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Vashil is back. This offseason, the NCAA granted Vashil Fernandez a fourth season of eligibility after previously ruling Fernandez had only three years to play D1 basketball. This surprise decision should be sweet music to Crusader fans’ ears; I’m going to explain exactly why this ruling is more important than you probably think it is.

He Keeps Improving. He May Be Even Better Next Year.

Before I dig into the impact Vashil had on the floor last year, it’s important to look at the trajectory of Vashil these past three seasons. Sitting behind Kevin Van Wijk and Bobby Capobianco, it was hard for Vashil to find minutes in his first year of eligibility. Vashil was fairly raw; he scored almost as many points (30) as fouls committed (29). His offensive rating (points produced per 100 possessions) was only 74.3, by far the worst on the team, and the lowest rating since Cameron Witt’s 67.8 in the 2009-2010 season (min of 150 minutes played). Vashil’s second season was far more successful. As the season went on, he found playing time in front of 7’0 5th year transfer Moussa Gueye, and drastically improved his offense. Vashil scored four times as many points, improved his free throw percentage from 28.6% to 47.7%, and grabbed five times as many offense rebounds. Vashil’s defense improved as well. He created an identity as a rim protector, blocking 1.7 shots per game, and hauled in 5 times as many defensive rebounds. The following season, Vashil improved in nearly every facet of the game, and netted the Crusaders’ first Horizon League Defensive Player of the Year award. Looking at some advanced statistics, it’s clear to see how dramatically Vashil has improved on both offense and defense since his first season.

Year PER ORtg DRtg WS/40
2012 6.2 74.3 95.3 .034
2013 13.8 101.9 96.0 .109
2014 19.9 114.0 88.5 .174

Vashil’s 114.0 offensive rating was second to only Alec Peters last season, and his defensive rating was one of the best in Horizon League history (more on that later). His PER (measuring overall effectiveness using a variety of stats) improved to 19.9, only 2nd on the team behind Peters. Overall, his sharp improvement should excite Crusader fans; if he improves even further, the sky is the limit for the Crusaders… or at least, another Sweet 16 run.

His Defense Was Crazy Good Last Year

Vashil’s biggest strength is his shot blocking. Last season, Vashil was 3rd in the entire country in block percentage; he blocked 14.1% of all 2pt field goals attempted when he was on the court. The next highest block % in the Horizon was Anton Grady at 5.9%. His 97 blocks (2.9 per game) were the most in the Horizon. The next highest? Greg Mays and Tai Odiase both at 48.

Player Blks Blks PG Blks P40 BLK% DRtg
Vashil Fernandez 97 2.9 2.8 14.1 88.5
Anton Grady 45 1.4 1.8 5.9 92.0
Greg Mays 48 1.5 2.1 5.7 95.4
Tai Odiase 48 1.7 3.7 9.9 105.6

This elite shot blocking translated into some impressive defensive numbers. Vashil’s 88.5 defensive rating meant that every 100 possessions, opponents would only score 88.5 points on average. This was the best defensive rating by a Horizon League player in at least 6 years (when the stat started being available for college basketball). For comparison, Dante Williams, an Oakland University player who was also named to the Horizon League All Defense team, had a defensive rating of 115.5. Vashil’s rebounding also wasn’t bad. He was 5th in the league in rebound percentage (best on team), and 7th in rebounds per game (2nd best on team). Overall, these terrific numbers made Vashil a no-brainer for Defensive Player of the Year in the Horizon.

From Huge Question Mark to the Best Frontcourt in the Horizon

Derrik Smits may be one of Valpo’s most high profile recruits since Jay Harris (that’s not even a joke, Jay Harris was an ESPN Top 100 recruit), but handing over the reins to a freshman may have been a bit of a struggle. Derrik Smits isn’t new to basketball like Vashil was when he first came to Valparaiso, but he still needs time to grow into his 7’1 frame. Without Vashil, the Crusaders would have been forced to play much smaller than last year and rely on 6’7 Jubril Adekoya to play significant minutes at the 5. With Vashil back, Bryce Drew can play Jubril more minutes at the 4, giving Valparaiso the flexibility to play with bigger lineups. Derrik Smits has a year to learn and grow while playing against Vashil during practice. Most importantly, the lineup continuity will help the team’s chemistry both on and off the court.

Like the 2012-2013 team, the Crusaders have a chance to return pretty much all of their minutes and improve. Last time, Valpo went from a non-tournament team to a tournament team. This time?


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