There haven’t been too many memorable players taller than 7 feet to wear a Maryland basketball uniform.
Mark Turgeon, who watched 7-1 Alex Len become the No. 5 pick in the 2013 NBA draft, is hoping that Chol Marial will be one of them.
Marial, a 7-2, 230-pound center from South Sudan who played last season for Compass Prep in Chandler, Ariz., announced Monday via Instagram that he is signing with Maryland after visiting the campus last month.
Marial will take the last scholarship available, the one belonging to sophomore center Bruno Fernando, who announced last week that he is forgoing the last two years of his college eligibility to play in the NBA. Marial credited Fernando’s improvement last season as a reason why he chose Maryland.
“Bruno Fernando and I have similar backgrounds and I saw how much he improved as a player at Maryland,” Marial said in the statement. “I’m looking forward to getting better every day and playing for Terp Nation.”
Considered a five-star prospect as a sophomore in high school, Marial saw his ranking drop precipitously because of injuries and eligibility questions. He is currently a three-star recruit ranked 132nd in the country, according to the 247 Sports Composite rankings. ESPN lists Marial as a four-star recruit ranked No. 58 overall.
"I've watched Chol the last three years and I can't say enough about him as both a person and a basketball player," Turgeon said in a statement. "One of the top players in his class when healthy, Chol's tremendous size and length make him an excellent rim protector.”
Last month, Compass Prep coach Pete Kaffey called Marial, who has a 7-11 wingspan, a “generational” defender. Marial is expected to play immediately, and if he can stay healthy, could wind up playing a significant role next season — in particular on defense. Kaffey said that Marial, who averaged more than eight blocks a game, “can also stretch the floor” with his 3-point shooting.
Kaffey credited Turgeon and former assistant coach Kevin Broadus, who was introduced Monday as Morgan State’s head coach, for helping persuade Marial to pick the Terps over Arizona State, which he visited over the weekend.
“I wanted to know why [he chose Maryland] and he said Mark and his crew did an amazing job recruiting him and showing him they care about him and Maryland was the spot for him,” Kaffey said Monday. “They really made him a priority. That’s one thing he really liked.”
Marial has moved around a lot since coming to the United States as a middle-schooler in 2014. He started high school in Connecticut before going to Florida. He eventually found his way to IMG Academy, a prep school in Bradenton, Fla., that Fernando and current Terp Eric Ayala each spent a year at. Marial didn’t play there because of injuries and wound up at Compass Prep.
“It has been a long journey, and I am blessed to have my health and athleticism,” Marial said in the Instagram post.
The signing of Marial gave the Terps a boost in the national recruiting rankings. After signing the No. 1 class in the Big Ten last season and the No. 7 class in the country, Maryland is currently 26th overall, third in the Big Ten behind Ohio State (No. 12) and Michigan State (No. 23).
Marial will join twin power forwards Makhi and Makhel Mitchell, both of whom are listed at 6-9, 230 pounds, in helping the Terps overcome the loss of Fernando. Makhi Mitchell is a four-star prospect and Makhel is a three-star.
Maryland recently signed Hakim Hart Jr., a 6-7 shooting guard from Philadelphia and a two-star prospect who committed after decommitting from Saint Joseph’s (Pa.) following the firing of longtime coach Phil Martelli. Interest in Hart soared after he was named the MVP of the Philadelphia Catholic League.
The other player in the recruiting class is Donta Scott, a 6-7 forward from Philadelphia who is also a three-star prospect, according to 247 Sports. (ESPN has Scott listed as a four-star prospect ranked No. 82 in the country, while Rivals has him as a four-star ranked No. 113.)
Broadus, who was hired last week by Morgan State, was the lead recruiter on all five players.
Marial would be one of the tallest players in Maryland history. Listed on various websites as being 7-1, 7-2 or 7-3, the 220-pound Marial is “every bit” of 7-3, Kaffey said last month. Maryland’s announcement split the difference and listed him as 7-2. Matt Slaninka, a 7-4 center who redshirted in 2000-2001 but never played a game for the Terps, remains the tallest ever to sign.
Even without Fernando, who was first-team All-Big Ten and on the league’s all-defensive team last season, the Terps return seven of their top eight players from a team that finished 23-11 (13-7 in the Big Ten) and reached the second round of the NCAA tournament. Maryland has been picked as a potential top-10 team in a couple of way-too-early Top 25 polls.
“Chol possesses a humble demeanor and a strong work ethic that will fit well with our family,” Turgeon said. “We can't wait to have him in College Park and look forward to helping him reach his dreams.”
Said Kaffey, “He’s a really good human being, he’s a solid kid. ...Everybody around here liked working with Chol because of his personality. He’s a really hard worker. He’s going to be a pro. He’s going to come in from Day 1 and work his butt off and he’s going to be a very elite player.”