VALPARAISO | Vashil Fernandez made his first appearance in a Valparaiso basketball uniform last Saturday, but it’s hardly the first time the Jamaican big man has made an appearance on campus.
Standing at 6-foot-10 inches, Fernandez is one of the taller students at Valparaiso, but it’s his personality that stands out larger than his height. Whether he’s directing the pep band at a football game, cooking for students at an international food event or participating in a flash mob dance at the library, Fernandez is making the most of his college experience.
“I’ve heard from a lot of people that are basketball players and how they go to school to play basketball and that’s it,” Fernandez said. “I want to be more than that. I want to be a part of the school community. I’m more than just basketball.”
Valparaiso has been no stranger to international students, especially international basketball players, in the last 15 years. Many of the basketball players come to campus, meet with the international office and then become ingrained with their teammates. It’s not that Fernandez isn’t connected with fellow members of the basketball team, but he has gone out of his way to be an ambassador to the rest of the international students.
“Vashil is just amazing,” Valparaiso International Students and Scholar director Holly Singh said. “We see Vashil at each and every international event. He’s keeping up with the things that are happening and he is very good at sharing his culture and learning from others. He is very well-liked.”
Fernandez can hardly go five feet on campus without stopping to say hello to someone. Most college basketball players are known by everyone on campus. It seems that Fernandez is different in that he is the one that knows everyone on campus. There isn’t a group of people that Fernandez doesn’t feel at home with, especially the pep band.
“That’s just me being friendly and social,” Fernandez said. “I like to meet different people and the pep band plays songs for us, so I want to show my gratitude to them for supporting us.”
With each group of students Fernandez reaches out to on campus, he makes sure to tell them to stop by the next Valparaiso basketball game, a plea that means more now that the sophomore is on the court. Fernandez had to sit out last season because of a NCAA ruling. The Jamaican native had eight points and 10 rebounds in his first game and received a number of ovations from the crowd following some rim-rattling dunks.
“He’s just a sensational kid,” Valparaiso coach Bryce Drew said. “He’s really enjoying his time here. What’s really fun is seeing him get better every day. The whole coaching staff and people around the program are excited in anticipation to see how good he can get.”