The NCAA Tournament and the college basketball season are set to wrap up this weekend. With that in mind, it’s time to hand out some awards for Maryland’s 2018-2019 season.
Team MVP: Bruno Fernando
When Bruno Fernando decided to forego the NBA Draft for his sophomore season, everyone knew he would be good. But I don’t think we realized he would be this good. The center from Luanda, Angola averaged 13.6 points per game, 10.6 rebounds and 1.9 blocks. He was also a much-improved passer, averaging more than an assist per game better than his freshman campaign.
Fernando obviously did a lot for the Terps physically, but his emotional presence is what he’ll be remembered for. Nothing could get the crowd riled up like a big Fernando block where he seemingly came out of nowhere. Or a ferocious slam dunk followed by his signature flex or finger-wagging celebration. Simply put, Fernando was a human highlight reel that could invigorate the Xfinity Center at any given time.
Fernando had a terrific season and as a result, the accolades came his way. He was named to the All-Big Ten First Team (Melo Trimble and Dez Wells are the only other Terps to have received this honor) and he was also named as one of five finalists for the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar award for the best center in college basketball. Fernando had such a strong season that he is now considered a surefire first-round pick in the upcoming NBA Draft, so it is unlikely we see him playing again College Park.
Most improved: Eric Ayala
Eric Ayala’s college career got off to a rough start. The freshman guard shot just 3-13 in his first three games. But after being named a full-time starter, Ayala found his groove and finished the season as one of the Terps most important players. He closed the season averaging 8.6 points per game, with 2.9 rebounds and 2.1 assists.
Ayala proved his worth as a perimeter shooter and defender, but the most important thing he brought to the team was his ball handling. His ability to run the offense allowed Anthony Cowan to play more off-ball as a spot-up shooter. Cowan was also able to get more rest by having another point guard in the lineup.
It seemed Ayala couldn’t hit a shot early on, but at the end of the season, he was a player the Terps could trust late in games. The three-pointer he hit to give the Terps a lead down the stretch of their round of 32 game against LSU shows his growth as a player from day one. Ayala should be back and better for the Terps next season.
Glue Guy award: Darryl Morsell
We can sharpie in Morsell for this award as long as he is playing for the Terps. Morsell is the glue guy that every successful team has. He usually guarded the opposing team’s best player perimeter whether it was 6’8” Dylan Windler of Belmont or 6’1” Carsen Edwards of Purdue.
Morsell didn’t have the gaudiest stats or prettiest offensive game, but his importance went beyond the box score. When the team would struggle to hit shots, Morsell would provide a timely take to the basket for a bucket. If a loose ball was in Morsell’s vicinity, it was almost guaranteed he’d be on the floor for it.
Morsell does so many little things and plays much bigger than his 6’4” frame. Only a sophomore right now, Moresell should come back next year even better as an upperclassman.
Freshman of the year: Jalen Smith
Expectations were high for the five-star freshman out of Baltimore, and for the most part, Jalen Smith lived up to them. He posted 11.7 points per game and 6.8 rebounds en route to being honored on the All-Big Ten Freshman Team.
“Stix”, as he is known to everybody around the team, definitely had his ups and downs. After a season-low one point in 12 minutes against Loyola Chicago, he followed that up with a 20 point outburst against Loyola Maryland. He struggled against Nebraska in the Big Ten Tournament, but then played two of his best games in the NCAA tournament. Who could forget his monster slam against Belmont or his three-point shot to tie LSU in the final minute?
Smith will now be faced with the same decision Fernando faced: turn pro or come back for his sophomore season to boost his stock. If he returns, we could be seeing the Stix that dominated the NCAA Tournament for a full season.
Bench hype man of the year: Andrew Terrell
With all due respect to Travis Valmon and Reese Mona, Andrew Terrell was the obvious choice for this award. The senior walk-on spent the entire season with his signature towel wrapped squarely around his neck. He was picking up bench warnings left and right, talking smack to opposing players and riling up the crowd.
Terrell finished the season with only two points, but his bench enthusiasm will be hard to replicate next year.