Damonte Dodd and family

Damonte Dodd, back right, is pictured in this Christmas Day photo with the family of Natasha Wright, standing in front of him, a special education math teacher at Queen Anne's County High who became like a surrogate mother to him. (family photo, Baltimore Sun / February 21, 2014)

COLLEGE PARK — There's an innocence about Maryland freshman basketball player Damonte Dodd. Everything seems new and promising to the 6-foot-10, 250-pound center, without boundaries or baggage or bravado.

Put Dodd into the cauldron of blue-faced students and blue-chip talent that is Duke's Cameron Indoor Stadium, and he reacts as if he's back on the Eastern Shore, just playing ball.

“He acted like he was at the park, not playing on national TV against Duke,” Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said a couple of days after Dodd helped the Terps nearly beat the then-No. 8 Blue Devils in Durham, N.C.

Said Dodd: “It was just another basketball game, when I'm home or away, I've always been told to go out there, mute out the crowd and play like you're [going] one-on-one.”

Dodd is still far from being a college basketball star, but he's finally starting to make an impact with the Terps because of one tangible skill — his ability to block and alter shots near, at or above the rim.

After playing in a crucial, seven-minute stretch of the second half in Maryland's 69-67 loss at Duke on Feb. 15 and 11 more minutes in Tuesday's 71-60 home win over Wake Forest, Dodd could be the first big man off the bench when the Terps take on top-ranked Syracuse at Comcast Center on Monday night.

Turgeon recalls the first time he saw Dodd play, just a little more than two years ago. Dodd was a senior at Queen Anne's County High in Centreville and was on the verge of signing with Morgan State.

“They were trying to get him [signed] early,” Turgeon said. “He was starting to blow up then. Georgetown had gotten in the week before us. When we offered him a scholarship, everybody was like, ‘Who's this guy?'”

After a year in prep school and three months spent mostly toward the end of the bench, Dodd has taken over the backup center role behind sophomore Charles Mitchell, who has started the past five games. Sophomore Shaquille Cleare, the highest-rated prospect in a 2012 recruiting class, has played just three minutes in each of the past two games.

“The reason Damonte has a chance is God-given,” Turgeon said. “He's 6-10, 6-11, long, 250 [pounds], he really runs well, great feet. But he's also a great kid. The fun thing about coaching him is that there's no ego. He wasn't one of those guys who was given shoes when he was in sixth grade and has had everyone telling him how great he was.”

Said Dodd: “Coming in I didn't have a lot of hype. It's easier, because I know what I have to do. It's not a lot of pressure just to go out there and do it.”

‘He was blessed'

The reason Dodd even has a chance at this level has a lot to do with a number of people on the Eastern Shore whom he now considers family. Dodd has limited contact with his biological mother, who still lives in the area, and no contact with his biological father.

Michael and Angela Anderson, whom Dodd considers his parents, have raised the 19-year-old nearly since birth. The Andersons, who have six children and stepchildren of their own, came into Dodd's life when his biological mother asked them to care for her son for a little while when he was just two days old.

Angela Anderson said she thought she was helping “a friend,” and figured that meant a couple of weeks.

“It didn't happen that way,” she said.

After a year, the Andersons began the process of becoming his legal guardians. Michael Anderson said he didn't let his new youngest child stray too much.

“I made sure that he was staying away from all the kids who were doing drugs and all that kind of stuff,” Michael Anderson said Saturday. “I kept my eye on him always. I had people around here who know me and watched him. I don't stand for a lot of junk. He didn't give me a lot of problems, but I stayed on him.”

Natasha Wright, who also would become an instrumental figure in Dodd's life, gives a lot of credit to the Andersons.

“Definitely he was blessed. They provided him with a roof over his head, took care of his needs, kept him in church every Sunday,” Wright said. “They did a great job. When you meet him for the first time, you'd never know he's been through some of the things he's been though.”