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Diamond Stone won't be handed the Terps' starting center job

Diamond Stone won't be handed the Terps' starting center job
Maryland center Diamond Stone works with strength and conditioning coach Kyle Tarp in July. Stone, a freshman, is considered a possible lottery pick in next year's NBA draft. (Daniel Kucin Jr. / BALTIMORE SUN)

Diamond Stone was a big man on the Maryland campus even before he arrived this summer. His signing last April prompted those who work in sports marketing for the school's athletic department to distribute ring pops to celebrate the 6-foot-10, 250-pound center's commitment to the Terps.

It's not clear how long the relationship will last, given that Stone is already being mentioned as a potential lottery pick in next year's NBA draft. One thing is certain, at least according to Maryland coach Mark Turgeon and Stone.

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"It's always been easy for him, so now it's hard every day," Turgeon said during his news conference Tuesday for the team's Media Day.

Said Stone, "I have to adjust from playing against guys that were 6-3 to 7-footers."

Though Stone was named last week as one of 20 preseason candidates on the watch list for this year's Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Award, he is nowhere near the top of the list of the country's or even the Big Ten Conference's best centers. Depending on the day, Stone could even be down the list of Maryland big men, behind junior Damonte Dodd and sophomore Michal Cekovsky.

"Freshman bigs have the furthest to come out of all players," Turgeon said. "The last two days, he's had great practices, his two best that he's had. So we're really proud of him. There's a lot of things he has to do better, and he knows that. But he's got a great feel for the game, a good understanding of the game. And and each day, he gets a little bit better at sustaining playing at a higher level for us."

Asked what his biggest challenge has been, Stone said, "Probably the competition level. Each and every day I have to play 100 percent in practice. It's different than playing in a little high school in Milwaukee. I know the Big Ten is physical, it's a grind. I'm getting ready every day, with [strength and conditioning coach] Kyle Tarp in the weight room, and practicing hard."

While Turgeon won't commit to who will be the team's starting center when the season opens Nov. 13 against Mount St. Mary's, Stone's grasp of what the Terps are doing defensively – in particular guarding ball screens – could put him behind Dodd, who after starting 31 games last season has made noticeable improvements to his game.

Dodd said it doesn't matter whether he starts or comes off the bench.

"We have such a deep team, you never know who can start," Dodd said. "At this point, no one really [has] a guaranteed spot. The only person who does is Melo Trimble at point guard. Other than that, everyone is really battling. Like I've said numerous times, if it's coming off the bench ... it doesn't matter to me because I'm going to bring the same intensity."

The dilemma for Turgeon is whether to allow Stone to play through his defensive mistakes, as the fifth-year coach has done with some players in the past, because Stone's offensive game is so advanced for a freshman.

"Obviously, with Diamond, he's terrific on the offensive end - great left hand, right hand around the basket, great feel, can shoot it. In high school, he shot some 3s; he can shoot it from 15 to 17 feet for us," Turgeon said. "It's the other end that he has to come the furthest, the defensive end, so he's really working hard on that, watching a lot of film and listening to a lot of guys and watching guys."

Said Stone: "I think my defense is going to be the big question for me. But I'm working on it every day in practice and I'm getting better at it each day."

Stone said that the tough love Turgeon has shown him so far will be good for his development.

"He's strict, and I need that," Stone said. "With my high school coach, I could do anything I wanted and probably get away with it. Coach Turgeon treats everyone the same. He doesn't show favoritism."

Stone also credits his new teammates for his comfort level at Maryland. While most of the team was together all summer, Stone's arrival was delayed because of a tryout for the U.S. under-18 team. Stone wound up going back home when his mother, Cynthia, underwent knee surgery.

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"I thank my teammates for accepting me, as a freshman, as a little immature freshman," Stone said.

Dodd, who spent a year after high school on the Eastern Shore at a military prep school in Virginia, said that Stone has been "impressive," particularly on the offensive end.

"He came scoring inside with his left hand and then I see him shooting a right-handed jumper, I'm thinking this kid is pretty talented," Dodd said. "Just how strong he is. He's still working with Kyle. Me and Checko [Cekovsky] talk about it all the time. This kid's good."

Stone said he doesn't pay attention to the attention, including being named to the list of the country's best centers.

"I just ignore that stuff," he said. "I'm here to win, to just play basketball. If I'm given any awards, I'm blessed, I'm thankful for that."

Dodd understands the pressure Stone will face given the expectations coming in. Based on what he's seen so far, Dodd believes Stone's signing deserved those ring pops.

"I think he'll be able to live up to the hype," Dodd said. "Even if it doesn't show the first couple of games, the speed is so much different than in high school, once he gets adjusted and gets comfortable, the sky's the limit for him."

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