Maryland men’s basketball coach Mark Turgeon certainly wants both Kevin Huerter and Bruno Fernando back for the 2018-19 season, and there’s a chance that could happen.
While Huerter seems to face a difficult decision about making the jump to the NBA after his sophomore year or returning to a potentially loaded team as a junior, Fernando appears to be headed back to College Park.
They have until Wednesday at 11:59 p.m. to announce whether they will continue their respective college careers for another year or sign with an agent and take their chances in the June 21 NBA draft.
Several scenarios are still in play — with both players gone, with both returning, or with either Huerter or Fernando still in college and the other trying to make it on the professional level.
Having one or the other
College basketball analysts Dan Bonner and Seth Greenberg have differing viewpoints.
Bonner, who in his role for a variety of television networks has seen the Terps in person more than any analyst in the country the past two years, believes the 6-foot-10, 245-pound Fernando could be more vital to Maryland’s success next season than the 6-7 Huerter if only one returns.
“I think given the way Maryland plays, Fernando might be a more important guy to have back just so they could have a physical presence inside,” Bonner said recently. “Obviously losing Huerter would be a serious blow, but I’m not sure they would be better with Huerter and without Fernando. It’s a choice you don’t really want to make – and you’re not going to make. I would think losing Huerter would be the lesser of two evils, but both would be evil.”
Considering how many perimeter players return compared with big men, Fernando seems to be the logical choice if Bonner could pick one to come back. Turgeon can start by plugging in 6-6 freshman wing Aaron Wiggins into Huerter’s role as a 3-point shooter to play alongside junior Anthony Cowan Jr. and sophomore Darryl Morsell.
It would also mean less pressure on Morsell's former Mount Saint Joseph teammate, incoming freshman power forward Jalen Smith. Despite being the No. 14 high school player in the country, Smith would certainly benefit by playing as much facing the basket as with his back to the basket if Fernando weren’t around.
Now let’s flip the scenario. Given the choice, Greenberg would prefer Turgeon getting Huerter for another year. What would Huerter’s presence mean to the Terps even if Fernando is gone?
A team that has struggled with defensive rebounding and having a consistent rim protector would have problems in both areas. As good as Smith is expected to be, he will still need some help inside. The Terps won’t have 6-10 junior transfer Schnider Hérard until January and redshirt senior Ivan Bender is coming off surgery to repair a torn meniscus.
As dynamic a scorer as Cowan often was last season when he was third-team All-Big Ten, as much potential as Fernando showed in making the Big Ten All-Freshman team, as talented as Smith and Wiggins were on the high school level, Huerter is now widely viewed as the most important player in the program.
“You have players in your program that can do some of the things Kevin Huerter does, but not all of the things,” Greenberg said. “To me, even though Fernando’s unique in that he's a wide body that can score in the paint, you need play starters, playmakers, shotmakers, and the ball is going to be in [Huerter’s] hands 60 percent of the possessions.”
With the return of Huerter and Fernando, Turgeon would have the deepest and most talented team he has had since coming to Maryland in 2011.
The projected starting lineup would include three potential lottery picks — in 2019 for Huerter and Fernando, and in 2019 or 2020 for Smith — as well as Cowan and either Morsell or Wiggins.
The rest of the bench would include freshman Eric Ayala backing up Cowan at the point, as well as freshman guard Serrel Smith, redshirt sophomore Joshua Tomaic and Hérard.
Greenberg, who has followed Maryland closely in his role as a studio and game analyst for ESPN, believes Huerter is the perfect player to build a team around.
“He’s a connector. To me, Huerter makes the game easier for everyone,” Greenberg said. “Fernando’s terrific, but you need spacing. He needs room to play. He needs someone to get him the basketball. He obviously needs to be more assertive at times.
“But the guy that makes Fernando that much better is Huerter. Cowan to some extent, but Huerter’s the guy that stretches the floor. He’s their best post feeder because you’ve got to guard him. He’ll make a hockey assist [a pass that leads to a pass for a basket].”
Both players leaving
With interest in Fernando for the 2018 draft waning and the realization setting in that he is a year away, it appears Fernando will be back in a Maryland uniform next season. He didn’t have a single workout with an NBA team after the combine and gave Turgeon and his staff an indication last week that he was returning, according to those familiar with his decision.
Still, until Fernando turns in the paperwork pulling his name out of the 2018 draft, there’s no guarantee he won’t suddenly announce that he's going pro.
The team’s leadership would certainly be compromised by the loss of Huerter, who is potentially the best leader Turgeon has had since Dez Wells in 2014-15 and perhaps the smartest player he has coached in College Park in seven years.
As much as Cowan’s position as point guard makes him a floor leader, Turgeon would need Cowan to mature quickly into being Maryland’s de facto captain similar to Melo Trimble two years ago.
“I’m not sure I would be overly concerned with the leadership issue,” Bonner said. “The coaches are supposed to be the leaders and I think sometimes we make too big a deal about where leadership comes from on the court. That may be something we in the media overblow a little bit. That would be my concern.”
Considering the Terps will have a five-player recruiting class — with Jalen Smith, Wiggins and Ayala expected to play significant minutes — Greenberg said the need for leadership can’t be overstated.
Greenberg, who coached at the Division I level at Long Beach State, South Florida and Virginia Tech, said Turgeon needs “someone who can coach the locker room, who has the respect [of teammates]. You only lead if people will follow you. Is Bruno a leader? I love Bruno, but he’s the type of consistent personality that everyone is going to follow? I like Cowan, but he’s not a first-round draft choice [like Huerter].”