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Shaquille Cleare 'fell in love with Maryland'

For Shaquille Cleare, there was always something about Maryland he just couldn't shake.

The 6-foot-9, 285-pound center from The Village School in Houston had strong feelings about the Terps from the start, even with an unexpected coaching change in the midst of the recruiting process.

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"He was really, really intrigued by Coach [Gary] Williams. That's what got it started," said Village School coach Don Harvey. "When Coach Williams left, Shaq was a little down about that. So we had to get him back up. The next school on his list was [Texas] A&M, and then [Mark] Turgeon ended up going to Maryland, so that made it even more [attractive]. … I think he fell in love with Maryland."

On Thursday morning, Cleare made it official with Maryland, committing to the Terps over offers from Arizona, Baylor, Miami, South Florida, Texas and Texas A&M. A four-star prospect and the No. 29 prospect nationally according to Rivals.com, Cleare joins Fredericksburg (Va.) Christian guard Seth Allen as part of Maryland's 2012 recruiting class. Cleare decided to become Turgeon's second recruit shortly after returning to Texas from a trip visiting his family in their native Bahamas.

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"[Turgeon] loves him," Harvey said. "He thinks he's a great low-post player. He runs the floor well and thinks Shaq can shoot the jumper. He has a lot of respect for Shaq. He'll put him in a good spot to play well there. It's a great place for Shaq."Cleare came to the United States from the Bahamas as a plus-sized ninth-grader. Then a 6-foot-7, 255-pound post player, Cleare was a raw talent in need of coaching, conditioning and skill development.

"My impression was that he had a lot of upside," Harvey recalled. "He wasn't a great player at that time. I don't even think he was Top 500 as far as his ranking. We had a load of work to do to get him where he is right now. He's got a great motor right now. He has just totally progressed over the years. He has turned into a great player."

A Bahamian boys program was responsible for Cleare settling in Houston, but his first living situation in the U.S. didn't last long. Before Christmas that first year, Cleare left the program and was looking for a place to live. He quickly turned to his coach.

"He asked me at that time, could he move in with me. [I said], 'Absolutely not,'" Harvey said with a laugh. "But as time went on, we got to know him and fell in love with him. We brought him over, went to church [and] had dinner one weekend, three years ago. He never left after that."

Cleare's gradual development as a post prospect culminated this spring and summer with the Under Armour-sponsored Houston Defenders on the AAU circuit. He quickly emerged as a highly coveted national recruit – and essentially a must-get for Maryland. Van Coleman, publisher of Hot100Hoops.com, watched Cleare "15 or 20 times" over the past few months, and rated the future Terp as the No. 35 prospect in the country and one of the "top three or four low-block scorers" in the 2012 class.

"He has tremendous hands, surprisingly quick feet and bounce, which is one thing with his body that you don't necessarily expect," Coleman said. "A lot about him reminds me of [Boston Celtics power forward] Glen Davis, Big Baby, in that he has surprising quickness, he can rebound and he really knows how to score. He can step out and hit the 12-to-15 foot jump shot."

Coleman thinks Cleare would be even more effective if he lost 15 or 20 pounds – a definite possibility in a college strength-and-conditioning program. Earning a McDonald's All-American Game nomination isn't out of the realm of possibility "if he really starts strong this season." After high school, Coleman expects big things out of Cleare in College Park.

"I wouldn't be surprised if he starts from Day One," Coleman said. "He needs to work on his lateral quickness as a defender, but he uses his size well to get people off the block. I think from Day One, he's a guy that comes in, starts, and it wouldn't surprise me a bit if he becomes the go-to guy for them on the interior."

James Padgett and Ashton Pankey will be the only scholarship post players on Maryland's 2012 roster, making Cleare a likely candidate for the Terps' starting center spot as a freshman.

"That's one of the reasons why he chose to go ahead and get it done," Harvey said. "He's looking to start. He's a big-time player. That's part of the reason, and hopefully a lot of guys will follow him there."

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