He’s only been in the country a little more than a month, but Juan Fernandez is already like millions of Americans, at least in one regard.
“We don’t have fast food in my city, so I’m crazy about it,” the Argentine said with a laugh. “I’m trying to get away from that now. My mom also tells me to get away from that.”
Adjusting to American food is just one of the many acclamations Fernandez has had to make since arriving as a much-heralded, midseason addition to the men’s basketball team Dec. 26.
Among the others: The high-paced lifestyle. The language. Classes. Media inquiries. Even American basketball has its differences.
“We don’t have the show that every basketball game has here,” Fernandez said after his debut earlier this month. “I was only used to the presentation of the five starters and nothing else. No cheerleaders and that stuff.”
Those are a lot of transitions to ask an 18-year-old to make so fast. The Temple coaching staff understands this and keeps a steady eye.
Fortunately for Fernandez, there are several people within the team who have made similar transitions.
Assistant coaches Shawn Trice and Matt Langel each spent time playing basketball overseas following their collegiate careers at Penn.
“We recognize how hard that was for us at 21 or 22, not 18 or 19,” Langel said. “So you do try to pay attention to [Fernandez]. I e-mail with his family and talk to his family and just try to stay in tune with how he’s feeling. If he needs anything, we’re here for him just as we are the rest of our student-athletes.”
Some of the biggest help, Fernandez said, has come from senior center Sergio Olmos, who made a similar transition four years ago.
Though Olmos arrived here from Spain, both players idolized former Temple great Pepe Sanchez, an Argentine who has spent the last six seasons playing basketball in Spain.
Sanchez played a role in connecting both players with Temple, helping Fernandez choose between college and professional basketball.
In Olmos, Fernandez found a teammate to whom he can relate.
“It’s nice to talk to someone in Spanish,” Fernandez said. “You miss that, too. He helped me a lot with some new things. Everything’s new, if you’re going to the [cafeteria], or you’re going to eat some place, or you’re going to practice.”
Olmos, however, redshirted his first semester on North Broad, giving him nearly a year to adjust before he appeared in his first game.
“I think he’s adjusting quicker than I [did],” Olmos said. “He knows a lot more English than I did when I came. He’s doing fine. In practice, he picked it up right away. He’s a very smart kid.
“The biggest difference is the lifestyle,” Olmos added. “Here, it’s nonstop. You wake up, you go to class, eat very quick, [and] you go to practice. Over [in Spain], it’s more relaxed. You have time to take a nap and stuff like that.”
In a way, America’s go-go-go culture is a blessing, Fernandez said, because it helps keep him from getting homesick.
“The toughest part is being away from home,” the guard said. “I miss my family, and I’m trying to adjust to that, trying not to think much and just play basketball. In the free time, I’ll study or be doing something so I don’t think of my home.”
Fernandez is anticipating his parents’ expected visit next month. That will be their first chance to see him live in a Temple uniform, though they’ve been watching his games online.
On the court, Fernandez has dazzled fans with his crafty passes, which had the student section chanting his name during his debut.
Fernandez said he was surprised by the attention but quickly embraced it. The student body returned for the spring semester last week, which Fernandez said has made his experience more enjoyable.
Fernandez has become somewhat of a phenomenon despite his part-time playing status.
In seven games, he’s averaged 3.1 assists and 5.6 points in 19.6 minutes. His play has also drawn the inevitable comparisons to Sanchez, the famed point guard who led the Owls to the Elite Eight in 1999.
Those comparisons are aided by Fernandez’s choice to wear Sanchez’s No. 4, though Fernandez wears it in honor of his father, who also played professional basketball.
Fernandez said he understands the comparisons but tries to ignore them. That has to delight Langel, who doesn’t find it fair to compare any young player to a former great, as easy as it can be.
“I remember when I was in college, they compared a guy named Harold Miner to Michael Jordan,” Langel said. “I think most people in today’s day and age wouldn’t even know who Harold Miner is.”
For the record, Miner played four seasons in the NBA after his collegiate days at Southern California, winning two Slam Dunk Contests but only averaging nine points per game.
“I think the fact that [Fernandez is] from Argentina and he’s a fairly savvy basketball player who has had some success on the international stage like Pepe did, the comparisons are going to be natural,” Langel said. “I don’t think it’s necessarily fair to compare him to Pepe and all the success that he has.”
In other words, let Juan Fernandez be Juan Fernandez.
Just keep him away from those fast food joints.
John Kopp can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.