Malcolm Bernard has been fighting to prove himself his entire basketball career. So when he had the opportunity to transfer from Florida A&M, where he was the Rattlers' go-to star player, to a talented Xavier team in the Big East, he had no hesitations.
With three open scholarships, Xavier had plenty of room to add a graduate transfer this offseason, but with such a talented roster already in place, not many fifth-year guys wanted to compete for minutes in a crowded rotation during their final season of eligibility. However, for Bernard, the Musketeers' stockpile of talent was a driving force in his decision.
"I've been fighting my whole life and holding on trying to prove myself, trying to show people that I belong," Bernard said. "It's nothing for me to try and go out there and fight for minutes. If I fall short, then I fall short, but I don't think I'll have that problem. I feel I'll be able to impact this team in a lot of ways. I'm a grinder, a fighter."
Bernard left FAMU with the intention of finding a school where he could play in the NCAA tournament. After originally committing to Richmond in April, he opened his recruitment back up at the beginning of July. This time around he chose the Musketeers after taking official visits to Temple and Xavier last week.
"A lot of the schools that recruited me throughout this process, I felt they all had equal opportunity to make the NCAA tournament but I felt Xavier had the best chance to make a bigger run in the tournament," he said. "They just told me that I would be able to come in and have equal opportunity to fight for minutes. Obviously, you have to be good enough to get on the floor."
Bernard averaged 14.4 points, 7.0 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 2.3 steals in 32.6 minutes per game last year at Florida A&M. He shot 42.1 percent from the field and 21.1 percent from 3-point range on 57 attempts. He did most of his damage driving downhill against defenders, forcing fouls or finishing. He scored over 34 percent of his points at the charity stripe while attempting 7.5 free throws per game, and over 35 percent of his points came in transition.
"My game is all-around," he said. "My versatility is probably my bread-and-butter. I score, I rebound, I pass, I get a couple steals here and there, I'm a leader, I bring great energy and the coaches liked how tough I was and my mentality."
While on campus, Bernard enjoyed getting to know the Xavier players and coaches and said that they were probably the biggest factor in his decision-making process.
"I met the whole team," Bernard said. "They were amazing. They just embraced me with open arms. I had a great feel for them when I played pick up with those guys and off the court, I had an even better feel for them - it felt like I had already been there for three or four years."
"The coaching staff was definitely amazing too. Those guys really know how to treat a player. They really know how to recruit and be genuine and honest when they're talking to you."
Assistant coach Luke Murray was the lead recruiter and the first person to reach out to Bernard.
"When he reached out, he already knew a lot about me and he already knew exactly what he wanted," Bernard said. "From that point forward we just got to business and started connecting. We grew a relationship and I built trust in him. Coach Mack called me right after Coach Murray called me and it was all love from there."
He also felt that he fit well with Xavier's style of play, particularly their emphasis on versatility and their ball-screen motion offense. In addition, having more talented teammates should allow him to show off his full skill-set more often, unlike at Florida A&M where the offense was often "just give Malcolm the ball and get out of the way."
"I think I'm going to be very successful coming off those ball screens, whether it's dropping it down to the big, hitting the kick back to the wing on that side, or even finishing the play," Bernard said. "Those options are options I didn't have at Florida A&M and it kind of held me back from being even more successful percentage-wise because there were two guys on me every night."
With Myles Davis and RaShid Gaston already in the fold, Bernard gives the Musketeers a third fifth-year player. Add in a trio of juniors and a third-year sophomore that's expected to play a big role and the Musketeers have plenty of college basketball experience in their locker room heading into the 2016-17 season, another reason Xavier was such an enticing destination for the 6-foot-6 wing.
"Experience is huge when trying to help a team get to the NCAA tournament because you have guys that can control the game in terms of not getting rattled. Experienced guys know how to stay calm and fight through adversity. They've been through tough practices. You can always encourage younger guys in a way that helps them get better and make them understand the things that you didn't understand when you were coming up in college basketball."