Old Rochester Regional High School boys basketball coach Steve Carvalho knew exactly what he had nearly 10 years ago when his freshman guard, Noah Fernandes, led the team to the Division 3 State Title game at Worcester's DCU Center.

He had a champion.

Tabor Academy in Marion took note and lured Fernandes to the beautiful seaside school.

When it was time for college, Fernandes wasn't sure if 5 feet, 11 inches would be tall enough to make it to a D1 program. He was wrong. He committed to Wichita State and played his freshman year far from home.

Too far. He didn't want to be in Kansas anymore.

Fernandes finished his undergrad career at UMass Amherst, scoring over 738 points. Fernandes graduated from UMass last spring, but due to a special NCAA rule for college players who lost a season because of COVID, Fernandes was allowed a fifth year of eligibility.

He used that eligibility to make another dream come true.

"We initially wondered if D1 would be possible for Noah, but we never thought about the Big 10," said Noah's mother, Shikara.  Again, Fernandes defied the odds, getting recruited to play his fifth year of basketball at Rutgers.

"They told us they liked to acknowledge that accomplishment in the players' hometowns," Shikara said.

The proud mother learned that a billboard would go up months ago, then forgot about it.

Until Wednesday.

Shikara's and Fernandes' father Mike's phones blew up this week as workers installed a new billboard on Route 140 South at Exit 3 in New Bedford.

"It's pretty crazy to drive down the highway and see your kid on a billboard," Mike said.

The Fernandes family appreciated the thoughtful gesture by the university.

Shikara said Noah is weighing all of his options as he finishes his final college basketball season, including playing overseas.

"He has now earned a bachelor's degree in communications from UMass and a master's degree in education, all paid for thanks to basketball."

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