After a month of unabated good news, Maryland men's basketball coach Mark Turgeon finally got a jolt of reality Thursday when highly sought Drexel transfer Damion Lee (Calvert Hall) announced that he was going to Louisville.
Lee informed Evan Daniels, national recruiting director for Scout.com of his decision, which came a couple of days after the 6-foot-6 shooting guard visited with Louisville coach Rick Pitino, assistant coach Kenny Johnson and several players, including fellow graduate transfer Trey Lewis.
"I'm so excited," Lee told Scout. "When I was there, I got in the gym with Trey. He's a phenomenal player and a phenomenal person. He comes from a grounded family. The mindset of the team is of an underdog. We may be ranked, but it's a blue-collar city and a blue-collar team. We just roll up our sleeves and just get things done."
In picking the Cardinals over Arizona, which he visited last weekend, as well as Gonzaga, Maryland and Marquette, Lee said that he saw an opportunity for playing time as well as taking on a leadership role for a team that lost several upperclassmen.
"Of course the basketball stuff speaks for itself," Lee told Scout about Louisville. "Losing [Terry] Rozier, [Wayne] Blackshear and just the opening there at the two spot, plus they got some good young guys coming. Trey Lewis is coming in and Quentin Snider is there already.
"The guards are reset and the bigs they have are guys that are 6-9, 6-10 and 7-foot and that's just speaking from a basketball standpoint. They run pro sets with a Hall of Fame coach. After basketball there's a community. Louisville is the pro team there. When I was there it was amazing."
It is not clear if Turgeon will continue to recruit another graduate transfer or go with a combination of Dion Wiley, Jared Nickens and transfer Jaylen Brantley to play alongside all-Big Ten point guard Melo Trimble in the backcourt. All three will be sophomores with three years of eligibility remaining.
Trimble announced a few weeks after the Terps finished a 28-7 season with a Round of 32 loss to West Virginia in the NCAA tournament -- Maryland's first NCAA tournament appearance in five years -- that he was returning for his sophomore year. His decision came shortly after five-star prospect Diamond Stone committed to Maryland. Junior forward Jake Layman, a third-team all-Big selection by the media last season, also announced he was returning to College Park.
Sterling Smith, a 6-2 guard who is transferring from Coppin State, visited Louisville after Lee. Smith said in an interview Wednesday night that Maryland contacted Emeka Chiazor, a former Coppin State assistant who is helping him with the search, but that he was going to choose between Pittsburgh, Rutgers and Wake Forest. Smith knew he was not Louisville's top choice at shooting guard.
In the Scout.com interview, Lee said that he bonded with Pitino.
"Off the court he's charismatic and joking," Lee said of Pitino. "I can tell that he really cares about his guys. If it's one thing I can say about him it's that he's caring and loving. He shows that. If it's anyone of his guys he's always going to look after them and care for him."
Lee knew Johnson, who is in his first season at Louisville after working at Indiana and Towson. Lee played for D.C. Assault, where he was a couple of years ahead of Trimble, while Johnson worked for Triple Threat (now Team Takeover).
"I speak highly of Kenny and I know him well," he added. "Coach Pitino wanted Kenny to work on some things. He basically lost another human [in terms of weight loss]. That's just how much influence coach Pitino has. If he tells you what to do and you do it, you'll be successful."