It's been a long four days. The stretch of time between the selection show and the beginning of the tournament always seems to go way slower than it should. I'm chomping at the bit for 12:30 tomorrow. Unsurprisingly, so is Juan Fernandez. The A-10 MVP and local heartthrob was kind enough to grant us an interview after arriving in Jacksonville yesterday with the rest of the Owls. Q&A below.
Nick: I remember reading last year that you were a bit confused by the seeding process and the selection show, and that [former Temple center and fellow Spanish-speaker] Sergio Olmos was kind of explaining it to you as it was happening. Is this true, or just a story? Likewise, how much different is your second go around compared to your first experience last year?
Juan: That's actually true and I can realize now how different it is compared to last year. Last year, I only knew the team we were playing against and that was it. This year, I know the whole bracket. I know how the teams play. I'm even aware that we probably deserved a higher seed, but in the end it only matters that we are again in the NCAA tournament with a really good chance of winning a couple games.
What did it mean to you to be voted the Most Valuable Player in the Atlantic-10 tournament?
I really enjoyed it, especially because I could share it with my family who were there; but, sometimes when they give a recognition like that it kind of feels that its not fair in a way since this is a team sport. I couldn't have done anything without my teammates so its really a recognition of the team effort.
Has the success of this season surpassed your initial expectations for the year or were you always confident that you could perform at this level?
Actually, I didn't know how everything was going to work out when I first got here. Everyone that knows me tells me now that they didn't expect all this to be happening to me in only my second year. Personally, I just try to go out and play without thinking that I should do this or that, because it is only my second year. It's a good thing that everything is happening so fast if you learn how to handle it and stay focused on keeping your feet on the ground.
How have you found the adjustment to the American game given the difference in officiating as compared to international play?
The hardest part was to adjust to the rules. The style of basketball is probably faster, but I adjusted fast enough, I think. What took me more time was the 35-second shot clock, since i was used to playing with 24-seconds. Some other rules, like being able to call timeout as a player, don't even exist in South America.
How far do you think this team can go in the tournament and were you at all disappointed by your seeding?
I'm hoping we can go really far. Every game is going to be tough, but if we stay prepared for every challenge, we could make a big run. About the seeding, it really matters more who you play against than what seed you got in my opinion, but, if you ask me, I would say that, yeah, we probably deserved maybe a four seed, at least.
How anxious are you to get on the floor against Cornell, Friday?
I'm really anxious. I can't wait to start the game and see how everything works out. Hopefully we'll be able to get that win and advance to that second round.
Finally, any funny stories from this year you care to share?
[Laughing] I have a bunch of stories but I don't want to kill any of my teammates. And by telling you, I'd definitely have to.
Thanks Juan. Give em' hell.
John Gonzalez has a great article in the Inquirer discussing why Temple's outrage over their seeding is largely unjustified. It basically flies in the face of everything I wrote a few days ago. I like it anyway.
The Inqy also has a nice piece on Juan Fernandez success this season. Somebody must be making the media rounds.