WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The way Darryl Morsell sees it, his future teammate at Maryland, Bruno Fernando, owed him for his inclusion on the Capital Classic senior all-star game roster. Per the 6-foot-4, 200-pound guard Morsell, he personally vouched for the 6-10, 240-pound Fernando, convincing the event’s directors to place the IMG Academy (Bradenton, Fla.) product on the same squad as the Mount St. Joseph (Baltimore, Md.) standout.
So, before the two four-star recruits show out in College Park, Md., Fernando and Morsell practiced together for the very first time in Washington, D.C.,’s Verizon Center, although an injured knee precluded the former from participating in the game itself.
“We know we can have a big impact at Maryland, and we know we can do big things together. So it's cool to finally get to play with [Fernando]. It was disappointing [Fernando] didn’t get to play [in the Capital Classic], but he’s a great player. That’s my guy,” said Morsell, who scored 10 points, dished our four assists, had five rebounds and three steals in his teams victory in the Classic. “It’s like we already have that chemistry going. Me and Bruno have a phenomenal relationship. We text and talk all the time and can talk to each other about anything. It’s like we’ve known each other forever.”
The Angolan native Fernando, who can’t wait to regularly take feeds from Morsell at UMD, readily agreed. Fernando estimates he exchanges calls and texts with his fellow 2017 signee multiple times each week. The pair have met in person on a couple occasions the last few months as well. They took their Maryland official visits together back in the winter, and Fernando even came up to Frostburg, Md., to watch Morsell in action against Gonzaga at the Alhambra tournament in mid-March.
“Darryl didn’t even know I was there; I wanted to surprise him, so he had no idea I was going. And as he was warming up he saw me walking in the gym. His face just lit up; he was so happy to see me there,” Fernando said. “And I was so happy just to see him play and be around him. I don’t get to see him in person often, obviously, so it was great to be up there. But our relationship is really great, and it’s just going to get stronger and stronger. I can’t wait to form even more chemistry with him on the court, because he’s a really good player and a great guard.”
Said Morsell: “Bruno, you know, he’s almost 7 feet, so he kind of stands out (laughs). I saw him during warm-ups and I was shocked. Like, is that Bruno? And I could hear him in the stands too. He was one of the loudest ones in the gym. I know he’s a great dude.”
A great dude, and, as it turns out, a pretty good player too. After arriving in the United States three years ago, and then spending his first two high school seasons at Montverde Academy (Fla.), Fernando developed into a defensive stalwart, known for his ability to block shots. But during his one year at IMG, Fernando rounded into a complete player, with a reliable offensive arsenal.
Fernando helped IMG to a 26-1 record, averaging 21.5 points, 10.2 rebounds, 2.3 blocks and around two steals a game.
“I think my game has developed so much and in so many ways,” Fernando said. “I think a lot of people look at me and say, Oh he’s a ‘5’ or, Oh he’s a ‘4.’ But since I first started at IMG, my coaches have told me they wanted me more at wing than on the inside. They really worked with me on my ball-handling, my shot, my shot off the dribble, free throws and all that.
“And I personally think I’ve gotten so much better playing outside the paint. Before, that was a weakness for me, but now I feel like most wings are going to have a lot of trouble guarding me just with my length and athleticism. Expanding my game to the perimeter, being able to step out, being able to hit that 15-foot jump shot, and being able to take guys off the dribble and finish at the rim -- I think being able to do that now, I’m going to have an advantage over a lot of opponents.”
The Terps sorely need Fernando’s presence on both ends of the floor. They lacked a consistent inside scorer for much of the 2016-17 campaign, and their main rim protector, Damonte Dodd, is graduating. Plus, finesse-laden UMD is in desperate need of a tough, bruiser type who can take -- and dish out -- a pounding in the paint. Fernando is just that, and it’s conceivable he earns a starting spot from Day One in College Park.
“I feel like a lot of people have confidence in me, and the Maryland coaches have confidence in me. Just hearing that, it makes me feel good, and I feel like I’ll be ready. But I’m going to work in the preseason and get better every day. It starts from the day I get there,” Fernando said. “I set a lot of goals for myself as an individual and my team, but, honestly, I just want to do whatever I can to help. If that’s rebounding, I’ll do it. If that’s blocking shots, I’ll do it. But we know we need a presence inside to score the ball. I think I’m a great defender and can guard anybody on the court, but offensively I’ve gotten so much better. I put in so much work, and I feel like I can be that guy inside to score and bring that toughness.
“And it’s contagious, you know? You bring that intensity and toughness every time you’re out there, it rubs off on your teammates and brings them to a whole other level. I definitely feel like I can be that guy bringing energy to the court.”
Apparently the Maryland coaches have imparted that message to Fernando on more than one occasion. The big man said head coach Mark Turgeon, assistant Dustin Clark and the rest of the Terps’ staff speak to him often, and have trekked through IMG a few times to see Fernando in action. In turn, Fernando, who was able to see Maryland in the Big Ten tournament in D.C., reaches out to Clark and Co. any chance he gets.
“My relationship with the Maryland coaches is great. I love those guys,” Fernando said. “And I don’t think I missed one of their games this year. I saw them all on TV, and I think we had one hell of a team and got better each game. A lot of people doubted Maryland and didn’t think they’d get to where they did. But I know how much work they put in, and it was a great season. I’m proud of them and what the players and coaches did. That team wasn’t as deep as some, but they kept fighting.
“The guards really fought through adversity, and the three freshmen, Kevin [Huerter], Anthony [Cowan] and Justin [Jackson], were just terrific. It was amazing how much Coach Turge trusted and believed in them. You see the work they put in and how it translated to the court, and you see how Coach Turge allowed them to play their games and not restrict them, it makes me feel much better about going there. I know I can trust the coaches there, I know they’re going to believe in me, and I know they’re going to help me get better every day. I’m excited to join the program, and I’m so excited about next year.”
Fernando will enroll at Maryland in June, although he might take a week in July to participate in the FIBA U19 world championships if Turgeon allows it. He said the Terps “are the biggest priority,” though, and he’s eager to jell with his new teammates.
Morsell is too, although the Baltimorean is already quite familiar with the current Terps from having been on campus more times than he can count. Like Fernando, Morsell has been in regular communication with Turgeon, Clark, recruiter Bino Ranson and assistant Cliff Warren. And, like Fernando, the message has been the same.
The two may be from completely different backgrounds and have had completely different life experiences, but, on the court, Morsell and Fernando see eye to eye.
“They just want me to be myself and bring a different dynamic to the team in terms of toughness and bringing intensity,” Morsell said. “I think Maryland had a great season and exceeded expectations, but I think they got worn out with the younger guys having not played in that type of environment. But next year, I think I’ll bring a big, tough, downhill guard and more versatility to the backcourt. … I’m coming in, playing as hard as I can, and I believe in the coaching staff to get the best out of me. I can’t wait to go along for the ride.”
Morsell’s physical, gritty style was on display all season for a Mount St. Joe squad that finished 37-4 and won an MIAA A-Conference title and a Baltimore Catholic League championship. Playing more of a forward role for the Gaels, he slashed his way to 16 points and eight rebounds per game, while handing out 5.5 assists a night as a drive-and-kick distributor.
“Everybody knew who I was coming into the season. So at first it was an adjustment, because I knew [opponents’] main goal was to take me out of the game,” said Morsell, who played lockdown defense and displayed his characteristic toughness by grabbing rebounds amongst players several inches taller than them during the Capital Classic. He also showed solid floor vision and feel on the offensive end. “But I got used to it, and it was a great senior year.
“I was the leader of the team. All the younger guy looked up to me, and I did anything to help the team win. I was one of the tallest guys, so I played mainly wing. I still was able to push the ball, but because I was taller, I played a different role. It was fine, though, and I couldn’t have asked for a better year.”
While Morsell said he improved in several technical areas, he said his most significant growth came in the intangible areas. He detailed how he evolved into a more vocal leader, how his basketball IQ increased and how the game slowed down for him.
That’s all well and good, but onlookers did question Morsell’s outside jumper, which was inconsistent at times this year.
“Everybody around me talks about my shot. People know I can shoot the ball well; it’s just that I don’t shoot a lot. I think my athleticism and with my other strengths, I use those to get to the rim. But I can hit the jump shot. At the next level, you’ll see me hit those,” Morsell said. “But I do think I can get way better. I think I have a high ceiling, and when I get to Maryland I think the coaches can take me to a whole other level.”
If all goes according to plan, both Morsell and Fernando will reach that level together. They'll give Maryland fans a glimpse of the future April 8 at the Verizon Center, and they’re anxious to continue that 30 minutes down the road in College Park.
“We talk about it all the time,” Fernando said. “We’re both ready, and we both can’t wait to get started at Maryland this summer.”