For the past month, Bruno Fernando has lived in Chicago, the city where the worlds of college basketball and the NBA converged throughout the spring. He’s moved most of his belongings out of College Park, Maryland, and into the homes of Washington-area friends, waiting in limbo until he hears which NBA city he’ll move to this summer.
Fernando and plenty of other talented soon-to-be pros have stayed together in Chicago apartments, leaving their college towns in exchange for what they hope is an NBA future. The draft’s withdrawal deadline has passed. All decisions are now final.
For Fernando, that means he’s less than a month away from the NBA draft, where he will likely be a first-round pick after two seasons at Maryland. And for now, he’s somewhere in the middle of the path he always hoped to land on, between the college he grew to love and the career he always hoped to have, secure in what his next step will be but not knowing where it will take him.
Fernando knew nobody from his home country of Angola has become an NBA draft pick. Maryland made him realize he could be the first.
“Coming out of Angola, being here for high school, I was never that player who’s the most talented one, the most skilled player,” Fernando said. “I was never the most talked-about player. I was never that.”
His parents have never visited the United States, but Fernando said they’re working with the Angolan Embassy on completing the paperwork that will allow them to be together for the June 20 draft. One of Fernando’s seven siblings, an older brother who lives in London, might come, too.
Fernando attended the NBA draft combine in mid-May in Chicago but didn’t scrimmage. Most analysts had already projected him to be a mid-to-late first-round pick after his strong sophomore season. Since Fernando attended the combine last year, he said the process felt smooth and relaxed this time.
In the weeks before the combine, Fernando’s days all looked similar: an early wake-up, a couple hours at the gym, treatment and recovery, time in the weight room and finally a return to his temporary home base, a two-bedroom apartment he shares with Virginia’s Ty Jerome.
Since then, Fernando has worked out with Detroit and Charlotte, with visits lined up with other teams including Atlanta, Boston, Indiana, San Antonio and Orlando. The hope, Fernando said, is that he’ll receive a promise from a team to draft him so he can shut down the audition process.
Fernando hasn’t gotten caught up in showcasing certain elements of his game. If a team has followed his career, he said, it knows what it will get by drafting him. Fernando said he can be more of a 3-point shooter than he showed in Maryland’s system, but even at the next level, he just wants to fill a needed role.
“I’m not necessarily thinking once I get to the NBA, I’ve got to shoot all the 3s that I didn’t shoot in college,” said Fernando, who attempted only 13 shots from deep through two seasons. “For me, it’s a matter of just fitting in to the system right away.”
It’s consistent with the work ethic that got him to this point. Fernando wasn’t a surefire pro prospect at the start of his college career, coming to Maryland as a four-star recruit as the 87th best prospect in his class, according to 247Sports’ composite rankings. He said he was never invited to the selective camps for high-schoolers. He knew he’d work toward being a great player, but he didn’t imagine how far he’d come in just two seasons, becoming a team leader and all-conference player as well as a fan favorite.
“I told the agent after Bruno selected him, I said, ‘Let’s don’t screw this up. He’s got a really good thing going. Let’s make sure we make a great decision,’” Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said the day Fernando entered his name in the NBA draft. “I just think Bruno is so much more mature than he was last year at this time.”
Fernando’s last act in College Park signaled his transition into a new relationship with Maryland basketball. He’s no longer a player but an ambassador. Fernando can’t control the team’s on-court success anymore, yet he can help the program’s future.
When Chol Marial, a 7-foot-2 center from South Sudan, visited Maryland last month, Fernando asked Turgeon if he could join the group hosting Marial. Fernando felt he could relate well to Marial since both moved from Africa to continue their basketball careers in the United States. After dinner, they played video games together, and Fernando told him about his time with the program.
Only two months have passed since he last played, but Fernando’s pitch — about how comfortable he felt in College Park, his belief in Turgeon and the way Maryland helped him develop, as a person and a player — already feels like it should be plastered to recruiting materials.
After the visit, Marial texted and FaceTimed Fernando, asking him to honestly answer questions about Maryland. Even now, with Marial set to join the Terps and Fernando preparing for the NBA, the two talk regularly.
The importance of landing at the right school is perhaps amplified for players like Fernando and Marial who don’t have relatives nearby. Fernando said he wishes everyone could have his college experience.
“Being able to have that love and support at Maryland, there were times that didn’t even miss my family,” said Fernando, who has visited Angola just twice since moving at 15. “I was like, ‘I’m good here. I’m comfortable.’ This is my family. I’m not even going to lie, a lot of times I feel like I’m from Maryland. Maryland just helped me grow so much and understand things in another way.”
Those two years led Fernando to this point — just a few weeks from the pivotal moment that will allow him to charge forward into his professional career. The NBA has always been the dream, the final destination young players think about. But for Fernando, he’s also imagined the occasional return to campus for games, where he’s hopeful he’ll walk in and still spark that burst of familiar energy.