Cautious optimism mixed with intrigue might be the best way to describe Dale Becraft's first impression of Damonte Dodd.
Becraft, a former Chesapeake College coach and Washington College assistant, had taken the boys basketball job at Queen Anne's County High in Centreville in 2007. The following fall he was introduced to Dodd, then a raw, gangly freshman with undeniable college potential.
"He was about 6-4, all elbows, knees and feet," Becraft recalled. "He had never been too uncoordinated, but he hadn't caught up with his body. I don't think when he first started this whole process that he had any idea the work it was going to take to get where I thought he could be. It's been quite a journey over the past four years."
That journey reached its off-the-court pinnacle Tuesday night, when Dodd – now a 6-foot-9, 240-pound power forward – accepted a scholarship offer from Maryland. The Queen Anne's senior becomes the Terps' fourth commitment of the 2012 recruiting class, joining Fredericksburg, Va., combo guard Seth Allen, Houston center Shaquille Cleare and Wrentham, Mass., small forward Jake Layman.
"It feels great to be a part of the Maryland Terps," said Dodd, who has been to two Terps games at Comcast Center, including Tuesday night's win over Miami. "I knew they were looking at me, but I was just waiting to see how things played out. When they offered me, it was pretty exciting and I verbally committed."
Dodd's path from Eastern Shore high school hoops to the ACC – improbable as it may seem – was years in the making, according to Becraft. Every year, Dodd has "taken steps forward" for the Lions. The most dramatic leap came between junior and senior year, when Dodd added "20-to-25 pounds of muscle" to his previously lanky frame. The future Terp worked with a personal trainer during the offseason and improved his conditioning and strength dramatically. An improved physique combined with his intrinsic skills has led to Dodd becoming a dominant high school player.
"He runs the floor extremely well," Becraft said. "He's got tremendous timing as far as altering and blocking shots. He rebounds well and has learned how to play high, which is a big thing, You see a lot of young big guys that negate their height by playing low, but he's learned to play high. He needs to work on his go-to moves. Most of his shots are throwing the ball down through the bucket. That's not a very difficult shot, when you're dunking all the time.
"He needs a couple good moves. Just a jump hook and an up-and-under, jump step. He also needs to understand defensive concepts a little bit better, like most high school kids do. There's a lot of understanding when it comes to positioning off the ball and using his body to throw people off the ball. He hasn't had to do that playing against guys that aren't his size. He hasn't been worried too much about all that."
From a national – and non-Eastern Shore – perspective, Dodd is the quintessential under-the-radar prospect. He played some summer ball with a pair of local AAU teams in the Delmarva Lakers and Annapolis Advantage, neither of which traveled nationally. But despite his low profile, several mid- and low-majors had discovered him and made offers, including Coppin State, Delaware, Delaware State, Morgan State, Niagara, Radford and Rider. Dayton and Georgetown, meanwhile, had just recently started pursuing the unrated big man. Dodd said he didn't realize he could be a potential high-major player until this year.
"When I started scoring at will and playing well, I learned that I could take over," Dodd said. "That's when I understood I could play high DI. I think going forward it'll be a lot of work, but I'm ready to work hard."
Becraft said the Terps got involved thanks to a tip from a local Maryland alumnus to the coaching staff. Scott Spinelli, about "a month-and-a-half ago," called Becraft to set up a visit. The Terps assistant scouted Dodd on two separate occasions. Mark Turgeon visited next, spending two-and-a-half hours in practice watching Dodd, in addition to viewing "a lot of film. He was very intrigued with Damonte's upside. … Once Damonte had met with Mark and Scott, he was sold on Maryland."
"I always liked their system and their entire program," Dodd said. "I was kind of brought up on Maryland. My parents were Maryland Terps fans. I had no choice but to be a fan."
Dodd currently averages 24 points, 16 rebounds and six blocks for the 18-4 Lions, the top-seeded team in the Class 2A District VIII playoffs. Queen Anne's is off this week, and will face the winner of Wicomico and North Caroline on Tuesday. Becraft said his squad has "as good a shot as anybody" at making it all the way to Comcast Center for the state semifinals, potentially giving Dodd a chance to play on his future homecourt.
Dodd said he's not sure what role he'll play for the Terps next season. While Becraft had heard some chatter that Maryland wanted Dodd to do a prep year or redshirt, that doesn't necessarily seem to be the case.
"Right now, they're still kind of open-ended. They definitely want him in next year," Becraft said. "There was some talk about maybe a prep year and possibly a redshirt. That truly hasn't been decided yet. There's not a whole lot of pressure for him to come in and contribute a whole lot right away. Down the road, they basically see him as a power forward kind of a guy – a 4 who can play both in and out, face the bucket and play with his back to the bucket. They're looking at that right now, keeping it open. Next year it's still to be decided."
Dodd said the reaction around school to his commitment has been "surprising." The Eastern Shore, he said, is known much more for its lacrosse rather than its basketball. His commitment to the Terps is "pretty huge. … Hopefully I do what I can do to help them win a championship."
Becraft, meanwhile, is happy for his star player. While there is work to be done before Dodd suits up for the Terps, the Queen Anne's coach thinks he's on the right track.
"He has a tremendous opportunity there," he said. "He's not necessarily star-struck, but he's kind of taking it all in. He knows what's in front of him. He knows the work is coming. He's willing to put in the work to get there."