Before the Capital Classic's fourth and final all-star game tipped Saturday night, before the bands of fans hoping to catch a glimpse of Maryland's future crossed state lines to the high school best known for its "Remember the Titans" lineage, it was obvious one recruiting class' meet-and-greet would become a welcome party.
Sam Cassell Jr., after all, had committed to the Terps once before. The guard had been shacked up in a hotel with four other players who'd done the same in writing. Even the school listed under the "College" column in the exhibition's game program, auspiciously enough, read "Maryland" for the Baltimore native.
So when the public-address announcer inside T.C. Williams High School entreated fans to "welcome No. 1" — Cassell Jr. — "to the University of Maryland," the real drama of a night built around an inconsequential senior showcase was over and done with. The other Maryland-flavored highlights that followed — Damonte Dodd's blocking, Seth Allen's shooting, Shaquille Cleare's rebounding, Charles Mitchell's pirouetting — proved the real tease in the U.S. All-Stars' 105-93 win over the Capital All-Stars.
"Everybody got a sneak preview of next year," said Cassell Jr. (12 points), the son of longtime NBA player Sam Cassell, now an assistant coach with the Washington Wizards.
Cassell's second pledge to Maryland was a month in the making. After committing to coach Mark Turgeon in late March, Cassell Jr. reopened his recruitment just days later. He realized he needed a point of comparison, he said Saturday night, so he visited Pittsburgh and South Florida to see if either could make him feel like College Park had. They didn't.
"There was no place like home," Cassell Jr. said. "I love the state of Maryland."
A Rivals.com three-star prospect rated among the top 150 players in the nation, Cassell Jr. told his teammates-to-be just that Friday night, but he managed to bluff his way to the pre-game announcement. As Mitchell (seven points) and Cleare (14 points) proudly wore their postgraduate destinations across their chests throughout layup lines, Cassell Jr. donned a black T-shirt bearing the name of Notre Dame Prep, his Fitchburg, Mass., prep school.
"He hasn't gotten any gear yet because he hadn't made the decision, but you know we support Notre Dame Prep, as well," Cleare said. "That's our brother right now."
If so, it's certainly a family of diverse talents. Among the hundreds in attendance and two dozen in uniform, Cleare might've been the most imposing player on the premises. The muscle-bound, 6-foot-10 Houston export took up considerable space whenever he parked himself in the low post, snatching rebounds and feathering in putbacks.
Mitchell, the Georgia forward possessed of a shorter but even wider stature, authored one of the night's more memorable did-that-just-happen plays. After grabbing a miss in the first quarter, Mitchell went from underneath his basket to the other all by himself, sidestepping a Capital All-Stars guard with a behind-the-back dribble before slicing into the paint and banking in a shot in traffic.
Soon enough, others got in on the act. Dodd (six points), a Centreville native, stopped a three-on-one fast break with an emphatic swipe of his long right arm. Allen (10 points), playing an hour away from his Fredericksburg, Va., home, showed his touch from inside and outside the arc. Cassell Jr. scored seven straight points on an array of fadeaway and step-back jumpers.
It took until the fourth quarter for the entire five-man cast of future Terps to first assemble on the floor, with frontcourt mates Cleare, Dodd and Mitchell joining guards Allen and Cassell Jr, all beaming. Short-lived "Let's Go Maryland" chants broke out from corners of the partisan crowd, and Allen waved his hands skyward, asking for more.
Improbably, there could've been. Forward recruit Jake Layman, ESPN Boston's Mr. Basketball and one of the higher-rated pieces of Maryland's top-25 recruiting class, was set for the Capital Classic until a tonsillectomy kept him from joining his Terps brethren — at least, for now.
"[Patterson and U.S. All-Stars coach Harry Martin] can't just come here, with all our Maryland fans and all the people that's supporting us, and not put us on the court at the same time," Mitchell said, laughing. "If Jake Layman was here, we'd have six people on the court. I promise you. It'd be six on five."