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Maryland basketball must contend with 'The Dauminator'

South Dakota State's Mike Daum is averaging 15.2 points per game heading into Friday's matchup with Maryland.

The family tradition began in a small town in Central Oregon, where Dick Hoppes taught his three daughters how to play basketball. Though the family lived on a farm, there was also a hoop attached to the chicken coop where Hoppes, a county judge, spent hours playing with his girls.

Michele Hoppes, the youngest, grew up to be a 6-foot-1 center good enough to play — and later star — at the University of Wyoming, where she graduated in 1987 as the school's all-time leading scorer and rebounder. It was where she also met her future husband, Mitch Daum, a tight end good enough to play a year in the NFL with the Houston Oilers.

When they got married and returned to Daum's hometown of Kimball, Neb., Michele got a job teaching and coaching girls basketball at the local high school. A few years after they had their first child, a son named Mike, she would take him to the gym and teach him how to shoot.

"It was just kind of a part of our life, especially in the winter in Kimball, Nebraska, there's not a lot to do," Michele Daum said Tuesday. "When he was in the second grade, we would go in and create different games and do goofy stuff just to keep busy."

From second grade through high school she and her son would lie down in the gym, a few feet apart, and practice their shooting motion by flipping the ball back and forth. There was also a game they called "1-2-3 Shoot," where they'd see who could bury jump shots first.

"It's all in the wrists," Michelle Daum would say to her son.

Those lessons have paid off for Daum, now a 6-9, 235-pound redshirt freshman center at South Dakota State, seeded 12th in the NCAA Tournament's South Region and set to face fifth-seeded and No. 18 Maryland (25-8) Friday afternoon in in Spokane, Wash.

"This is something that I obviously dreamed about ever since I was a little kid," Daum said Tuesday. "Just to be able to experience all this stuff, the [Summit] Conference tournament and the NCAA tournament as a freshman, it's something special. It makes basketball even more fun."

Though he has averaged only a little over 20 minutes per game, Daum leads the Jackrabbits (26-7) in scoring (15.2), shooting 56 percent from the field (167-for-298), 45 percent on 3-point shots (27-for-60) and a team-best 82 percent from the foul line (141-for-172).

After Daum played a limited role early this season because of his defense, longtime South Dakota State coach Scott Nagy said it was hard to keep Daum on the bench because of his offense.

"The one thing he struggled with was defense, and that's really important to me," Nagy said Monday. "He was playing like 12 minutes a game and I couldn't believe the points he was scoring. He was so efficient. The guy's just a natural scorer, it just comes so easy to him."

Primarily an outside shooter who once hit a dozen 3- point shots in an AAU game in Las Vegas, Daum "is really developing his post game," his coach said.

"Before you could have put a guard on him and he would have struggled to score," Nagy said, "but now he's really hard to guard."

In watching tape of South Dakota State, Maryland coach Mark Turgeon has figured that out.

"He's just a good player, he's a good low-post player, he can step out and shoot 3s when he has to," Turgeon said Tuesday after practice in College Park. "He's got a toughness to him, he's a smart player. He's good. My freshman's pretty good, too. It'll be a pretty good matchup."

In many ways, Daum is the antithesis of Maryland center Diamond Stone. Coming out of a high school that had just 600 students in grades six through 12, playing for an AAU program in Fort Collins, Col., Daum didn't attract much attention from Division I schools until that AAU tournament.

"Probably more than any other, it's hard to get a gauge on big guys in terms of how they're going to develop," Nagy said. "There are some kids you think who are going to be unbelievable and they're not, and there are others you have no idea and they turn out to be phenomenal."

Unlike Stone, perhaps the most coveted high school recruit to sign with the Terps since Tom McMillan, there was not any buzz about Daum when he arrived in Brookings, S.D.

"I was a real under-the-radar player, people could scout me up, but they never really saw my true abilities until we'd play against them," Daum said. "Like at the start of this year, too, I was a real under-the-radar player, not many people knew about me. It was kind of an advantage for me."

Nagy missed the AAU game where Daum torched a Florida team led by Tacko Fall, now a 7-6, 300-pound freshman at the University of Central Florida.

"I had been there the day before when he hit four, so I knew he could shoot it," Nagy recalled. "Once he hit the 12 3s, I said to one of my assistants, 'Maybe we should offer him.'"

Though Nagy has had some pretty good players in his 21 seasons at South Dakota State, Daum might turn out to be the best.

"When we were recruiting Mike, we thought he was going to be a good player," Nagy said. "He had some limitations in terms of athletic ability. He's not a super explosive guy. ...

"He's a better jumper than people think. But tremendous skills, he can handle [the ball], but he really shoots it."

Asked if he thought he would have the kind of season he had, Daum said, "Honestly, no."

"Coming out of my redshirt year, I thought I'd do whatever coach Nagy says, do anything to help this team win," Daum said. "The kind of year I'm having is like icing on the cake for me."

Then there's the matter of Daum's nickname, "The Dauminator." It was something that his parents pegged him with when he was in grade school when, because of his size and athletic ability, he could take over his youth basketball and football games.

"He had a great arm, he was a great quarterback, but he's just not built like a football player," his mother said. "When he got into junior high and high school, I said to Mitch, 'He's going to get busted up on the football field. We both saw that."

In this case, Daum's mother knew best.

There are still times, especially when he's about to shoot a free throw, that Daum can hear his mom's voice in his head, giving him four words of advice: "She always says, 'Don't think, just shoot,'"

don.markus@baltsun.com

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