Captains’ Corner: Amanni Fernandez ’18

Team: Womens basketball

Amanni Fernandez ’18. Photo courtesy of Sports Information.

Hometown: Queens, N.Y.

Residence: Hubbell

Majors: Political science, music

Snack bar order: Chicken tenders and fries

 

How long have you been playing basketball?

I’ve been playing basketball since I was about 10 years old, so it’s been 12 years now.

How did your passion for basketball develop?

For me, it was the easiest outlet. I felt like there was so much going on in my life when I was young; my mom is a single parent, and I’m an only child. For me, I needed an escape. The only escape that was really around was the park, and every single park has a basketball hoop. So I thought, “I guess this is an opportunity for me to build on that skill.” That was where my love started, and it gradually developed over time. Once I was in middle school and high school, college basketball became really popular on television. March Madness was heavily followed, and over the course of my childhood, it became bigger on TV, so I think that was also a part of my love for the game.

I know you grew up in Queens, where there is a huge basketball community. What was it like to be involved on the New York City basketball scene?

I think being from New York is one of the most valuable pieces of my story. I played at Christ the King Regional High School, which was and still is the basketball high school in New York City. I was a three-year starting point guard there, so a big portion of my life was spent around New York City basketball. Being in that environment, you really understand how small the basketball world is. It’s not as big as people might think. For example, you might feel like you’ll never see LeBron [James], but if you go to Christ the King, Christ the King is sponsored by LeBron, so he’s come and visited the school. We always had everything LeBron on, from the games to practice to travel suits.

You ended up attending the Lawrenceville School as well before coming to the College. Is there a story behind that?

So I went to Christ the King for three years. Basketball became a really big piece of my life that made me feel as though I was simply a basketball player and not really a student in high school. I wanted an adjustment, and I wanted to focus on academics. For me, the big decision that landed me at Lawrenceville was about academics. But I think the basketball piece was also very special because, for the first time in over 50 years, the team got to the state championship when I was there. Although we didn’t win, just getting there was a really big accomplishment, and it felt really good to do that for the school. Having been at Lawrenceville and graduating from there, I feel like a lifetime Lawrentian.

In your second game at the College, you scored 27 points, and you’ve been a starter ever since. How did your high school experience prepared you for college?

Mentally, I had been in environments that were tough and where there was pressure. As a point guard – that’s the role I play – you have to make very quick decisions. I understood that the number of points you put up doesn’t really matter, especially in environments like Christ the King and at Lawrenceville, where winning was important. At Williams, we have a big emphasis on winning, and I think that’s the one key piece that translated to college. The most important piece was understanding that you can have an awesome game, but winning is what really matters. You can have an awesome game and score 27 points, but if we hadn’t won that game, I wouldn’t have been happy with 27 points and being the tournament MVP. It just wouldn’t have sufficed for me. Now, my goal is to win a NESCAC championship before I leave Williams. You’re not going to win a NESCAC championship by scoring 30 points – you need to win games.

As the point guard and the player running the offense, do you feel responsible for the team’s performance?

Definitely – even more so now as a senior and a four-year starting point guard. My coaches have told me, “This is your responsibility.” The coaches instruct us, but in the 40 minutes that we play in the game, I have to make decisions on the court to run the team. The other piece of being a point guard is understanding that not everyone is going to be receptive to your style of leadership or your style of play. I need to think, “Who am I playing with? What are their styles of play?” I need to know when to be a vocal leader and when to lead more by example. So understanding your personnel and your teammates is key.

At the College, you have gotten a chance to observe head coach Pat Manning’s coaching philosophy. What is her biggest strength as a coach?

I think the first part of being a coach – regardless of the sport – is understanding people, and a lot of people take that for granted when they think about sports. Your coach is the one person who really knows you the best because they see you on your good days, and they see you on your bad days. Coach Manning, specifically, understands every single player on our team as a person and respects members of the team as people. Another thing about her is her tenure. She’s been here for 27 years and has been on endless committees for women’s basketball. She’s a true pioneer in that regard. She’s been here for so long that people respect that legacy that she has upheld. The last piece is that no matter what position we’re in – whether we’re having a terrible season or we’re having an awesome season – she’s always going to be the same coach. She’s always going to take us to go get Stewart’s. [Laughs.] No matter what occurs throughout the season, Coach will always be Coach. Last year, she may have had the worst season of her entire career. You might never have known because Coach isn’t going to sit on the sidelines and pout. She’s going to say, “Hey, let’s move on and get better tomorrow.” That’s important because if you get soaked in your losses, your team will never bounce back no matter how many people you recruit.

You mentioned that last season might have been Manning’s worst in the past 27 years. The team finished 15–10, which would be considered a success for many programs. How did the team take last season’s struggles, and how does it seek to improve this year?

The one thing that went wrong – and it might be tough to say this – is trust. As simple as that might sound, there were times when we didn’t all trust each other. We knew we had more wins than losses but didn’t accomplish the things we set out to do. Understanding what happened last year and being honest with each other from the moment the season ended is definitely going to help us. That level of honesty has been there this year, and our team definitely trusts. People are super excited just to be around each other this year, which is really refreshing.

Why did you choose to come to the College?

When I transferred to Lawrenceville, I was being recruited mostly by major Div. I schools. As I mentioned, my mom is a single parent, so our financial situation was tight. She told me that if I didn’t play Div. I, I would have to take out student loans. When I got to Lawrenceville, I was very cognizant of that. Then, I was being recruited by Ivy League schools. Once I visited these schools, I started to think, “Do I really want to play Div. I?” The Ivy League is Div. I and still has the academic rigor I was looking for, but Williams came really late in my senior year. I visited and met with [Director of Admissions] Dick Nesbitt [’74]. We had a conversation, and he was completely honest with me about what Williams had to offer. I was honest about what I wanted out of an institution; obviously I wanted to be a basketball player, but that wasn’t the only thing I wanted to do. I wanted to give back to the community, and I also wanted to be a full-time student. He understood that, and he really showed me he knew the institution. One, he graduated from here. Two, he was really knowledgeable about what the school had to offer. Three, he understood my position and what I wanted to get out of college. That conversation alone solidified it, and the other aspect was Coach Manning. I wanted the opportunity to win a championship in my four years in college, and I didn’t think that would’ve been as likely with any other coach.

Did your mother eventually come around to the idea of your attending the College?

She has. It was a tough conversation, but she said, “I understand that Williams is the top liberal arts college in the world, and you’re making a big decision for the next four years of your life.” Today I can say that she’s super happy I made this decision.

Has she seen you play here?

My mom is, I’d say, my biggest fan. [Laughs.] She’s come to over 60 percent of my games in college. It’s about a 3.5 hour-drive, and we play about 25 games a season. It’s a lot of traveling, but she does come a lot. The funny thing about my mom is that she will never cheer for me. [Laughs.] She’ll cheer for everyone else on the team. Most parents will clap for their kids and acknowledge they’ve done something well. My mom’s acknowledging the other 15 members of the team and ignoring what I’m doing. That’s just the relationship we have; she’s my biggest advocate, but at the same time, she’s my biggest critic. I know that’s a mother’s love.

How has your experience as a first-generation student-athlete been?

I’m the only one in my family who has gone on to play sports, graduate from high school and go to college. The first difficulty was understanding the college process and what it meant to be applying to college. That’s a difficult process, and if you don’t have parents that have gone through that process, it’s a big hurdle. The second is that you might not be as well connected as other people at the College. As a result, it was important for me to understand what I wanted to do and how I was going to accomplish that. There’s a piece in me that said, “Hey, I want to learn. I want to work and know what the workplace feels like.” There were hurdles, but along the way, I toughened up, and that’s made me a better person. I’m kind of happy that I’m a first-gen student.

Coach Manning has called you “a student of the game” when it comes to basketball. What are some ways you prepare for games?

Once November comes, I spend endless hours shooting before or after practice. The more reps you can get in before a game, the better. The second piece is watching film. I love scouting my competition. That makes the game more fun because they know that you know them and try to do things to catch you off guard. The last is that I listen to a lot of new music and just try to have fun before a game. You can always catch me probably laughing with my teammates or dancing. I just want to get loose and have fun.

What part of your game do you take the most pride in?

I pride myself in knowing my teammates, where they like the ball and what makes basketball fun for them. It can be boring if you have someone you don’t like to play with, and it feels more like a job than a hobby.

What makes basketball fun for you?

Being someone who always feels they need somewhere to escape to, basketball has always been that for me. It’s going to be tough to hang up my jersey after playing for 12 years, but it’s been a great run. I will always love basketball, and it’s the one thing that saved my life, being a kid from inner-city New York. It’s been a great journey, and it’ll always be somewhere I can go and flesh my thoughts out about whatever it is I want to think about. I’ve never seen it as just a game – it was my life. As crazy as that may sound, that’s the best answer I can give you. [Laughs.]

You’ve consistently been near the top of the NESCAC in steals. What is your approach to defense?

I just want to be as annoying as people are when they guard me. [Laughs.] I know how hard it is to have someone in your face, but – this is a really cliché quote – they say, “Offense sells tickets, but defense wins games.” I want to win games, so for me, I know that if I set the tone on the defensive end, we can be closer to a win. I want to get as many steals, deflections or stops as I can, and making sure the other team doesn’t get the best shot that it can is always my No. 1 objective.

You’ve touched on this a little, but what role does music play in your life?

Music, very much like basketball, has been an outlet for me. I started playing the viola and the keyboard when I was 10, and I’ve been playing ever since. Music allows me to express things I’ve never really wanted to express in public. In the future, I think music is going to play a big piece in what I want to do in terms of tying entrepreneurship with music and entertainment. In my time at Williams, I’ve studied music history, music theory, ethnomusicology and music and politics. I’ve gotten to understand music in its entire scope. It’s been a significant piece of my life, and I’ll probably never stop playing music. I’m always blasting music, and I love all kinds of music.

After your sophomore season, in which you led the conference in assists per game and were named First Team All-NESCAC, you were injured for part of last year. What have you been doing to get healthy again in preparation for this year?

Last year was tough. I didn’t know my injury was as severe as it was – I’m still playing with a partially torn ACL. After coming off arguably the best season of my life, I went into my junior year excited to get going. When I got my MRI result, I knew I’d be out, so when I did get back, I thought I was okay, but I definitely wasn’t 100 percent. That reality is what hit me the hardest. I just wasn’t myself. This summer, I knew I’d have the opportunity to focus on my body again. I interned at Nike, where I had access to state-of-the-art facilities, and I focused on building a body that would last for this season. I feel healthy, and I feel 110 percent now. I’m just happy to be in this position now where I can say I feel this good and actually mean it.

You are currently eighth in assists on the program’s all-time list. What else are you looking to accomplish before you graduate?

The first piece is to win a NESCAC championship – that’s something the team has never done. I’d love to be able to give that to Coach Manning for what she’s been able to give me for four years, and this would be the year we have a chance at doing it. The second is to join the awesome players and awesome women on the list of 1000-point scorers. I know all those women have contributed great amounts to the program, and being on that list would be an honor.

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