Dewan Hernandez: ‘It started off hard, but I’m good now. It’s over with, in the past’
Finally, at 12:40 a.m. Friday, after sitting out his entire junior season, after endless heartaches and appeals to the NCAA, after toiling through 18 tryouts and waiting through 58 picks of the NBA Draft, Dewan Hernandez finally heard his name announced on T.V.
The newly-crowned NBA Champion Toronto Raptors had just one pick in the 2019 Draft – the penultimate 59th pick -- and they decided to use it on the University of Miami center. As Hernandez saw his name on the screen, he curled up into his lap and cried while his loved ones celebrated.
“You get to like 55 and think, `Oh, I’m probably going to go undrafted.’ That’s what was going through my head,” Hernandez said by phone from Toronto Friday afternoon. “When it got to 59, and they said, `Dewan Hernandez’, I just broke down when I heard my name. I’ve been through so much, so to have this accomplished was overwhelming.”
Hernandez, a 6-11 Miami native and three-time state champion at Norland High, has not played a college basketball game since March 2018, back when his last name was Huell. But the Raptors saw enough to take a chance on him.
“I knew if I worked hard, this day could happen, and I had two great opportunities to showcase my skills,” he said.
He made an impression at the NBA G League Elite Camp, and earned an invitation to the NBA combine, where his draft stock rose. He ranked second among centers in max vertical leap (35.5 inches) and was second among centers in the three-quarter court sprint (3.30 seconds).
“To some extent, we got lucky that he didn’t play last year, he kind of flew under the radar,” said Raptors General Manager Bobby Webster. “Had he had a full season; we feel like he wouldn’t have been available at 59.”
Hernandez was forced to sit out last season while the NCAA investigated his dealings with an agent who was implicated in the FBI probe into college basketball recruiting. He was one of 19 players named by the agent in a business plan that would have provided monthly payments to the players. Although there was no proof Hernandez received or even agreed to the payments, the NCAA ruled him ineligible due to circumstantial evidence.
He arrived at UM in 2016 as a McDonald’s All-American with high hopes. He got adjusted to the college game as a freshman. As a sophomore, he played 32 games and averaged 11.4 points and 6.7 rebounds. He declared for the 2018 NBA Draft, but withdrew and returned to the Hurricanes. He changed his last name in October 2018 to honor his mother, Christina Hernandez.
The Raptors consider Hernandez as a project, much like Fred VanVleet, an undrafted free agent who played a significant role in Toronto’s championship run. “We’re always trying to find the next Fred,” Webster said. “We have a good plan for these guys.”
Hernandez was Toronto’s first draft pick in two seasons after they traded away both of their 2018 selections. He said it felt “surreal” to be on his way to Raptors headquarters and he is determined to work on his defense and prove they made the right choice.
ESPN analyst Jay Bilas liked the pick.
“He’s a really good player and I’m glad to see him get drafted because he has been through an absolute nightmare that was not of his making and that he did not deserve,” Bilas said during the draft broadcast.
The nightmare is finally over.