ST. THOMAS, Virgin Islands -- Charles Mitchell is admittedly a little biased when it comes to Maryland teammate Shaquille Cleare, but the sophomore forward who seems to be ready every game insists that Terps fans have yet to see the real Shaq, who has yet to look like a player that can be a significant contributor.
“He’s a great low-post scorer,” Mitchell said of Cleare earlier this week. “Him scoring in the low post like he should be this season, he will be during the season, will open up more on the wing for Jake [Layman], Evan [Smotrycz], Dez [Wells] and all of them. He’s great down low, he’s got to let the world see it for themselves.”
Will the Paradise Jam, which begins for Maryland (1-2) here this afternoon against Marist (0-4), be the coming out party for Cleare? Or will the 6-9, 265-pound center who came to College Park as the top-rated prospect in Mark Turgeon’s first recruiting class and played sparingly behind Alex Len as a freshman continue to struggle?
In a little more than 20 minutes off the bench, Mitchell has scored in double-digits in each game and his 12.3 points a game is fourth behind Layman (15.7), Wells (13.3) and Smotrycz (13.3). Mitchell also leads the Terps in rebounding with 7.3 a game.
Cleare is averaging just 2.3 points and 2.0 rebounds a game in a little more than 17.3 minutes.
Part of the issue for Cleare is getting into any kind of rhythm. Cleare -- who has started each of Maryland's three games -- has been in foul trouble in the past two, picking up two fouls in a little over four minutes against Abilene Christian and then getting his second foul five seconds into the second half against Oregon State in Sunday’s 90-83 loss.
Many close to Cleare, including Mitchell, believe that he is pressing to live up to the hype that followed him to Maryland as a top-30 player nationally. Cleare is the most thoughtful Terp when it comes to talking with reporters, but it seems as if he thinks too much on the court.
In many ways, Mitchell is Cleare's polar opposite in terms of personality and playing style.
“I’m the type of player, I bring the energy, if we’re down or up, I'm still smiling, confident, high-fiving, just to bring that whole camaraderie back that whole team-building [to show] we’re all together," Mitchell said. "Shaq’s the same way, he’s got to loosen up a little bit and just play his game. If he goes back to playing Shaquille Cleare’s game, he’s going to be a great player.”
If Cleare played more like Mitchell, the Terps would not have started the season so slowly and Turgeon would not have to constantly answer questions about what’s wrong with Shaq. Turgeon keeps insisting that Cleare is a different player in practice. Turgeon wouldn’t go that far after practice Tuesday in College Park.
“I’m not going to say Shaq’s practicing well, because everytime I say that ... I’m tired of saying we practiced well, but our guys are getting better,” Turgeon said.