find a way to balance what’s good for the team with developing the sophomore big’s game for the professional ranks

NCAA Basketball: Purdue at Maryland Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Last week we started an in-depth look at Maryland’s upcoming 2018-’19 campaign by kicking off a series of profiles on key Terrapins ahead of what it hopes to be a resurgent return to form for the perennial contender.

After highlighting the Terps very own Mighty Mouse in Anthony Cowan Jr. we turn our attention to the frontcourt with a look at the returning piece of a potentially towering gruesome twosome for head coach Mark Turgeon.

Bruno Fernando

Had I told you at the end of Maryland’s so-so 2017-’18 season that one of its naturally gifted albeit frustratingly inconsistent members would buck common sense, enter the NBA draft, and prove the doubters wrong by being selected in the first round on pretty much sheer potential alone, how many of you would have pegged that player as Bruno Fernando?

Almost all of you? I know I sure would have.

Alas, much to the collective shock and dismay of Terps nation, that player turned out to be Kevin Huerter, who’s trading College Park for Hotlanta where he’ll look to to play the Klay Thompson to not Luca Doncic’s Steph Curry in the Hawk’s attempt to recreate a poor man’s Golden State Warriors.

Ghosts of Terrapins past aside, the blow of Huerter’s departure was softened when the 6-foot-10 Fernando announced he’d be retaining his eligibility and returning to Maryland for his sophomore year.

Despite NCAA hoops continuing to become a guard-centric game (evident by Villanova, Kansas, and Loyola-Chicago’s runs to the Final Four), bigs still play a role in the Big Ten.

And despite his inconsistencies, Fernando was an All-Big Ten Freshmen selection who found consistency late, posting double-digit scoring outputs in six of Maryland’s final nine games, nearly averaging a double-double with 12.5 points and 8.2 rebounds over that same stretch.

On top of that, Fernando reminded fans of his potential on more than one occasions with plays like this:

And this:

And also this:

It’s that mix of development and rim-rattling highlights that makes his return to the Crab Cake State all the more intriguin.

And while head coach Mary Turgeon is undoubtedly happy to have the Angolan Assassin back for another year, it could be complicated if the two find themselves with different and counterproductive agendas.

Fernando almost assuredly still fancies himself an NBA player, but as former Purdue Boilermaker Isaac Haas can attest to, the market for big men who don’t shoot the three is almost completely non-existent in the Association’s current era.

That explains why Fernando, who attempted only three 3-point attempts last year, took part in spot up shooting drills at June’s NBA Combine, with better-than-you’d-think results.

Turgeon’s agenda, however, starts and ends with getting the Terrapins back into contention for a Big Ten championship and NCAA tournament bid. With that in mind, will he afford his center the green light to hoist up shots from beyond the arc? And if not, how will Fernando react as he looks to showcase his full game for NBA scouts?

It’ll be interesting to watch Maryland’s first few non-conference games with ‘Fernando from three’ blinders on, as it’ll give some immediate insight on what type of role he’ll be allowed to play during this upcoming season.

And while trying to balance a talented player’s NBA stock with what’s best for the team is part of the job for any college coach (I’m looking at you Tom Izzo!) Turgeon’s conundrum might be made easier thanks to the arrival of 6-foot-10 five-star freshmen Jalen Smith.

But more on him next week.