COLLEGE PARK — Kevin Willard had an extensive list of things to accomplish when he became Maryland men’s basketball coach in March. Two were essential to fielding a competitive team in his first season.
First, Willard made sure Donta Scott, Julian Reese and Hakim Hart stayed. Second, he needed a point guard. In the past, Maryland had success when stars like Melo Trimble and Anthony Cowan Jr. ran the point. So Willard searched for someone to orchestrate the offense and provide scoring support.
Willard knew that recruiting a high school player at that time of the year was out of the question. But sitting in the ever-flooded transfer portal was Jahmir Young, an Upper Marlboro native who was a scoring machine at Charlotte and had dreams of playing for his hometown school.
Young was brought in to not only fill the void left by former guard Fatts Russell but set the standard for the type of players Willard wants to attract to College Park.
Through nine games, Young has delivered. The graduate transfer has helped Maryland (8-1) climb to No. 13 in The Associated Press Top 25 poll while becoming one of the “highest character” players Willard has coached.
“He’s a tremendous young man and hard worker,” Willard said. “But what he has been more than anything is a great foundation for this program.”
Young represents Willard’s commitment to bringing local talent to Maryland. Young, who played two seasons at DeMatha, is the first player to go to Maryland from the Hyattsville school since Travis Garrison, who played for the Terps from 2002 to 2006. Despite being located five minutes away from one of the most storied high school basketball programs in the country, the Terps failed to recruit the top talent that came out of DeMatha.
For years, Maryland missed out on players like Michigan’s Hunter Dickinson, Villanova’s Justin Moore and even Washington’s Markelle Fultz, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2017 NBA draft. When Young decided to withdraw his name from the 2022 NBA draft and return to school, he was excited to break the barrier between DeMatha and Maryland.
“Coming from DeMatha is special,” said Young, who helped the Stags win a Washington Catholic Athletic Conference title in 2018. “I wanted to bring that [winning] culture here.”
It’s still early, but Young deserves his flowers. He has been one of the most impactful transfers in the country, leading the Terps in scoring (15.3 points per game) and recording at least 20 points in two of their last four games.
But Young’s ability to put the ball into the basket shouldn’t be surprising. During his three years at Charlotte, Young was one of the Niners’ best scorers, averaging 16.7 points per game. Last season, Young was second in Conference USA in scoring, averaging 19.6 points on 46.8% shooting from the field. The first-team All-Conference USA selection scored 25 or more points in eight games, including a 30-point performance in a loss to Florida Atlantic in January.
Perhaps the biggest surprise has been Young’s seamless adjustment to Big Ten play. In Maryland’s 71-66 win over then-No. 16 Illinois, Young took over the game, scoring 24 points and knocking down the game-sealing 3-pointer with 14 seconds left, a moment he called “a dream come true.”
Even though Maryland lost to Wisconsin, 64-59, on Tuesday night, Young still had the hot hand. He scored a game-high 17 points, including 13 in the second half to give the Terps a fighting chance. He’s averaged 19.3 points on 48.8% shooting in the past four games.
“I’ve become a big Jahmir fan,” Illinois coach Brad Underwood said. “[He’s] electric in transition. I think he is terrific.”
Willard hoped Young would catch on to Maryland’s style of play and competition level, but he didn’t expect it to happen this quickly.
“I’m glad it did,” Willard said.
Maryland has provided Young the opportunity to play the point, which was one of the reasons he wanted to come to College Park. While at Charlotte, Young played more of a combo guard, as the Niners relied solely on his scoring ability. At Maryland, Willard demanded more out of Young, requiring the graduate student to change his approach to the game.
In the beginning, Willard said Young was passive. But as he adjusted to the team, Young’s aggressiveness kicked it. He has been a relentless scorer, a pesky defender in Maryland’s full-court press and a solid rebounder, averaging 4.7 boards per game.
“We’ve been on [Young] since the time he got here [about] changing his personality to be more of a dog,” Willard said. “I think he’s starting to understand.”
Maryland has turned Young into a leader, he said. “I’m being more of a team captain and huddling guys together. [I’m] making sure we get the best shot possible and holding myself and teammates accountable.”
Young said he enjoys playing in Willard’s up-tempo offense since he thrives in transition.
“I excel in this offense as well as my teammates,” Young said. “We are at our best when we’re getting up and down [the court]. When we are playing with energy, no one can stop us.”
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