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Diamond Stone signs agreement to join Terps

It's set in Stone. Diamond Stone has signed with Maryland:

Maryland men’s basketball coach Mark Turgeon and assistant coach Bino Ranson had just left Diamond Stone’s house in Milwaukee one Friday night last month when the five-star prospect ranked as the second-best high school big man in the country sent them a text message.

Fortunately, the rental car had been pulled to the side of the road before the two coaches read it.

“He said, ‘I’m going to commit’. Of course, we’re like, ‘Where? I hope it’s Maryland,’” Turgeon recalled with a laugh Wednesday. “With recruiting, you just hope everything’s true and everything happens. It was a great moment.”

After Stone tweeted his decision that he picked the Terps, “everything went crazy after that,” Turgeon said.

The recruiting victory became official Wednesday when the 6-foot-10, 250-pound five-star center and his parents signed a financial aid agreement for Stone to attend Maryland. The family chose the financial aid agreement, rather than a national letter of intent, in order to give Stone the freedom to go to another school should Turgeon’s coaching status change.

Recalling his first four years of recruiting highly ranked prospects who chose other schools over Maryland — most famously twins Andrew and Aaron Harrison, who picked Kentucky — Turgeon said, “It was very, very, very exciting. We finished second with these kids many times. It was nice to finally win a battle.”

Turgeon was making his first public comments about Stone, whose agreement coincided with Wednesday’s start of the spring signing period for basketball recruits. The Terps inked junior college point guard Jaylen Brantley, a former four-star prospect, during the early signing period in October.

“Maryland has a great group of guys who I can see myself playing with next year,” Stone said in a statement released by the school Wednesday. “I'm looking forward to playing for Coach Turgeon. He's a great coach, he loves to win and he knows how to develop his players. I'm excited about this opportunity. I'm just looking forward to starting a new chapter of my life.”

Ranked as high as No. 6 in his class nationally, Stone is Maryland’s most significant signing since Turgeon took over for Hall of Famer Gary Williams in 2011. He’s the most celebrated high school big man to come to College Park since Tom McMillen in 1970. Turgeon understands the sentiment, but he didn’t want to overstate the importance of adding Stone.

“I get excited about all of them,” Turgeon said. “I knew how good Melo [Trimble] was going to be so I was excited about him. I think because Diamond’s ranked so high, it energizes your fan base. It energizes the team. The team was really excited about Diamond.”

Turgeon said his current players — along with Brantley, who befriended Stone when they both visited College Park for Maryland Madness in October— “worked really hard to recruit Diamond on his visit and throughout the year.”

Turgeon also credited Ranson for helping bring in both Stone and Georgia Tech transfer Robert Carter Jr., whom Maryland unsuccessfully recruited out of high school. Carter will be eligible to play next season.

“When I first got the job, [Ranson] said, ‘We got to go to Milwaukee, coach,’“ Turgeon recalled. “I said, ‘Why?' He said there's a young freshman who he thought was the best freshman big man in the country. I said, ‘We've got enough problems not to think about a freshman.’ We went out anyway.”

On subsequent visits, the Stones made one request.

“Every time I called the family and said, 'I'm coming to see you.' They said, 'Are you bringing Bino?' Diamond really likes Bino,” Turgeon said. “Bino never lost faith and he kept my faith up. He just did a tremendous job, not only with Diamond, but with his mom and dad.”

In a telephone interview Wednesday, Robert Stone said there were a “bevy” of reasons why he and his wife were happy their son picked Maryland after also seriously considering Wisconsin, Connecticut and Oklahoma State.

The elder Stone said one thing that impressed his son was the job Kyle Tarp, the team’s director of basketball performance, did in transforming former Terps center Alex Len from a skinny 200-pound teenager to a 240-pound sophomore picked No. 5 overall by the Phoenix Suns in the 2013 NBA draft.

“All these schools have great trainers, great training facilities,” Robert Stone said. “Maryland showed what they did to get Alex where he was and what he became. I think that stuck with [Diamond], and the intensity of the workouts. To me, that was a big point.”

Diamond Stone, who has worked hard in the past year toning up his body, is expected to start in the frontcourt along with the 6-9, 240-pound Carter and Jake Layman, who as a junior was voted to the All-Big Ten Conference third team by the media and led Maryland in rebounding (5.8 per game).

“I think Diamond gives you a big body,” Turgeon said. “He gives you a big physical presence. We had shot-blockers this year with Damonte [Dodd] and Checko [Michal Cekovsky]. They’ll continue to give us that. We’ll have a thickness, muscle around the rim, as Checko gets bigger and Damonte gets better. Adding Diamond and Robert, with all those pieces, we should be a much better rebounding team.”

Maryland was one of the biggest surprises in college basketball this past season. Picked to finish 10th in the Big Ten, the Terps wound up second in the league and set a regular-season school record for wins (26) before finishing 28-7. Now, they are considered one of the top contenders to reach the 2016 Final Four.

There is also already mention being made of Stone being at Maryland for just a year. He is considered a lottery pick in 2016, predicted to go as high as fourth by DraftExpress.com.

Robert Stone said that the family has yet to have a “one and done” discussion.

“That is not what we’re about,” he said. “We’re about Diamond being successful, being successful as a person.”

Among the factors that impressed Robert Stone and his wife were the diversity of the student body at Maryland, the proximity to thriving African-American communities and a “perfect” graduate rate in recent years for the Terps’ men’s basketball program, with the help of Natasha Criss, who heads up the team’s academic support unit.

“She seemed like a very strong, hands-on person,” Robert Stone said. “That was a factor. Education means something to us. Everyone wants to say basketball player. We’re trying to grow a human being here.”

don.markus@baltsun.com

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