As Bruno Fernando and Jalen Smith (Mount Saint Joseph) walked off the court together Saturday afternoon at the VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena, Fernando, a sophomore center from Angola, consoled the freshman forward from Baltimore.
A 69-67 loss to LSU in the NCAA tournament’s Round of 32 was likely the last time they would play as Maryland teammates, since it is widely assumed Fernando will turn pro.
Sitting in the team’s quiet and cramped dressing room, both players were noncommittal about their respective decisions on giving up their college eligibility to pursue NBA careers.
“I’m not even thinking about it. All I’m thinking about is just the last few seconds of the game, and that we lost the game,” said Fernando, who is projected in many mock drafts to be a mid-to-late first-round pick.
While Smith — a McDonald’s All-American coming out of high school — saw his stock fall during an up-and-down freshman season, that might’ve changed after an impressive performance in his first NCAA tournament.
Smith averaged 17.0 points, 10 rebounds and 3.0 blocked shots — including a career-high five blocks Saturday against LSU’s athletic front line. He also hit a huge 3-pointer to tie Saturday’s game at 67.
“I’m just going to pretty much worry about the offseason and if and when it comes to that decision — if it comes to that decision — I’ll just talk to Coach [Mark] Turgeon and my family to see what’s best for me,” Smith said.
Both are expected to be invited to the NBA draft combine, which will be held from May 14-19. They will have until 5 p.m. on June 10 — 10 days before the NBA draft — to withdraw their names.
Fernando participated in the combine last year along with former Terp Kevin Huerter, who stayed in the draft after his sophomore year and was picked 19th overall by the Atlanta Hawks.
After being told he would likely go in the second round, Fernando returned to Maryland and was one of the most improved players in the Big Ten, if not the country.
Fernando was named first-team All-Big Ten, as well as to the league’s All-Defensive Team, and finished the season averaging 13.6 points and 10.6 rebounds while shooting 60.7 percent from the field.
Smith was named to the league’s All-Freshman Team, and finished the season averaging 11.7 points and 6.8 rebounds while shooting 49.2 percent from the field.
Sources close to Smith said recently that they see him taking a similar path to Fernando by going through the NBA combine and individual workouts with NBA teams but ultimately coming back to College Park.