Fernandez's Gift for Go catalyzes Wareham

WAREHAM, Mass. -- Kevin Brogioli recalls the day some 10 years ago when his wife came home from teaching first grade in Wareham, telling him about a student of hers performing high jumps on a field trip.

"She said, 'You're gonna notice this kid'," Brogioli recalled.

Fast forward to tonight, before a packed house and the host Wareham High Vikings staring down an 18-0 start against South Coast rival Bourne, and all eyes are noticing this fire hydrant of endless energy suffer through one of his worst halves of the season. Junior point guard Darien Fernandez is flying all over the court, but unable to channel that frenetic energy in the first 16 minutes, picking up his second foul six minutes into the contest and starting off a mere 1 for 7 from the field.

Wareham High principal Scott Palladino is standing under the baseline at the far end of the court, explaining what a mature student Fernandez is becoming, when it all erupts in the third quarter.

First, Fernandez spins through two defenders in the lane and flips the ball behind his head to forward Jeff Houde, who is promptly swatted on his layup attempt. Next trip down, Fernandez drives to his left and delivers a no-look pass across the paint for an easy basket.

Then there's this neat little finish: starting from the blocks at his own end, he pushes across halfcourt with long, gliding strides, then cuts diagonally across the paint from the right elbow and switches hands mid-air for a reverse layup through two more defenders.

"Like a man with boys out there, isn't he?" Palladino chuckles.

Such is the allure of watching a player like Fernandez. A waterbug of a lead guard, built low to the ground with a running back's frame and seemingly permanent bounce, the 5-foot-7 Onset resident's motor keeps the transition-happy Vikings in fifth gear for extended amounts of time.

When he's on, he can turn the game into a spectacle. Tuesday night's win over Old Rochester saw Fernandez come two steals from a quadruple-double (36 points, 11 assists, 10 rebounds, eight steals). A month and a half ago, Fernandez made SportsCenter with this ridiculous half-court shot in a win over Cardinal Spellman.

When he's off, he still makes things go on the defensive end with his on-ball defense. Often tonight, he picked up the ballhandler immediately with his hands raised, unafraid to invade his opponent's personal space, funneling him to either sideline. With his low center of gravity, he's able to be a nuisance all night -- as long as he doesn't hack away (Fernandez picked up four fouls, all reaching violations).

"He's a competitor," Brogioli said. "He's just got something burning inside of him. He hates to lose. When the games, get tight, he will take over. There's just something about him that's such an aggressiveness, that I've seen in very few athletes I've had."

Just like growing up.

"He was always off the wall," laughs Houde, who has known Fernandez since Kindergarten. "It was like he was always on a sugar rush. He was always crazy like that."

Asked about his on-ball defense, Fernandez just shrugs -- "I don't know, guess it's just from trying to stay aggressive," he says.

Brogioli's father Jim -- he of over 400 wins, a state title in 1977, and for whom which this court is named after -- draws up a comparison to former Wareham great and current San Diego Charger Stephen Cooper, when asked about Fernandez. The two have obviously different body types, but both possess the same hell-bent approach to the game, though the elder Brogioli notes Fernandez is quicker.

Among point guards to come through Wareham, the elder Brogioli thinks Fernandez could be one of the best when all is said and done. He isn't afraid to compare him to Michael Dias, the point guard on that 1977 squad who went on to a quality career at C.W Post.

"Darien can do some of the things Michael did, as far as passing the ball off," he said.

The younger Brogioli agrees.

"Michael might have been more of a floor general in some ways," he said. "But Darien can do some things physically that Michael -- no offense, I played with him -- that he couldn't do."

Fernandez heats up in the second half, totaling 13 points on the night as the Vikings outscore the Canalmen 38-20 in the second half to win going away, 62-41. Not his best of nights, but still enough to draw prose from all over.

"Tough as nails," Bourne head coach Scott Ashworth said. "Shoots the ball well, can get the ball to the basket, he's tough to match up with -- zone, man, doesn't matter. He's got a bright future."

How bright? That has yet to be determined, but he's starting to garner some interest from low to mid-major Division 1 schools -- Bryant, Albany, Vermont, New Hampshire, Hofstra and Quinnipiac among the suitors that have reached out.

Last season, shooting was an issue with Fernandez, with a hot-cold streakiness and a herky-jerky motion about him. Now, he presents a more repeatable, textbook motion, with a quicker release, higher arc and more consistent ball rotation. Kevin Brogioli also noted a more dangerous pull-back jumper in his repertoire -- "I don't know how you can cover him in man-to-man when his pull-back is working for him," he said.

All of it makes the Vikings, clouded at the beginning of the season with some question marks about roster turnover, one of the Division 3 South district's toughest anticipated outs as the state tournament nears. Brogioli estimates about 75 percent of practices consist of transition and fast break drills, and it's evident on the court. From Houde to Tyler Gomes to Aaron Baptiste, the Vikings aren't the biggest team on the court, but could be one of the fastest.

And when Fernandez is dialed in?

"If he messes up or throws the ball away, I'd say eight times out of 10 he's going to come up with the steal within five seconds," Brogioli laughs. "He's just...something kicks into another gear when that happens."

Must be some fine sugar.