Dewan Hernandez: ‘It started off hard, but I’m good now. It’s over with, in the past’
It took a long time for Dewan Hernandez to reach a point of acceptance for what happened to his junior season with the Miami Hurricanes. The forward from Miami Norland Senior High School had just had a breakthrough season as a sophomore, leading the Hurricanes in both scoring and rebounding as a rim-running post player. He spent the whole summer rounding out the rough edges on his game, namely improving his jump shot, which he got to show off by hitting a three-pointer in a preseason exhibition less than two weeks before the start of the season.
The time between the preseason win and the start of the regular season was enough to send his final season in South Florida awry. Miami held Hernandez out of competition while the NCAA looked into a potential violation involving an agreement Hernandez maybe made with Christian Dawkins, one of the principle players of the ongoing corruption scandal shaking college basketball. The NCAA eventually ruled Hernandez ineligible and he appealed twice. Both times the NCAA denied him, so he declared for the 2019 NBA draft in January.
“It was very difficult,” said Hernandez, who changed his name from Dewan Huell last year. “I had an attorney — he told me there’s no way they’re going to deny this appeal or there’s no way they’re going to sit you out the whole year, so my mindset going in was, ‘OK, I’m going to play this next game.’ And it kept getting denied. It was really tough.”
At this point, Hernandez has put most of the frustrating year behind him. After spending the fall semester in Coral Gables, Hernandez headed up to Charlotte to train for the draft while the Hurricanes were struggling to their first sub-.500 season with Jim Larranaga as coach. He earned an invitation to the G League Elite Camp, then impressed scouts enough there to turn his trip to Chicago into a weeklong stay for the NBA Draft Combine, which concluded Friday at Quest Multisport.
In the end, it sort of worked out for the Miami native. Hernandez always figured he’d leave after his junior season and his goal was to ultimately land an invitation to the NBA Combine, where he’d be able to show off all he worked on since the last time he was in live action.
“This year has been hard,” said Hernandez, who measured in at 6-foot-9 without shoes. “It started off hard, but I’m good now. I’m just over with the past. My goal going into the season was to get an invite to the Combine. I’m here now, so all of that is behind me.”
All throughout the preseason, the Hurricanes raved about the latest leap Hernandez had taken. He arrived at Miami as a McDonald’s All-American, but he was always going to need some polishing. He averaged just 5.8 points per game as a freshman and worked to become more rounded on that end of the floor. In the last year, it meant a priority on shooting and creating.
The Hurricanes dearly missed Hernandez and not just because of the player he was last time he was on the floor at the Watsco Center. As a sophomore, Hernandez was a complementary player to go along with star shooting guard Lonnie Walker and Bruce Brown, both of whom are now in the NBA. As a junior, Hernandez was supposed to be the focal point, either as the primary pick-and-roll partner for guard Chris Lykes or just as an operator from the post. He couldn’t help but blame himself as he watched his teammates struggle to make up for his absence.
“It was definitely hard to watch them lose games,” Hernandez said. “I felt like it was all my fault, not getting out there.”
The 22-year-old didn’t get to show off much of his range in the scrimmage Friday, missing his only three-pointer in five-on-five action. He did, however, lead his team with 18 points and 10 rebounds of 6-of-14 shooting, plus a 6-of-9 performance from the free-throw line.
In many ways, this is only the start of the process for Hernandez, who is back in Miami to work out in the month ahead of the draft. Once he leaves Illinois, Hernandez is off to New York for his first pre-draft workout with the Brooklyn Nets. After he spent the past few months as a mystery, Hernandez is finally back on the NBA radar.
“This week has been very important,” Hernandez said. “These scouts haven’t seen me play in over a year, so I’m trying to go out here and showcase my best game.”