Fernandez eyeing his biggest leap
Vashil Fernandez has certainly come a long way; and in a relatively short space of time.
It's been just about a decade since he started seriously bouncing around a basketball, but after putting pen to paper on a deal with the NBA's Miami Heat on October 17, the former Calabar High student is one step closer to realising his dream of playing in the world's top basketball league.
"I am definitely pleased to have signed with the Heat, but I am giving all thanks and praise to God on how He has made everything come into play just the way He want it to be. It's been a long summer of just working hard and trusting Him, being patient and staying calm and praying; just waiting for that moment for the door to open and just walking through it," Fernandez told the Sunday Gleaner in a recent chat.
His story is an interesting one - from being told that he would lose a leg to rising above his challenges and excelling both on the court and in the books, Fernandez is eyeing his biggest leap yet.
Living in Moneague, St Ann, with his grandmother, aunt and over 15 siblings and other relatives, Fernandez's dribble to the top was a matter of chance perhaps - or, as he would say, fate.
As a teenager, Fernandez would travel for the better part of three hours from Moneague to Kingston, where he was actually born, to spend time with his mother and babysit his youngest sister. It was on one of these trips to the capital when he would be introduced to Calabar High coach Ludlow Barker. His life would forever change.
"I used to come to Kingston every weekend to babysit my youngest sister when my mother had to work, and I was on the street corner with one of my friends who sold coconut water and sugar cane. One of his friends turned up and asked me if I knew how to play basketball and I said, 'Well, I could learn'. I didn't know that much about it and he introduced me to Ludlow Barker, my high school coach, and that is where it all started for me."
Barker saw his abilities and when an injury situation threatened to derail his strides, eventually directed him to then Jamaica Basketball Association president Ajani Williams, who, to this day, acts as a mentor to the 24 year old, who, at one point, was told that a leg injury would require amputation.
Fernandez, who helped Jamaica to a historic performance at the FIBA Americas Championships in 2013, where wins over Argentina and Brazil led to a first-time ranking for the Jamaicans, would further confirm his talents in the NCAA system, where his 6' 10" frame proved useful with 119 blocked shots in his senior year at Valparaiso University.
His performances on the college scene certainly turned some heads and when he declared for the 2016 NBA Draft, the Portland Trailblazers and Toronto Raptors were among those who showed an interest.
In the end, it was the Heat who proved to be most serious, stepping in and putting a contract in front of the Jamaican big man.
"It came out of nowhere. My agent called me one day and told me they (Heat) wanted me to try out with them. They called me back three weeks after that and told me they were going to sign me. I had to ask myself who could it be but God. He's the one that is making all of this happen and I just want to give Him all the praise," Fernandez said.
"I am ready for this step. If I need to go get more development, I am good with that, too. This is where I want to be. I am a good defensive player and that is what I can contribute and be a force out there to help this team as much as I can to get a championships," added Fernandez.
The Jamaican, who played two preseason games with the Heat, totalling three points, one rebound and a steal in 14:38 minutes on the court, was yesterday waived by the franchise ahead of the start of the season and is expected to continue his growth at the Heat's NBA Development League team, the Sioux Falls Skyforce, which is based in South Dakota.
Fernandez, who pointed to Hakeem Olajuwon and Heat executive Alonzo Mourning as his inspirations, has been married for almost two years and has two children, who he label as his daily source of motivation.
The holder of a bachelors degree and two masters' degrees, Fernandez is testament to the value of hard work and faith. He hopes that his journey will not only meet his ambitions, but will also inspire those who are looking on.
"With everything you do, the sky is the limit. One thing to know is that if you put God first and you are dedicated, then anything is possible. As long as you are doing your part, God will do his part," Fernandez notes.