- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 24, 2019

Who ever said centers are a dying breed?

It’s true that college basketball teams, like their NBA counterparts, are shooting more 3-pointers than ever. Data the NCAA provided to the Baltimore Sun showed that last season’s average of 21.9 3-point attempts taken per game was a record high in Division I.

Though focus has shifted to the outside shot, centers like Maryland’s Bruno Fernando and Georgetown’s Jessie Govan can stand out by dominating in the post and around the rim.

Their skill sets are not identical and they followed different paths to college basketball, but Govan and Fernando share much in common. Both are 6-foot-10. Both are vitally important players for teams in the NCAA Tournament hunt. And both landed on the list of 10 finalists for the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Award for the best center in Division I basketball.

In other words, two of the country’s best bigs play ball in the Washington region.



Govan came to Georgetown from a New York City public school and has played in every Hoyas game since day one of his freshman year. He’s the fifth-leading scorer in the Big East and leads the Hoyas in points (17.9 per game), rebounds (7.7) and blocks (34 total).

It doesn’t hurt that he has a 7-foot, Hall of Fame center for a coach.

“He can shoot with the best of them,” Patrick Ewing said after Govan posted 21 points and 11 boards in Georgetown’s upset of Villanova last week. “His offensive abilities is by far superior to a lot of players, a lot of people who are on that list. Today he showed his offensive abilities and his defensive ability.”

Regarding the “center of the year” title, Ewing added, “If he continues to do it on both ends, he should win the award in a landslide.”

Yet you could debate whether Govan is even the best center in the D.C. area. Fernando, a 20-year-old from Angola who spent time at Florida’s famous IMG Academy, has become a walking double-double. Only four players in the country (none of them centers) had more double-doubles entering Sunday than Fernando’s 17.

On top of his scoring and rebounding prowess, he’s added 54 blocks and a Big Ten-leading .651 shooting percentage.

When Maryland upset then-No. 12 Purdue earlier this month, Fernando spent the second half dunking and flexing, dunking and flexing. Terrapins fans lapped up his power moves and celebrations. He was asked after that game how it felt to be “the king of College Park” in moments like those.

“I didn’t know I was the king of College Park! I will take that,” Fernando laughed. “It was great, it was great. And I talk about the fans all the time. I love the fans. I love Maryland.”

Maryland loves him right back, especially for not opting to jump to the pros after one year. Though Fernando is just a sophomore while Govan is a senior, both players entered last year’s NBA Draft and then withdrew their names to return to school.

Their pro prospects are another indicator of how elite they stand among their positional peers.

“I try not to think about things like that, not trying to win individual awards,” Govan said. “I’m trying to just really make the tournament, that’s our main goal right now. But honestly, I feel like I’m one of the best bigs in the country. I feel like there’s not a lot of guys in the country that can do what I do. I just try to go out there every night and be dominant.”

For centers, collegiate success isn’t a sure ticket to the NBA. The Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Award was created in 2015, and of its four winners thus far, only two are seeing minutes in the NBA right now. And in a recent CBS Sports mock draft, only one of this year’s 10 finalists — Arkansas’ Daniel Gafford — was projected to be a first-round pick.

Maryland coach Mark Turgeon might have the explanation why.

“The center position, at the next level, has changed a lot,” Turgeon said. “I don’t know about the college level as much; it depends who’s coaching that team. But it’s changed a lot. Not a lot of centers play like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar anymore. It’s fitting (the award is) named after him.”

A dominant big man under the basket clearly can still work in the college game. Maryland guard Darryl Morsell is happy to play with a towering starting frontcourt of Fernando and freshman power forward Jalen Smith.

“Me being the defensive-minded player that I am, it makes me more aggressive because I know I got them protecting the rim behind me,” Morsell said. “And just offensively, it’s just assuring. You know you can just give the ball to Bruno in the post, (Smith) in the post or whatever we’re running and just have confidence that they’re gonna score the ball because they’re playing so well.”

The other Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Award finalists include yet another player from a DMV school, Nathan Knight of William & Mary; college hoops veteran Ethan Happ of Wisconsin; and Division I rebounding leader Nico Carvacho of Colorado State.

Happ should be considered the favorite to win the award when it’s handed out in April. It’s his second time as a finalist, and Bovada even gave him the second-best odds to win the overall player of the year award, the Naismith.

Regardless, Govan and Fernando have been some of the best big men the area has seen in years — no matter how many 3-pointers the other guys are heaving up.

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