After two years in Massachusetts, Sam Cassell Jr. is coming home for college.
Cassell, a Baltimore native and former St. Frances combo guard, committed to Maryland on Sunday. Cassell picked the Terps over Connecticut, Dayton, Florida State, Villanova, Washington and several others.
"The hometown school definitely won out," said Carlton "Bub" Carrington, Cassell's AAU coach with Nike Baltimore Elite. "I know Sam has had an affection for the University of Maryland. He has a good relationship with Coach Bino [Ranson]. I know that they had identified him in the summer time. And they have been very, very persistent. Coach [Mark] Turgeon identified him along with Bino. Once the head coach gets involved, it's hard to get away."
Cassell, who started his high school career at Towson Catholic, left town for Notre Dame Prep after his junior season with the Panthers. Over the course of his two seasons in Fitchburg, Mass., the 6-foot-4, 180-pound player went from mid-major prospect to highly coveted high-major talent. Carrington, who went to Dunbar with Cassell's father, said the future Terp always had high-major skills.
"He just didn't pass the eyeball test because he was so young," Carrington said. "His father was tall and lanky. ... As far as basketball IQ, he really has a high-major game. He had a mid-major body. But he was always high-major."
Notre Dame Prep coach Ryan Hurd said Cassell was frustrated after a senior season in which he averaged "seven or eight points" as a role player on a loaded post-grad team. But to Cassell's credit, he came back for a fifth year, was one of three Division I-bound guards in NDP's rotation, and scored more than 16 points per game for the prep-school powerhouse. Perhaps Cassell's finest moment this season was his 28-point outburst against Brewster (N.H.) Academy in the National Prep semifinals.
"He is a guard that can score and a guard that can distribute," Hurd said. "He can do it all. He's a ball-player above all else. We had a whole new staff this year of assistants. They were coming in, saying 'I can't believe the shots he takes.' I just laughed and said, 'wait until you see him do it in a game.' It's unbelievable. That kid can score lying on his back. It's uncanny how he puts the ball in the basket."
The biggest factor in Cassell's development has been his maturation physically and mentally. Hurd said the future Terp's transformation has been impressive.
"When he came here, he had Q-tips for arms, elbows that should have been biceps," Hurd said. "As he's filled out, he's willing to be a tougher kid defensively and put himself into the lane. Offensively, he's taken his game to another level."
Carrington said there are many similarities between Cassell and his father, who played 15 seasons in the NBA. Carrington expects the younger Cassell to play the 1 at Maryland and also be a consistent threat to score -- especially from beyond the arc.
"I would say that's genetic. Genes don't lie," Carrington said. "His father could always shoot the ball, and I think Sam [Jr.'s] long ball is better than his dad's at this point in time. I've been around his dad my whole life. His dad had a tremendous in-between game. Little Sam is the same, but his long ball is what separates him right now."
A three-star prospect according to ESPN.com, Cassell is the sixth member of Maryland's 2012 recruiting class. He joins combo guard Seth Allen, center Shaquille Cleare, power forward Damonte Dodd, small forward Jake Layman and power forward Charles Mitchell. Hurd thinks it's a good fit for Cassell.
"Who wouldn't want to play in a league like the ACC for a team that's close to home? Obviously, that's a big part to it," Hurd said. "He also had trust in [the coaching staff]. And it was important for his family to watch him play. He's been away a couple years. Those were some of the things that led to him becoming a Terrapin."