It is not often that a college basketball player gets to participate in Senior Day festivities
twice. But that is the case for Valparaiso center Vashil Fernandez. Last season, he had six points, two rebounds, and a blocked shot in a Senior Day win over Wright State. After winning the Horizon League Tournament and losing a hard-fought game to Maryland in the NCAA Tournament, it looked to be the end of Fernandez’ career as a Crusader. Not only were his team’s accomplishments a great way to go out on, but he was the first player in school history to be named Horizon League Defensive Player of the Year. Surely he would sign with a professional basketball team somewhere. But the NCAA granted him another year of eligibility after he was ineligible to play in the 2011-12 season. Today, Fernandez will look to lead Valpo to a win over a surging Detroit Mercy team that has won six of their last seven games. Since this year’s Horizon League Tournament is at a neutral site, it will definitely be his last game at the ARC (Valpo’s Athletics-Recreation Center).
Fernandez has made the most of his time on and off of the court. He is having a career year rebounding the basketball averaging 7.6 per game, which is good for fifth in the Horizon League. He continues to be one of the nation’s best rim protectors averaging 3.0 blocks per game, which is another career best and good for seventh in the nation. Like any great defender, much of what he does is what does not show up in box scores. He forces players to alter their shots in the paint and when driving to the basket. His presence alone makes a lot of teams settle for jump shots instead of working the ball in. His teammates know that he is an excellent help defender if they get beaten off the dribble. He is also posting a career high at over 25 minutes per game. Although best known for his defense, Fernandez is an efficient scorer as he has averaged over 50% from the field each season. He six points per game this season may not seem like much. But keep in mind that Valpo has so many offensive weapons that their scoring is distributed among many players. Unselfishness and team play is the epitome of what Valparaiso basketball is all about. What is also impressive about Fernandez is that he is pursuing a Master’s degree in International Economics & Finance. This would be his second graduate degree.
When Valpo got the news that Fernandez was returning, their basketball team went from a very good team to potentially a great one. What is most impressive about Fernandez returning to Valpo is the fact that he did not have to. In an era in which college basketball players constantly leave school early to chase dreams of playing pro ball, Fernandez made the admirable decision to finish what he started, as a player and a student. No matter how far Valpo makes it in the 2016 NCAA Tournament, Fernandez has left a legacy as a model student-athlete for his school and the Horizon League.