COLLEGE PARK — Donta Scott didn’t take long to make an impression on his new Maryland men’s basketball teammates. From the first pickup games and practices last summer, the 6-7, 225-pound forward from Philadelphia didn’t play, act or look much like a freshman.
It was not only the all-around skills he displayed that have been evident two games into the 2019-20 season. Or the physicality with which he played. Recalling his own sometimes-tentative arrival a year ago, sophomore forward Jalen Smith could only describe Scott in the bluntest of terms.
“He’s an animal, he’s just a different breed,” Smith said with a smile after Scott scored 10 points and grabbed six rebounds in Maryland’s 95-71 season-opening win last week over Holy Cross.
Sophomore guard Darryl Morsell called Scott “a bull” for his ability to play downhill and get to the basket. According to Scott, his playing style grew out of what he and those close to him perceived as him being dismissed as a rising prospect around Philadelphia, beginning when he was just 10.
“It came from people saying that I’d never be good enough,” Scott said after a practice last week. “I like to prove people wrong. … I have always tried to play the game the way it’s supposed to be played, and that’s with toughness, heart and enthusiasm.”
Asked where his physicality came from, Scott said, “I just went out to the park every day and played. That’s where I got most of my toughness from. … People expect you to be tough [in Philadelphia], but not everybody is going to have that toughness. I just go out there every day as if it’s my last, and go hard.”
Going into his third game Saturday for the No. 7 Terps at home against Oakland, Scott has shown glimpses of the all-around player Maryland coach Mark Turgeon thought he would become.
“That’s why we liked him so much — he’ll rebound the ball if he has to, he’ll defend, he’s a great passer,” Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said Thursday. “If he has to score, eventually in his career he’ll score for us.”
Scott has been something of a man-child since his freshman year at Imhotep Institute Charter School — the same high school where former Maryland football star DJ Moore, now in his second season with the Carolina Panthers, once played — and is viewed similarly in his first college season.
It’s more than just for a physical maturity that belies his relative youth.
There are the traits he showed and trajectory he followed in high school, where he played with a few other future Division I players and seemed to do whatever coach Andre Noble needed. It even included Scott playing point guard for a year after Daron “Fatts” Russell graduated and went off to play at Rhode Island.
“He’s just so versatile, he can do so many things on the court,” Noble said in a telephone interview Sunday. “The thing we loved about him is that he’s a super team guy. If he scored six and got 12 rebounds and we won, he was ecstatic. It’s natural, it’s not forced. It’s just how he plays basketball.
“When you watch people who are talented play basketball, a lot of kids are just trying to score. When you watch Donta play basketball, he’s just affecting the game. It may be totally different ways game by game, but he’s always affecting the game.”
One other thing: The teams that Scott has played on have usually won.
At Imhotep, Scott played on three state championship teams and also helped the team win three Public League titles. A 3-star prospect for much of his high school career, he was all-state as a junior and a senior. As a junior, Scott averaged only 11 points a game and was named to the first of two 4A player of the year titles.
“It was like 11 points, eight rebounds, six rebounds,” Noble said. “He would always have one of those what I call ‘LeBron blocks’ where he comes from behind and thinks they got a layup, and he blocks it with an incredibly great hustle play. He’s going to take charges. He’s just constantly impacting the game.”
Said Scott, “I really don’t care what I get on the stat sheet, as long as my team gets the win, and we move on to the next game. I’m doing anything my team needs me to do, everything my coach needs me to do.”
There were more than a few occasions when Scott was a big scorer when that was needed as well.
When Imhotep faced off against perennial national power Oak Hill — led by North Carolina-bound Cole Anthony, the nation’s top high school player — in the semifinals of last year’s City of Palms tournament in Fort Meyers, Florida, Scott’s 25 points helped offset Anthony’s 33 as the Philadelphia school won.
“He’s really capable of scoring in bunches, but he kind of feels the game and [thinks], ‘What do I need to do to win?’” Noble said. “He’s keeps that simplicity of, ‘I’m just trying to win.’ If you keep that focal point, you’re going to be a good basketball player.”
Noble saw last weekend that Scott has taken that mindset with him to Maryland. Noble, who has coached Imhotep since 2005, took his team to the Xfinity Center last Saturday to watch the Terps play Rhode Island, led by Russell, now a senior and the starting point guard for the Rams.
After picking up two quick fouls coming off the bench, Scott seemed out of sync for much of a game that Maryland, down 12 points midway through the first half, came back to win, 73-55. Aside from a 3-pointer late in the half that gave the Terps their first lead, Scott didn’t do much, finishing with five points and a rebound in 14 minutes, including just five in the second half when Turgeon played mostly his starters.
“He got sped up the other night, he picked up the two fouls, took a couple of bad shots,” Turgeon said.
That he played so little in the second half didn’t seem to bother Scott, according to his high school coach.
“He was great, he smiled, he was making jokes with his former teammates, he took pictures with us [after the game], he was in great spirits,” Noble said.
Scott is quick to credit his teammates and coaches for helping him make the transition from high school to college.
“Everybody has been helping me move along in the process, making it much easier for me to understand the plays,” Scott said last week.
Scott has even helped alleviate Turgeon’s initial concerns about playing the freshman on the perimeter at small forward as well as inside at power forward, which will likely be his natural position as his body continues to mature.
“The positions are quite a bit different offensively,” Turgeon said. “A week into practice, I was [not sure], but he’s doing a great job with it. He’s all about winning. That’s why I like him. Our team needs to be that way this year because we have so many players. The guys are just about winning.”
Said Scott, “It really doesn’t matter, as long as I can get on the court and just do everything that I can for my team.”