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Damonte Dodd begins to show signs of becoming defensive force for Maryland

COLLEGE PARK — Damonte Dodd knows exactly what his role is going to be for the Maryland men's basketball team this season.

"Just blocking shots and rebounding," the 6-foot-11 sophomore center from Centreville (Queen Anne's County) said Wednesday. "I get better at rebounding, but if I keep blocking shots, I'll be fine."

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Dodd had a career-high four blocks in Monday's 93-57 win over Central Connecticut State, to go along with seven points, four rebounds and an assist in 15 minutes. He had two blocks in the season-opening win over Wagner on Friday, with eight rebounds and six points in 15 minutes.

In both games this season, Dodd overcame slow starts with a more noticeable second half.

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"When I go in the locker room after the first half, I think about what I can do better," Dodd said Wednesday. "I know I can rebound better and just be more aggressive going for ball rebounding. I take all that in consideration."

Playing behind Shaquille Cleare and Charles Mitchell as a freshman last season, Dodd's opportunity came when both transferred.

Dodd said he spent the summer watching "a lot of film of a lot of games and what I did wrong." He also played in practice and pickup games against 7-foot freshman Michal Cekovsky. They are sharing the position, with a little help from 6-8 senior Jon Graham.

Cekovsky, who has turned out to be a better defensive player than Maryland coach Mark Turgeon anticipated, has added five blocks in his first two games. He only has five rebounds in 32 minutes, a number that will have to increase for the Terps to do well in the Big Ten.

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"I do think as games move on and things move on, Checko and Damonte are getting better on the defensive end," Turgeon said. "Jon's a guy who has experience, Jon communicates well. He's further along that way, guarding screens the right way. Checko and Damonte have done a nice job of protecting the rim. They're coming. It's like a three-headed monster right now. They can all do well for us."

Unlike last season, when Dodd followed up spurts of productivity in road games at North Carolina State and Duke with long stretches of inactivity, Turgeon is counting on Dodd to play a much bigger role this season. Prior to the start of preseason practice, Turgeon called Dodd "our most improved" player.

Asked what the biggest difference has been for him, Dodd said, "just more confidence. Just knowing that I'm going to get on the court more, and I know where I'm supposed to be. Now I can have a huge impact."

Because of his length and jumping ability, that impact will undoubtedly come as a shotblocker, something the Terps desperately lacked last season after Alex Len left for the NBA.

"I know if I'm altering shots, I know I'm helping the team," said Dodd, who currently ranks third in the Big Ten in blocks. "It always feels great just to block a couple of shots."

Asked Wednesday where Dodd has shown the most improvement and where he needs to improve the most, Turgeon had an interesting answer: "I think defensively and just kind of understanding, he's taken probably the biggest step, and probably defensively and understanding, that's where he needs to take the biggest step."

Pointing to the way Dodd tried to come out and help on Central Connecticut guard Matt Mobley, whose 24 points kept the Blue Devils in the game late in the first half, Turgeon noted that Dodd played it differently on two straight possessions.

"He [Dodd] doesn't show and th kid wipes a 3 on us. Next time down, he [Dodd] stays and does it the way he's supposed to guard it," Turgeon recalled. "Just the consistency of seeing those things. It wasn't just him, a lot of guys were like that with Mobley the other night."

Given Dodd's length and timing for blocking shots, "if he can always be in the right spot, that makes us a better defensive team," Turgeon said.

don.markus@baltsun.com
twitter.com/sportsprof56

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