Momentum building as top basketball prospects visit College Park

Team EZ Pass' Josh Jackson in action against Team Doo Be Doo in the Under Armour Elite 24 game. By some accounts the nation's No. 1 prospect from the Class of 2016, Jackson recently said he could envision playing collegiately at Maryland.
Team EZ Pass' Josh Jackson in action against Team Doo Be Doo in the Under Armour Elite 24 game. By some accounts the nation's No. 1 prospect from the Class of 2016, Jackson recently said he could envision playing collegiately at Maryland. (Gregory Payan / Associated Press)

During a normally quiet time for college basketball and with a season of outsized expectations still three months away, the Maryland men's team has had some high-profile visitors — including the high school senior many consider the top recruit in the country.

If the presence of Josh Jackson, a 6-foot-7 guard from Detroit, last week in College Park launched more than a few hopeful tweets, the fact that he later told a reporter in New York that he could "definitely envision" himself playing for the Terps made him a trending topic among Maryland fans.


Three other prospects — 6-9 senior forward Taurean Thompson of Jersey City, N.J.; 6-8 senior forward Brachen Hazen of Columbia City, Ind.; and 6-8 junior power forward Billy Preston of Redondo Beach, Calif. — followed Jackson with their own unofficial visits. None was met with the same hysteria, but they were all part of the same storyline: the continued rejuvenation of a Terps program that hasn't been a consistent presence nationally in more than a decade.

The ascent has been startling. In the past 17 months, Maryland has gone from missing the NCAA tournament for the fifth straight season to earning a No. 1 preseason ranking by ESPN and Lindy's Sports.


"I think the fact that you see Maryland No. 1 in the preseason rankings and, at worst, top three or top five … having their name thrown about as one of the best teams in the country gets kids excited," said Jeff Borzello, an ESPN recruiting analyst. "They obviously want to go play for a winning program that has momentum and is sort of like the 'in' program."

That was certainly part of Kevin Huerter's decision to set up an official visit to Maryland next month.

Tom Huerter said his son, ranked No. 72 overall in the Class of 2016 by ESPN, would not have considered the Terps so seriously when they started recruiting him in March had Mark Turgeon's team not made such a jump in its first season in the Big Ten Conference. Maryland is considered the favorite to land Huerter, a 6-5 shooting guard from Clifton Park, N.Y., who also will visit Notre Dame, Michigan and Villanova.

"If Maryland was still 17-15 with some very good players and they weren't quite getting it done, then I'm sure they would be considered, because it's a great school and a great conference. But it may not be one of the schools Kevin would be considering [after] narrowing his list down to final schools," said the elder Huerter, who played from 1987 to 1991 at Siena, where he was a teammate of Terps forward Jake Layman's uncle, Steve McCoy.

"Success breeds success, and he just came off winning a state championship, so he wants to go to a program that's going to help him continue to play for a championship-level team. There's no question that's important. He's got a lot of schools that are in the middle of the pack in the ACC and the Big Ten, Big East that he's not going to see on official visits."

Huerter is scheduled to take an official visit to College Park on Sept. 4, the same weekend as Wenyen Gabriel, a 6-9 forward from South Sudan who plays at a prep school in Wilbraham, Mass. Unlike Huerter, the Terps have been recruiting Gabriel since last summer. But after Gabriel's stock soared this summer — 247Sports.com rates him the No. 18 player nationally — they have stiff competition from Duke and Kentucky.

Brandon Robinson, a four-star 6-5 guard from Douglasville, Ga., also is expected to take an official visit to Maryland on Sept. 12.

NCAA rules prohibit Turgeon from commenting on unsigned recruits.

"Recruiting is very challenging. You identify the players and work as hard as you can to look for the right fit for your program," he said Monday in a statement.

For now, the only oral commitment Turgeon has received in the Class of 2016 is from four-star Anthony Cowan Jr., a 5-11 point guard from Bowie whose stock improved after a strong summer.

"Anytime you can get elite kids on campus, it means that your recruiting has taken a step in the right direction. There's a lot of schools that can't even get those guys on campus," said Evan Daniels, national recruiting analyst for Scout.com. "Maryland is not only getting guys on campus, they're getting guys like them to commit, a la Diamond Stone."

Stone's commitment in late March, days after the end of Maryland's 28-7 turnaround season, was a "game-changer," according to a recent anonymous poll of coaches taken by CBS Sports. Stone is the first potential one-and-done player to play for an AAU team sponsored by Under Armour. Jackson and Huerter do as well. Maryland is Under Armour's flagship school.


A 6-10, 250-pound center from Milwaukee, Stone had been considered one of the country's most promising big men since his freshman year and might have been the Terps' biggest recruiting coup since Lefty Driesell beat out legendary North Carolina coach Dean Smith for Tom McMillen in 1970.

In landing Stone, Turgeon and assistant coach Bino Ranson, who had been recruiting Stone for more than three years, held off in-state Wisconsin and then-reigning champion Connecticut. The Terps also further distanced themselves from last summer's exodus, when five players left the program and Turgeon's future at Maryland seemed uncertain.

"Obviously, Mark Turgeon was on the hot seat. There was turmoil in the program. Would he even survive another year?" Borzello said. "And now, preseason top five, they're going to have to keep the momentum going. Even if they make the Final Four this year and they don't capitalize on the recruiting trail, they're going to go back to being a tier below or where they've been in the past."

That seems unlikely. Four-star recruit Myles Douglas, a 6-6 forward from Baltimore who transferred this summer from Friends to Washington Catholic Athletic Conference power Paul VI (Va.) for his junior year, has been to College Park often. Quade Green, a four-star junior point guard from Philadelphia, and rising-star forward Jalen Smith (Mount Saint Joseph), rated a five-star recruit in the Class of 2018 by ESPN, also have taken unofficial visits to Maryland.

"They're trying to take advantage of this positive publicity with even the younger classes," Borzello said of Turgeon and his staff. "They had 2017 kids on campus, 2018 kids on campus. They're trying to get a solid base of talent moving forward. I think getting Diamond Stone was huge. It showed that they can get elite five-star kids outside the region, away from the East Coast. They can dip into Big Ten country and get players."

Former Terps star Len Elmore, who was part of the first Maryland revival under Driesell, said he senses a similar attitude among the current group of recruits to what his contemporaries had when they were in high school.


"So many of these guys, whether they have intentions or not of coming to Maryland — most of these guys know where they want to go if you're one of these top-25 guys that everyone and their brother is after — but being a top program now, everyone wants to identify with that," said Elmore, an ESPN college basketball analyst. "Every top recruit wants to say, 'I visited Maryland. I was there.' Especially if they're No. 1."

Class of 2016 Commits

Anthony Cowan Jr., 6-0 point guard, St. John's High, Washington. Was one of the top guards this summer at the Under-Armour All-America camp in Charlotte, N.C., where he finished fourth in scoring (20 points) and second in assists (7.2). Four-star prospect should be a Top 100 prospect by fall.

Official Visits

Kevin Huerter, 6-5 shooting guard, Shenendehowa High, Clifton Park, N.Y. Initially committed to Syracuse, but opened up search after Jim Boeheim's program was sanctioned by NCAA. Will visit College Park first weekend of September and also has trips planned to Villanova, Michigan and Notre Dame.

Wenyen Gabriel, 6-9 forward, Wilbraham & Monson Academy, Wilbraham, Mass. Terps were one of the higher-profile programs interested until this spring, when he also received offers from Duke and Kentucky. Has visit scheduled the same weekend as Huerter, but will also visit Lexington and Durham.

Brandon Robinson, 6-5 combo guard, Douglas County High, Douglasville, Ga. Though the Terps are not one of the favorites, a visit has been scheduled a week after Huerter and Gabriel. Is rated slightly ahead of Huerter by most recruiting analysts.

Unofficial Visits

Josh Jackson, 6-7 small forward, Prolific Prep, Napa, Calif. Spent first two years of high school in native Detroit. Considered the top high school player in the country by a number of recruiting services. Also considering visits to Kansas, Michigan State, Arizona and UCLA.

Taurean Thompson, 6-9 forward, St. Anthony's High, Jersey City, N.J. Four-star prospect who has quickly become one of Maryland's top big man targets. Rib injury kept him out of most of summer competition.

Brachen Hazen, 6-8 forward, Columbia City High, Columbia City, Ind. One of the few three-star recruits the Terps are involved with visited the campus on Thursday.

2017 Unofficial Visits

Billy Preston, 6-9 power forward, Prime Prep, Dallas. Currently ranked 20th in his class by ESPN.com. Godmother Tamicha Kirby, the life partner of Preston's mother, played college basketball at Iowa.

Myles Douglas, 6-6 forward, Paul VI, Arlington, Va. Switching from Friends School in Baltimore to rising Washington Catholic Athletic Conference power when family moved this summer. Terps are considered the front runner for a player ranked 78th nationally by 24/7 Sports.

Quade Green, 5-11 point guard, Neumann Goretti, Philadelphia. Though it's not clear how many really think the 155-pound rising junior is "Little AI," as his Twitter name suggests, he is ranked 43rd out of 60 in ESPN's 2017 rating. Not sure how Cowan's commitment impacts Green.

2018 Unofficial Visits

Jalen Smith, 6-8 forward, Mount St. Joseph, Baltimore. Still very early in the process for a player ranked 14th in the top 25 for his class by ESPN. Already considered a five-star recruit, Smith's visit to College Park in June went well according to his AAU coach.

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